- Wallace Matthews, ESPN Staff Writer
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NEW YORK -- It was like watching Mr. Spock throw a hissy fit.
There was Joe Girardi -- the Vulcan-like, almost robotic New York Yankees manager -- ready to burst a jugular vein screaming at his Cleveland Indians counterpart, Manny Acta, over a play that even Girardi would admit was "old school."
If you didn't know the guy, you would have been convinced that he was about to throw down.
"I'm gonna protect my guys," Girardi said after the Yankees had completed a messy 11-7 win over the Indians, a game "highlighted" by a bench-clearing argument that nearly erupted into a full-scale brawl after Mark Teixeira got plunked in the middle of the back by a fastball from Fausto Carmona.
"Manny and I are actually quite friendly -- we had a nice meeting on the field at 3 p.m.-- but that doesn't mean there's not some feistiness in me. And when my guys get plunked, I'm gonna protect them,'' Girardi said. "And if someone's going to get thrown out or suspended, I'd rather it be me than Tex. That's for sure."
The "purpose pitch" -- all the Yankees who drifted into the clubhouse to chat were convinced Carmona had thrown it on purpose -- came on the first pitch following a long home run by Curtis Granderson that gave the Yankees a 4-0 lead.
It was a fastball up and in from a pitcher whose specialty is the changeup down and away. And Teixeira, whose body is like a magnet for horsehide -- he has been hit seven times this season, including a shot off the kneecap from Boston's Jon Lester that drove him from the game in the first inning on Tuesday night -- reacted almost instantaneously, shouting at Carmona, who came off the mound and seemed to be gesturing to Teixeira to step to it.
That brought all the Yankees out of their dugout, and all the Indians out of theirs, along with the contents of both bullpens.
But no one appeared angrier, or more ready to fight, than Girardi -- and to understand how out-of-character that was, you have to know a little bit about Girardi. He is devoutly religious -- a Bible often sits on his desk alongside the infamous looseleaf -- and avowedly pacifistic. Although his body is as muscled as a light-heavyweight boxer's, he claims never to have had a fistfight in his life, nor is he taken to overt displays of anger.
But he certainly looked as though he was about to get into his first one with Acta, who angered him, he said, by telling him, "Tell your guy to stop."
"Take care of your own guy," was Girardi's version of his retort, which may not have been sanitized since he has been known to substitute the word "patootie" for a particular part of the human anatomy.
"He was right in the middle of things," Alex Rodriguez said, with no small amount of wonder, "and it seemed like he and the other manager got pretty heated."
As in most baseball "fights," no actual punches were thrown and no damage was done. No one was ejected, the customary warnings were issued, and the game proceeded pretty much without incident until the Yankees' makeshift bullpen began to melt down in the last two innings.
But certainly a message was sent, and if it was not the one many Yankees fans and talk-radio mouth-breathers may have wanted -- the consensus seemed to be this should have happened Wednesday night, when the Yankees were in the process of being swept out of their own ballpark by the archrival Red Sox -- it may actually have been a more meaningful one.
For the first time in anyone's memory, the bookworm turned cobra. Joe Girardi finally pulled his nose out of the binder and stuck it into the middle of a brawl.
And coming from a guy who can be as aloof as Joey Looseleafs, that kind of message carries some weight.
"We know Joe is going to stand up for his players," Teixeira said.
Now everyone who might have doubted it, whether in Yankee Stadium on Friday night or camped in front of a TV screen, knows it too.
The thing is, Girardi is legitimately "old school." In an informal chat with the Yankees' beat writers last week in Oakland, Girardi rejected any notion that the rules should be changed regarding home-plate collisions following the injury to Buster Posey.
"That's the way the game was always played when I played it," he said. "And nobody said a thing about it."
Likewise, he seems to be of the faction that understands that pitching tight is part of the game, and throwing the so-called purpose pitch still has its purpose.
But after seeing his players get hit six times by Red Sox pitchers earlier this week, the obvious purpose pitch thrown at Teixeira pushed him out of whatever zone of self-control he normally keeps himself reined into.
"If I were to say one of them was intentional,'' Girardi said, "tonight's would be that one.''
Asked if he thought the incident lit a fire under the team that went down passively to the Red Sox, Girardi said, "It lit one under me, that's for sure."
In truth, the Indians in general and Carmona in particular were all the kindling the Yankees needed to get them fired up after being swept by the Red Sox. Carmona walked the bases loaded in the first, and all three runners came home -- on a single by Robinson Cano, a sac fly by Nick Swisher and a single by the suddenly rejuvenated Jorge Posada, who had three hits on Jorge Posada Figurine Night.
Granderson's home run added a run and sparked some lively conversation in the second. Brett Gardner's RBI double made it 5-0 in the third, and Rodriguez hit the longest home run anyone could remember him hitting in the new ballpark, a shot that landed in the center-field seats beyond Monument Park some 460 feet away, to make it 6-0.
"The last three games at home were really embarrassing for us and it's really not acceptable for us to play that type of baseball," Rodriguez said. "I'm not sure if a message was sent or not [tonight], but I think no matter who we're playing, you can't have teams be so comfortable in our ballpark. I thought tonight was a good way to answer back."
After a four-run seventh, the Yankees led 11-2, and Ivan Nova had done a fine night's work, limiting the Indians to just two runs on four hits.
But then Girardi began tinkering with the new toys in his depleted bullpen, using Kevin Whelan -- called up in the afternoon from Triple-A Scranton -- Amauri Sanit and Lance Pendleton. None of them could shut the door, and with one out in the ninth Girardi was forced to bring in Mariano Rivera, who had not worked since Sunday, to get the final two outs.
But this fight had been won hours earlier, when the Yankees finally decided they were sick and tired and weren't going to take it anymore.
It may have come a day too late for some people's tastes, and against a team that is no one's idea of a Yankees rival. But for one night at least, the message was the same.
Sooner or later, even Mr. Spock reaches his breaking point. It was reassuring, if a little odd, to finally see Joe Girardi reach his.
NOTES: Posada's three-hit night was his fourth straight multi-hit game. He is 10-for-16 over that stretch and his batting average is up to .215. ... Granderson, who had been mired in a 2-for-25 slump, homered for the second straight night. He now has 19 homers, a total he did not reach until Sept. 18 of last year, in his 123rd game. ... Derek Jeter's seventh-inning double brought his quest for 3,000 into the single digits. The total is now 2,991 and counting. ... Swisher was the only regular not to have a hit. His average is down to .216. ... Bartolo Colon (4-3, 3.39) faces RHP Mitch Talbot (2-2, 4.18) on Saturday afternoon, first pitch at 1:05 p.m. ET.
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