Gotta Keep Focused On The Wild Card

By Ernie Palladino
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The 7-5 mark over the last 12 games wasn’t what the Yankees were looking for in their race for a wild card spot. But Joe Girardi showed Monday that they weren’t done, even though they went into last night’s game in Baltimore 1½ games behind the Indians and Orioles, and three behind the Rays after that 4-2 loss.

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(They’re now two games behind Tampa Bay after Tuesday night’s win.)

Girardi, a fiery type of guy anyway, a fellow who had to learn early how to keep calm under the media’s fire, appeared to have no such bridles when it came to a third-base coach stealing signs.

Girardi, of course, was being oversensitive to what Bobby Dickerson may have seen and how he picked it up. It’s one thing for a runner on second to swipe a sign here or there. It’s quite another for the third-base coach. Given Dickerson’s vantage point, Girardi might have been better served climbing all over catcher Austin Romine for not hiding his dancing digits well enough.

Romine never did get any backlash, though he did ask around regarding the signs’ availability to prying eyes.

“They said no,” Romine said of his teammates and coaches. “I knew I was doing my job and not letting them see my signs.”

Regardless, Girardi challenged Dickerson, and then stood his ground as Buck Showalter suggested in rather impolite terms that the Yankees’ manager should stop picking on his guy. Girardi responded in equal fashion as players, coaches, and officials kept the two separated.

Give Girardi this. At least he cares. He may be misguided at times, but he leaves little doubt on the field as to where he stands with his team. And sometimes, his emotions can verge on the comical.

He got a big laugh in 2009 when Johnny Damon went berserk over a called third strike, racing like a cannon shot out of the dugout only to fall a step short from saving his center fielder from a third-inning exit.

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He got bounced four times last year. After Monday’s game he said, “I’m going to protect my players.”

Admirable enough. But even highly entertaining moments like those may not be enough to spark this team to the postseason. As long as the offense and the pitching remain inconsistent, none of the fireworks Girardi tries to light in the dugout will vault this team to where it needs to be by Sept. 29.

On top of that, from what, exactly, was Girardi protecting his players? Stolen signs? As long as a team hasn’t hooked up some geo-centric orbiting device to a center field camera to steal them, well, more power to them. Even Romine hinted at that.

“I mean, everybody’s trying to steal signs,” Romine told the Yankees’ website. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they were, but I really don’t know what was going on. No one even said anything to me.”

It would be hard to believe that Girardi, with extensive years playing, coaching, and managing, hasn’t pilfered a sign or two himself. So it seems a bit silly for him to get on anybody for doing the same. As more than one athlete has openly claimed, “if you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’.”

Better Girardi should worry about his pitchers. The way things are going, allowing four runs in a game is a death sentence for the Yanks. That nice little offense streak where the lineup supported the arms with eight, eight, and nine runs against the Red Sox — all in three losing efforts, mind you — appears over. And if it’s not quite done, Yankee fans shouldn’t count on it happening consistently.

Stolen signs? That’s the least of Girardi’s worries right now.

But it’s still nice to see he cares.

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