Commentary

Soriano walks Twins, steps out on team

Surly setup man leaves teammates holding the bag, on field and in the clubhouse

Updated: April 6, 2011, 12:13 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees lost a ballgame Tuesday night because Rafael Soriano, their $35 million setup man, walked three Minnesota Twins in the eighth inning, all of whom came around to score, wiping out a four-run Yankees lead.

It remains to be seen how much respect Soriano will lose among his teammates due to his fourth walk of the night, the one he took out of the clubhouse before the media was allowed in, the one that left his teammates behind to take blame that wasn't theirs and make excuses he didn't deserve.

You can point all the fingers you want in a game the Yankees were leading 4-0 with four outs to go and wound up losing 5-4 in 10 innings before a sparse, chilled crowd at Yankee Stadium.

You can start with manager Joe Girardi's decision to go to Soriano in the first place, a night after he needed 19 pitches to get through the eighth inning of Monday's 4-3 win over the same team.

You can move on to Girardi's decision to then pull Soriano, whom he repeatedly referred to as "my eighth-inning guy" in the postgame news conference, with two out and thrust David Robertson into a perilous bases-loaded situation, especially not having pitched since Saturday afternoon.

You can dump on Nick Swisher, if you like, for being overly aggressive in trying to make a sliding catch on Delmon Young's fortuitously placed pop fly that wound up clearing the bases when it skipped by him, tying the game.

Of course, you can blame Robertson for allowing the popup, which should have been no more than a single, and then there's Boone Logan, who committed the cardinal sin of walking the leadoff hitter in the 10th, only to see him come around to score what would be the winning run when three-time batting champion Joe Mauer shot a liner past a drawn-in infield.

You can even point a finger at the Yankees' high-powered offense, which once again hit two homers (they are tied with Texas for the MLB lead with 13 HRs in the first five games) but for the second straight night had a starting pitcher out on his feet after two innings only to let him back into the fight for a full seven innings.

But each of those transgressions pales against Soriano leaving his teammates holding the bag for him, both on the field and in the clubhouse.

"I think he'll handle it well," Girardi said when asked what he thought Soriano's reaction would be to his first Yankees meltdown.

[+] EnlargeRafael Soriano
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesRafael Soriano couldn't have endeared himself to his Yankees teammates after his meltdown, on and off the field, Tuesday night.

Well, the manager was wrong about that, too, because judging by Soriano's hasty exit, he was in no mood to discuss his evening's work.

This is the man whom Yankees upper management, minus GM Brian Cashman, saw fit to reward with the kind of money usually given only to elite closers, and the man some of them saw as a possible successor to Mariano Rivera.

Well, I will remind all of you of that November night in 2001, the night Rivera blew the ninth inning of the seventh game of the World Series to the Arizona Diamondbacks. That night, Rivera did not run out of the clubhouse, or duck any responsibility or become surly with reporters.

What he did was stand in front of his locker for more than an hour, answering the same questions patiently and politely until the last reporter had gotten what he needed. In a career of spectacular success, that night of failure may have been Mariano Rivera's finest hour.

No matter how good a pitcher Rafael Soriano is or ever becomes, he is no Mariano Rivera. And likely never will be.

Nor does it seem like he will ever be a true fit in this clubhouse. It is easy to make misjudgments about players by observing them during the time the clubhouse is open to the media, but throughout spring training Soriano seemed remote, even aloof from his teammates, almost always sitting with his back to the room, staring into his locker or his smartphone, headphones in his ears.

He seemed neither to want to initiate nor encourage conversation, not even with Rivera, whose locker was next to his and who was supposed to be "mentoring" Soriano for his eventual ascension to the closer's job.

In subsequent interviews, Soriano has showed an agreeable side. But there always seems to be a distance between him and the rest of the world. He still refers to Girardi as "that guy." I have yet to hear him refer to his manager by name, and once during spring training, Soriano had to turn and look at the nameplate above the locker of the player to his left to recall his name. It was Boone Logan, who had been a teammate of Soriano's in Atlanta.

By the end of camp, Soriano and Rivera were occasionally seen talking and even laughing together, but there was precious little contact between him and any of his other teammates during the narrow window through which the media gets to view the show.

None of that may seem particularly important unless you know the Yankees' clubhouse, which may be devoid of personalities but has no shortage of guys willing to stand up and take responsibility.

Tuesday night, Robertson, who did his job -- coming into the toughest situation of the night, he induced the dangerous Young to hit a weak fly ball that happened to find a hole -- beat himself up for not getting a strikeout.

Swisher, who might have saved a run had he played the ball a little safer, did not shy away from his culpability. "In hindsight obviously I would have kept the ball in front of me," he said. "It was an aggressive mistake."

Logan, who like Rivera in the 2001 World Series, got victimized by a drawn-in infield, refused to pass the buck. "The bottom line is, I walked the leadoff hitter," he said. "That's not what you want to do in that situation."

Even A.J. Burnett, everyone's favorite whipping boy, has always been his own worst critic on the days he's imploded.

Whatever the Yankees' clubhouse is, it is not a room of excuse makers or responsibility shirkers.

Until now. Rafael Soriano didn't make a lot of fans among the few thousand who braved the cold and rain long enough to see the eighth inning Tuesday night.

You've got to wonder how many he lost in his own clubhouse after the game, too.

Game notes

The game started well for the Yankees, with Mark Teixeira belting his fourth home run in five games with two runners aboard to provide a three-run lead before Twins starter Brian Duensing had recorded an out. Andruw Jones hit a solo HR in his first Yankees at-bat the next inning, but the Yankees managed just three singles over the rest of the game and none against the Minnesota bullpen. "We gotta pile on," Teixeira said. "We can't be satisfied with four runs in two innings. It's just not enough." ... Sabathia pitched seven brilliant innings, allowing just two hits, walking one and striking out six. ... The plan was for Soriano to get through the eighth and, assuming a three- or four-run lead going into the ninth, Robertson to finish up, sparing Rivera a night's work. But the 41-year-old closer wound up pitching the ninth, his second straight appearance and third in the last four games, most likely rendering him unavailable for Wednesday. So, too, is Soriano, meaning Freddy Garcia, making his first Yankees start Wednesday night against Carl Pavano, will have precious little bullpen support. Joba Chamberlain, who did not work on Tuesday, should be available, as should Robertson, along with Bartolo Colon and Luis Ayala, who came on to bail out Logan in the 10th. ... The announced crowd of 40,211 was not only the smallest ever at the new Yankee Stadium, but looked about half that size in actuality. Yankees attendance is down more than 5 percent from last year and more than 8 percent from 2009.

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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