By Jason Keidel
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As we watch the screen-in-screen theater called a pennant race, an interesting subplot has risen from baseball’s basement.
After burying the Tampa Bay Rays last weekend, the Yankees are now in a relay race with the Baltimore Orioles for American League East supremacy, conjuring memories of the 1970s and ‘90s.
And the two managers make an interesting juxtaposition.
Buck Showalter is either brilliant or brilliantly bad at ruining good things, or both.
Buck could look at Joe Girardi with contempt, feeling that the Yankees’ skipper has Showalter’s job. And It would make sense if he felt Girardi didn’t earn his place in the Bronx, what with his lone year as skipper in Florida he pulled off the impossible exacta of getting fired while winning Manager of the Year. Showalter’s rise to prominence was far more prolonged, old-school and earned.
And in less than two years, Showalter has remolded the bottom-feeding Orioles into a serious player. What they lack in Yankee flash and cash they have in guile and grit. Maybe we can’t name five players on their team, but we will know them soon enough at this trajectory.
While driving to work this morning, I heard an astonishing thing. WFAN host Tony Paige was giving updates on the Orioles and Mariners, who were ensconced in the 18th inning. Baltimore refused to surrender two games played in one while 3,000 miles from home. That’s not an accident, nor is their astonishing 28-8 record in one-run games. It speaks to heart and hunger. It speaks to Showalter’s ability to lead.
And it leads you to wonder if these final few weeks of the season are a referendum on Girardi. Should the Yankees squander their double-digit division lead and miss the playoffs — a real possibility if they don’t win the AL East outright — would Joe lose his job?
We all know that managing the Yankees is a zero sum affair. With all the luxury that comes from the Steinbrenner trust fund — a Corinthian leather lifestyle that no baseball team can touch — also comes the ardent expectation to win and win big every fall, an eternal demand for big deeds under brown leaves.
Girardi can’t jam the reset button and make his team young and voracious again. But he is expected to beat Baltimore. And if he doesn’t, he could go hungry.
Feel free to email me at Keidel.Jason@gmail.com.
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