Things looked pretty good for the Yankees after Brett Gardner slammed a seventh-inning pitch over the centerfield wall in Fenway Park on Friday Night. The hit gave New York a come-from-behind win over the Boston Red Sox and manager Joe Girardi looked like a genius for his bullpen moves. The Bombers were riding an eight-game win streak and their best pitcher, CC Sabathia, was scheduled for the next afternoon.
Girardi looked like he had all the answers that night. He made all the right moves by pulling Bartolo Colon with the bases loaded and using his bullpen to almost perfection. The Yankees were in first place for the first time since July 6. Everything looked sweet for the men in pinstripes.
Two nights later, by the end of Sunday night's typical Yanks/Sox marathon, there were more questions than answers after the Yankees dropped the final two games of the series and got knocked back into second place.
Neither of those losses were pretty and now Girardi is facing big questions regarding the starting rotation, the bullpen and the DH roles. How fast things change.
If Girardi thinks he had a bad weekend, think about old Jorge Posada. The veteran catcher could only watch from the bench Sunday after he was replaced by off-season acquisition, Eric Chavez. The newly-appointed right-handed DH went 0-for-4. Chavez is deserving and batting .304 so far this season
Posada didn't take the news as badly as he did when he was benched in May. After the first benching, he actually followed his temper-tantrum by hitting .326 with three home-runs and 12 RBI's over the next 32 games. Since the beginning of July, Posada has slumped and is hitting .205 with no home-runs and four RBI's in 26 games. He might not get a second chance this time.
Girardi's benching can't be going over good with the one-time power-hitter, who is slowly being forced off the roster. Reality struck hard yesterday, after the manager told the 38 year-old Posada his services as DH would no longer be needed. Girardi hasn't exactly been subtle when sending his message. In both instances, the Core-Four member was demoted to the bench before nationally-televised games against the Yankees bitter rivals, the Red Sox. That's gotta hurt.
"We're going to see how this works," said Girardi. "We're going to try some different things. We'll see how this works, and I told Jorge, 'You're still going to be a big part of this, and we're going to need you.' We're just going to do some different things."
And the check is in the mail. It sounds reassuring until Posada realizes that Triple-A slugger Jesus Montero is breathing down his neck.
The relationship between Girardi and Posada should be interesting the rest of the season. And the final chapter doesn't look good for the ex-catcher who first lost his backstop gig in spring training.
The bullpen's performance in last night's game opens up a slew of analytic equations.
Mariano Rivera blew his fifth save of the year--and at a most inopportune time. Marco Scutaro laced a lead-off double against the Sandman which led to the game-tying run. Getting to Rivera was instrumental in the Red Sox win. It was a moral victory as well. Sox manager Terry Francona put it bluntly," Getting that hit off Mo was big."
A situation which leads to the appearance of Phil Hughes in the 10th inning. Girardi made it clear his righty would be available from the bullpen all weekend, if that what it took to beat the Red Sox. After last night's game goes into extra innings, it gave Girardi the excuse he needed to use Hughes. The move ultimately takes Hughes out of this week's rotation, giving Ivan Nova one more chance to prove himself as a starter again this week.
Hughes showed nothing last night. He followed his best start of the season by giving up a confidence-breaking game winner in the rubber-game for first place. That 1/3 of an inning cost Hughes a shot at starting on Tuesday and possibly in the future.
Now Girardi has to decide what to with Hughes and Nova...again.
If Hughes allowed two hits and can't get three outs in relief, what does Girardi do now? The starting rotation and bullpen are both overstocked as it is and Hughes can't be feeling too secure. It appears to be a situation Hughes couldn't win. If he does well, he heads to the pen but that one out cost him a start.
This leads to the question of Rafael Soriano. After a disappointing and injury-plagued first half of a season in New York, is the $35 million man finally showing his true talent? Two perfect relief appearances in important games this weekend say 'I want a more prominent role.'
Since returning from the DL last week, the temperamental Soriano has retired all batters he has faced--including the 2-3-4 batters in the seventh last night.
The question surrounding Soriano is how long before the former closer mopes about his role on the team. Last year's 45-save pitcher for the Rays has been demoted from that esteemed spot to set-up man and now middle relief. After his fine performances this weekend, does Girardi move him up the pecking order to replace the All-Star Dave Robertson at times or even--this is blasphemy to Yankees fans--sometimes use him as an occasional closer? He would have fared better than Hughes in the tenth last night.
Soriano has a history of erratic behavior, beginning with his days in Tampa Bay, when he refused to shag flies or take batting practice on Sundays, leading up to his slipping away from the New York media, because he refused to answer questions about a bad outing in April.
How long until Soriano's well-known frustration boils over into wanting more? Girardi has to face the fact that Soriano could be a valuable weapon if the pitcher keeps his head.
Here's some extra credit questions for Girardi. Will CC Sabathia ever beat the Red Sox this season? The hottest pitcher in the American League--and the Yankees ace-- turns ice-cold against Boston. The big man is 0-and-4 vs. the Red Sox this season and it's no secret how he dominates the rest of the league, as his 16-2 record will attest.
Finally, where were all the fireworks between these two sworn enemies? Fans want Charlie Sheen-Chuck Lorre acrimony, not Alec Baldwin-John Krasinski cuteness.
This Yankees/Red Sox series had it's share of intensity-- especially in games one and three-- but something was missing. There was too much mutual admiration. Sure, the teams were only playing for first place in the beginning of August and it looks pretty much like both teams are headed to the playoffs, but where was the nastiness... the Pedro Martinez knocking down Don Zimmer hatred?
Oh, he was on the DL and his name is Alex Rodriguez. This rivalry needs A-Rod like Obama needs McCain or Osi needs the Giants. Every one's whipping boy is expected off the DL by August 15. The next meeting between the two teams is August 30 at Fenway Park.
Hope the Yankees have answered a few questions by then.