CC Sabathia must know how Yankees GM Brian Cashman felt when he put on a big fat happy-face while the team signed Rafael Soriano's huge contract last winter. No other team was even willing to sign Soriano as a high-priced closer, but the Yankees did pay him--against Cashman's wishes--big bucks to become a over-priced set-up man for Mariano Rivera. Some called it more of a bribe than a contract.
Last night, the surly Soriano bolted from the Yankees clubhouse a lot quicker than his fastball without speaking with reporters after blowing a four run lead against the Minnesota Twins.
Unlike Soriano, Sabathia put on his best face and a positive spin on Soriano's eighth-inning meltdown and runaway after the game.
"The bullpen is the strength of our team and nine times out of ten they're going to come in and shut the door," said Sabathia, who allowed two hits and one walk and had a 4-0 lead through seven innings. "That's baseball and it's just part of the game. We have to move on and look forward to tomorrow."
Patient words from a pitcher with two outstanding starts, no wins to show for it and a reason to be angry.
The Yankees led by four runs when Joe Girardi brought in Soriano, his "eighth-inning guy." In two-thirds of an inning, Soriano gave up four runs, three walks and a hit as the Twins tied the game. Dave Robertson gave up the winning run in the tenth.
This isn't the first time a Yankee reliever has blown a game and it definitely isn't the first time Soriano shown his anti-social side. But his behavior is leaving fans colder than the thousands of nightly empty seats at a freezing Yankee Stadium so far this season.
Soriano has left a trail of bad relations in previous stops in Atlanta and Tampa Bay. His reputation as a grump and a recluse preceded him in New York, but the Yankees were willing--or desperate enough--to take a chance on Soraino accepting the role as the eighth-inning set-up man to go with the big contract. It only took one blown chance for him to show his true colors.
The Yankees painted a nice picture of Rivera courting Soriano during the recruitment. The story was that the level-headed Rivera would welcome the hard-headed Soriano as his set-up guy and the bullpen would sing "Kumbaya" through the playoffs. Soriano would be tamed by Mariano. One big happy family.
It was all fiction and it only took five days into the season for the love-in to get icky.
Former teammates felt Soriano can sometimes look at a pitching situation as being beneath himself. Members of the Rays claimed he did not invest his full attention in the ninth-inning of last year's Division Series elimination game against the Texas Rangers when Soriano was asked to pitch, down 3-1. They felt his attention and fastball were off because it wasn't a save situation.
Maybe Soriano thought last night's 4-0 lead wasn't worth his valued consideration.
In Soriano's absence, Yankee players took to the vanished pitcher's defense--somewhat.
"I think he was there mentally," said Russell Martin who caught the game, "He was throwing the ball with conviction, I think."
Even Nick Swisher took the flack for his overplayed ball which tied the game. "It was an aggressive mistake and I paid for it," said the outfielder, " CC pitched a helluva a game; it definitely hurt."
It's probably too late for the Yankees to think Soriano will behave like Rivera when it comes to the occasional blown game by holding your chin high. The Yankee veteran has never disappeared or blamed anyone but himself. Rivera faces the media, takes his lumps and says, 'I'll get 'em next time.'
Soriano has been anointed the "eighth-inning guy" by Girardi. There will be other eighth innings for last year's AL 45-save leader. He isn't going anywhere. Not if three-year, $35 million dollar contract means anything.
Let's see how long the manager puts up with Soriano's vanishing act.