Commentary

Joey Looseleafs wound tight ... in April?

Girardi's agitation level in late-season form after his Soriano decision is questioned

Updated: April 7, 2011, 11:38 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

It's only April 6, and already, the veins in Joe Girardi's neck are bulging like Alex Rodriguez's biceps.

The teeth are already gritted, the eyes flashing, the answers short.

The afternoon started with questions about Rafael Soriano's fitness to perform under the scrutiny of the New York media monster.

It ended with the same questions being asked about the New York Yankees' manager.

Girardi is wound tight, tighter than any of the binders he keeps on his desk, the ones that sometimes seem to guide his every move.

But even for him, it is way too early to have the kind of minor meltdown he had Wednesday.

His day had started with a fire -- the Soriano Crisis, the minor tempest involving his new setup man, who set up the Yankees for defeat Tuesday night and then set out into the night, leaving his teammates behind to accept his blame and make his excuses.

[+] EnlargeJoe Girardi
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIJoe Girardi, shown here on March 30, isn't fond of having to explain decisions that go awry.

And it would end with rain, which washed out Wednesday night's Twins-Yankees game.

In between, there was something of a storm in the manager's pregame news conference, all because of one trait Girardi has carried with him from Miami to the Bronx.

He does not like to be questioned about his decisions. Period.

And he does think about what the questions might be when he is in the process of making those decisions. Exclamation point.

He showed it again Wednesday when, asked to explain why he had chosen to use Soriano in the eighth inning of a game the Yankees were leading 4-0 -- and one day after Soriano had said he was not happy with his velocity so far this season -- Girardi experienced a controlled explosion.

He didn't shout or gesticulate or threaten. He merely simmered and gripped the table, his teeth clenched and the veins in his neck throbbing.

"Because he's my eighth-inning guy," he snapped. "Could I have gotten someone up? Yeah, and then if a guy gets on or a couple guys get on, and I have to get Soriano up, then I'm asked the question, 'Why didn't you just have him to start the inning?' That's the life of the manager. You learn to accept it and you have to handle it. But I did it because I knew what he was going to be up against."

At that point, you start to wonder which Girardi feared more, the in-game consequences of his decision or the reaction to it afterward.

And if he's like that now, what will his demeanor be in August or September or, if the Yankees get that far, October?

Last season, in the grip of a pennant race, Girardi looked ill and unhappy. He lost weight, his cheeks were sunken, his complexion ashen. It appeared as if the strain of the baseball season competition had taken more than a normal toll on him.

Girardi is an excellent manager of people -- he showed that Wednesday with the way he handled the Soriano Crisis, defending his player, as all managers must, while acknowledging that what the player did was wrong, to his teammates, to the media and to the fans who depend on the media as their pipeline into the clubhouse.

(GM Brian Cashman went further in his criticism of the pitcher, but then, he and Girardi are as different in their approaches as, say, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez.)

But Girardi is not a great manager of his emotions when it comes time to explain his in-game strategies. For a guy who was so adept at expressing the importance of Soriano assuming responsibility for his actions, Girardi had a terrible time taking responsibility for his own.

Again and again, he insisted Soriano was in the game because pitching the eighth inning is his job. But when it was pointed out that there would be 162 eighth innings this season and Soriano could not be expected to pitch all of them -- he's not Pedro Feliciano, after all -- Girardi refused to even acknowledge the possibility that Tuesday's eighth inning might have been a good one for him to skip.

"A four-run lead is not a big lead in this division, in this ballpark," he said, as if Yankee Stadium had suddenly become Coors Field and the Twins the 1927 Yankees. "He's my eighth-inning guy. It's not a 9-0 game, it's not a 12-0 game, it's a 4-0 game where you know that you're going to see [Justin] Morneau, you know that you're going to see Jim Thome. You're going to see their big guns. That's why I chose to go to him.

"If we get through the eighth without giving up a run, then I don't have to get up my 41-year-old closer who, I think, is quite important to us in the course of the year."

Of course, he wound up having to use the 41-year-old closer, and without Mother Nature's intervention Wednesday night, he would have neither his Eighth-Inning Guy nor his closer available on a night Freddy Garcia was scheduled to start.

It was classic Girardi, in the dugout Tuesday night and in the media room Wednesday afternoon. During the game, he was looseleaf-bound, tethered to his charts and his numbers and his tendencies. During the news conference, he was defensive, even combative under basic questioning.

All he had to do was acknowledge that maybe he had been wrong, that perhaps David Robertson could have handled the eighth inning Tuesday night and Boone Logan the ninth, or vice versa.

Instead, he went by the binders, and the sky fell in on him.

Asked what he thought Soriano's Wednesday afternoon apology showed about him, Girardi responded, "Character. I think it takes character. I think it takes self-evaluation, understanding that you probably should have been in there. It takes a lot to admit you may have done something wrong."

I wonder if it ever occurred to him that the same tactic he had praised Soriano for would have worked just as well for him.

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.
Follow Wallace on Twitter »  Chat archive »

SPONSORED HEADLINES

EDITORS' PICKS

ALSO SEE

MORE MLB HEADLINES