Time for Yanks' skipper to take charge

BY Bob Klapisch • May 16, 2011

Never, in the darkest regions of his imagination, did Joe Girardi ever conceive of this kind of stress.

His Yankees are losing games in a steady, careless stream. His catcher-turned-DH, Jorge Posada, isn't hitting, and is instead engaged in a nationally televised war with the general manager, Brian Cashman.

The captain, Derek Jeter, will end up in Cooperstown. But the path is already littered with hard feelings, most of them directed at the front office. Not even CC Sabathia, the resident good guy and guardian against long slumps, has been himself this year. When the big left-hander had his chance to stabilize the Yankees in a Saturday night showdown against Josh Beckett, the result was an ambush — by the Red Sox.

Girardi is desperately trying to hold his club together, insisting, "everyone goes through stretches like this." But the Yankees' 6-5 loss to the Rays on Monday night was their sixth in a row, the longest of the season and most since Girardi replaced Joe Torre in 2008.

Of course, no one expects the Bombers to struggle indefinitely; there's still enough talent to churn out 90-something victories by October. But whether Girardi can address the problems in his clubhouse and, more significantly, his roster, remains to be seen.

No one profited from the weekend blow-up with Posada — he and Girardi were both damaged by their mistakes. Posada was wrong to remove himself from the lineup after learning he was batting ninth against Beckett.

Although the catcher later apologized, saying he merely needed a day off to clear his head of the residue of a .165 average, he was far more militant in Girardi's office.

When the slugger announced "I'm not playing tonight," it touched off a disagreement so heated, it escalated to the general manager's domain.

According to the New York Daily News, Posada baited Cashman by saying he wanted out of the organization.

The Yankees were now fully enraged. Not only did Cashman summon reporters to say Posada's absence from the lineup wasn't injury-related, ownership was considering giving the 16-year veteran his release that night. Hal and Hank Steinbrenner ultimately decided against it, but executives were still fuming a day later at the way Posada tried using a questionable back injury to justify his behavior.

If Posada was too hurt to play, it was news to the team's medical staff, none of whom were informed by Posada of a problem. Girardi could've used the opportunity the next day to assert his authority over the team. Showing Posada the respect he deserves after a distinguished career — one that's made him a favorite of no less than Yogi Berra — the manager had the leverage to say no one, not even a Core Four icon, is bigger than the team.

Instead, Girardi chose to cover for his player, reminding everyone that, "everyone needs a day" during a long season. Girardi's conciliatory tone gave Posada a face-saving way out, but it ultimately highlighted the Yankees' lack of leadership. It would've been unthinkable for a frontline Yankee to ask out of the lineup 10 years ago, especially against the Red Sox. Torre wouldn't have had to lift a finger; the players themselves would've acted as the manager's vigilantes.

Jeter would've been one of the first enforcers — at least for Torre. But he was unmistakably neutral towards Posada, leaving the stadium Saturday night before reporters could interview him. A day later Jeter likened Posada to a "brother" saying his best friend in pinstripes had nothing to apologize for.

Team officials were so disappointed in Jeter — irked is a better word — he was summoned to a conference call on Monday with Hal Steinbrenner, president Randy Levine and Cashman. Later that afternoon at Tropicana Field, Jeter refused to elaborate on the call, although he failed to give Posada a second vote of confidence.

If nothing else, the weekend's turbulence proved how far removed the Yankees are from the days when their superstars wielded the greatest political clout. Today, the Yankees are the consummate corporation, as vast and powerful as Microsoft.

Posada had to know his refusal to play would never be acceptable in a CEO-driven environment. To be fair, though, Girardi should've considered benching Posada altogether before dropping him into the No. 9 slot in front of a national TV audience.

Question is, even if Girardi and Posada make real peace, do the Yankees have the kind of warrior ethos to recover from their current slide? The Rays, younger and more athletic, turned their 1-8 start to vapor; they're 23-9 since then, the best record in the majors during that stretch.

Likewise, the Red Sox are gaining ground and confidence after sweeping the Yankees in the Bronx over the weekend — their first such conquest since 2004. The Yankees' real test was supposed to begin Monday night at the Trop, and for a while it appeared the Bombers' nightmare was over.

Not only were they getting good pitching from A.J. Burnett, they buried David Price in the process, jumping out to a 5-1 lead. But Burnett quickly got in touch with his inner 2010, self-destructing in the Rays' five-run fifth inning which included two HRs.

"You have to pick the team up," Burnett later said, referring to himself. "I had too good (of) stuff to lose."

Sooner or later Girardi will have to remind the Yankees there's more to accountability than simply good sound bites — they're going to need an extra gear on the field. So far the manager has avoided leaning on his players; he is non-confrontational by nature.

But the situation in the clubhouse — and now, the standings — is becoming critical. Does Girardi have it in him to actually lead?



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