- Andrew Marchand, ESPNNewYork.com
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NEW YORK -- It is nearly impossible for the New York Yankees to miss the playoffs, but they are trying their hardest to make it is as interesting as possible.
They have a manager who continues to say bewildering things that, if true, makes him seem delusional at best and incompetent at worst. They have a very famous third baseman who squarely pointed the finger at the team's starting pitching as the problem of late. And they are tumbling toward the finish line, losing 13 of their last 19 and suffering their first four-game home losing streak of the season.
On Saturday, the Boston Red Sox again shellacked the Yankees in a 7-3 beating as rookie Ivan Nova could only pitch 4 2/3 innings, which left Alex Rodriguez to draw a line between the hitters and the pitchers.
"It's hard to play with an edge when you are down five or six runs," said Rodriguez, refreshingly honest, if impolitic.
On Sunday night, the Yankees send out the pedestrian Dustin Moseley, trying to avoid a sweep. Even as the Yankees slowly fade -- they are now 36-31 since the All-Star Break -- their manager, Joe Girardi, says that if the Yankees were in a tighter playoff race he would be handling his pitchers the same way.
That means, even if the Yankees weren't at the postseason one-yard line, Girardi claims he would have turned to Chad Gaudin and Sergio Mitre in a first place showdown with the Rays on Sept. 13. It means that Girardi would be handing the ball to Moseley instead of the innings limited Phil Hughes on Sunday.
"I would manage the same way," Girardi said before the Yankees' latest no-show.
Girardi said that he values the players' health first and that they are more productive rested. Of course, if the Red Sox were a game back and the Rays were up a game -- which is the exact scenario a reporter put forth to Girardi -- it is unfathomable he would turn to Moseley to avoid a sweep. But those were the manager's words. That is the message he sent out.
Girardi is very careful not to say that he is managing like the Yankees are already in, but his actions belie his nonsensical words. The Yankees' magic number to clinch the wild card is still just three, meaning they would guarantee at least a tie if they win Sunday night.
"We're still in a good spot," Girardi said.
With that in the back of his mind, Girardi continues to use his pitchers as if it were spring training. Girardi is valuing health over home-field, which is not an unreasonable way to go. However, the jogging to finish line approach may play better in theory than in reality. As programmed as many of the Yankees act, they are still people.
But similar to when the tumble began gaining steam with Girardi in the middle of it all on Sept. 13 -- the Gaudin-Mitre game -- this season is becoming all about Girardi, not his players. From every decision he makes from here until November, which includes the "Will he stay or will he go to the Cubs?" drama that awaits the day after the Yankees are either eliminated or win the World Series.
Being the manager of the Yankees is praise-less position, and Girardi is setting himself up to take all the blame if the Yankees fail to play through October and into November when the World Series ends. They increasingly look as if they will cede the division to the Tampa Bay Rays and take their chances as the wild card.
The Yankees were tremendous in the first half, sprinting out to a 56-32 record at the All-Star break. They were up two games in the American League East.
Since the break, they entered Saturday with 30 losses. There were 11 teams who entered Saturday with 30 losses or fewer. So, basically, the Yankees have barely been a playoff team in the second half of the season.
Currently, they have lost four in a row -- and to A-Rod's point -- by allowing six or more runs in each of the games. It is the first time they have done that in three years, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
They have lost 13 of their last 19 games and their manager is elbowing out Rex Ryan at the top of the list for listeners who burn up talk radio lines.
On Saturday, former Tampa Bay Bucs and Indianapolis Colts' coach Tony Dungy showed up to give the Yankees a pregame talk. It seemed entirely fitting since Dungy is famous for resting his starters late in season to get ready for the playoffs. Girardi is taking a page from that playbook.
Just as Dungy did all those years, Girardi is making it about his decision.
"Bottom line, we need to win games," Girardi said.
They do, but he is not managing like it. He said his team is not tight and he is comfortable. It may get a lot more uncomfortable if they don't win soon.
GAME NOTES: While the game was not decided on third base coach Rob Thomson's decision to send Austin Kearns, down 4-0, with one out in the sixth, it didn't help. On a Derek Jeter single, Thomson waved Kearns in. He was thrown out at the plate for the second-out as Nick Swisher, Mark Teixeira and Rodriguez, the next three batters, watched on.
"I thought he was going to score and he didn't," Thomson said. "It was a mistake."
Rodriguez pointed the finger at the starters, but the Yankees had four or less hits for the 14th time this season. Last year, that only happened seven times, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Girardi's bewildering decisions, strange explanations taking center stage.