Girardi gets dreaded vote of confidence

“Joe will be back,” said Hank Steinbrenner yesterday. And that can mean only one thing: The Joe Girardi Job Watch is on. Whenever an owner goes out of his way to note that a manager, already under contract, won’t be fired, the storm clouds gather. Girardi hasn’t been the godsend people thought he would be, but the injuries weren’t his fault. He deserves to be back in 2009 and shouldn’t be questioned yet.

Joe returns to New York

It’s a quiet night in Yankeeland. We’re awaiting word on Tuesday night’s starter, and the Yanks had an off-day on Thursday as they journeyed to Minneapolis for a wrap-around weekend set with the 28-25 Twins.

But across the city in Shea Stadium, Joe Torre made his return to New York. He managed the Dodgers to a loss against the Mets and was received warmly by the Shea Faithful. Jack Curry sat down for an extensive look at Joe’s life post-Bronx:

But Frank Sinatra never had to manage a baseball team in New York, New York. While Torre was renowned for his lengthy interview sessions and seemed to enjoy the interaction with the news media, he said that the coverage surrounding the team changed about eight years ago. Torre could not pinpoint why. He just felt as if the game details often became secondary to other issues. Torre recounted how the Dodgers plunked Boston’s Manny Ramírez with a pitch in an exhibition game and it was barely noticed.

“New York is great for the good times and memorable for the bad times,” Torre said.

Three nights after Randolph heard a smattering of “Fire Willie” chants, Torre was serenaded like a returning king. After a pitching change in the seventh inning, Torre received a partial standing ovation as he walked from the mound to the dugout. He lifted his cap to the fans.

While Torre couldn’t pinpoint what changed, I can. The invulnerable Yankees lost in the postseason eight years ago, and they haven’t really managed to win that Holy Grail, that 27th championship, since then. What happened in 2001 was hardly Torre’s fault. Mariano threw the ball away; Scott Brosius didn’t throw the ball to first; the roof took away a potential Shane Spencer home run.

But as the Yankees stocked up on talent — when Jason Giambi came in and the Yanks had to replace Tino and Paul O’Neill — the media began to nitpick every move the $200-million team made, and Torre bore the brunt of that scrutiny.

Today, we’re on the verge of wrapping up month two of the Joe Girardi Era, and it’s gotten off to something less than the smooth start for which we were all hoping. The Yanks enter Minnesota in last place, one game under .500. They’re only 4.5 games behind the Red Sox for the fourth AL playoff spot, and I have to believe that the team’s fortunes will improve.

As I watched some of the Dodgers-Mets game from the gym before the Lost finale took my attention away from baseball for a few hours tonight, I asked myself if I wished Joe Torre were still managing in the Bronx. My answer was still no. I loved Joe in New York, and I think it’s too bad that he couldn’t still be around to manage the team into the new stadium. But I still think it was the right move for him and the Yanks to part ways.

Today, he and Girardi are both managing teams with high payrolls and sub-.500 records. But only in New York is the manager, the General Manager and everyone else under the sun under fire for this start. In Los Angeles, Joe Torre just sounds more at home, green tea and all.

Open Thread: A cup of Joe

Today one’s of those — whaddyacallit — off days for the Yanks. It’s a rare occurrence indeed this season, and obviously, we won’t have a game thread. So let’s try an open thread instead.

With 33 games down, the Yanks have seen 20 percent of the season fade into the rear view mirror. They’ve once again had their early-season struggles. The offense hasn’t clicked yet; the young pitchers haven’t lived up to expectations. But when all is said and done, they’re 17-16, three games out of first. Last year, they were 16-17 and a whopping seven games out of first place. Things are downright rosy for the 2008 Yankees through the lens of 2007.

For Yankee fans and the New York media, two groups who demand perfection at every turn in the Big Apple, 2008 is also a year of monumental change in the Bronx. We’ve got a new Joe in town. Joe Torre fled for LA after a fairly bitter divorce, and Joe Girardi took the reins.

Girardi’s tenure has been a little shaky through April. He didn’t have the smoothest of relationships with a media used to the mannerisms of Joe Torre. The Yankee propaganda machine has obscured injuries and roster moves, and press coverage in turn has been far from favorable.

On the field, Girardi has shown a tendency to keep some of his relievers out there for too long, but I think his bullpen management has been fair. He’s done a far better job at balancing the relief load than Joe Torre ever did, and he continues to trot out the young kids, such as Ross Ohlendorf, far more often than Torre would.

So here’s my question to you, loyal RAB readers, on this off day: How do you rate Joe Girardi’s first 33 games in New York? Do you like the job he’s doing? Do you pine for Joe Torre? How would you hope to see Girardi improve over his next 33 games and beyond?

Manny Ramirez 1, Joe Girardi 0

Is the honeymoon over? Are we allowed to criticize Joe Girardi yet? Today, I’d like to criticize Girardi.

When Mike Mussina and Josh Beckett face off, it’s toughJoba Chamberlain. Power vs. power, heat vs. heat. But after a lengthy conference at the mound, Girardi stuck with Mussina, Moose gave up a hit and the Yanks lost a game they could have won without ever using their best bullpen arms.

The problem I have with Girardi’s decision — besides the utter stupidity of allowing Ramirez to face Mussina late in a close game with first base open — is the way he went about making it. It was in fact a classic Joe Torre Era mistake. Peter Abraham relates information about the exchange on the mound:

Joe Girardi went with what Mike Mussina wanted to do. The Moose was more comfortable going after Manny than facing the ever-selective Kevin Youkilis with the bases loaded.

“I’ve been pitching a while, so he asked me what I felt like doing,” Mussina said. “I told him what I thought.”

Girardi after the game took the blame, but he has to know Mussina’s limitations. He has to know Manny Ramirez’s ridiculous history against the Yankees. He has to take the ball from Mussina in that situation.

In the end, Mussina wasn’t terrible. He gave up 4 runs in a 5.2 innings largely because Brian Bruney didn’t get the job done either. But again, Mussina went to his fastball too often. That 87 mph meatball he threw to Manny Ramirez was simply indicative of a less-than-stellar Mussina outing.

After the game, Girardi and Moose both said the right thing. Too bad they didn’t do the right thing during the game.

An elbow injury, a one-inning pitcher and a rain delay that never came

When Joe Girardi was in Florida, his handling of his young pitching staff during a rain delay earned him quite a bit of criticism and potentially a one-way ticket out of his job.

The day was September 12, 2006, and Josh Johnson was on the mound when an 82-minute rain delay hit. Girardi put Johnson back on the mound, but the youngster came down with a case of forearm tightness that night. He would throw just 15 innings in 2007 before losing last year and this to elbow surgery. While Johnson has publicly stated that the rain delay was not the cause of his elbow woes, this incident lingers on Joe Girardi’s record.

Nearly 19 months later, Girardi found himself faced with another young pitcher and another case of rain. The forecast in Kansas City tonight called for rain, lots and lots of rain, and so Joe Girardi opted to keep Kennedy out of the game so as not to burn a Kennedy start and so as to avoid managing through a rain delay.

During the early innings, it seemed like a wise strategy. For once, the weather forecast was right, and rain came down in sheets, blanketing the field in rivulets of water. But onward marched the game. Brian Bruney shut down the Royals; Billy Traber shut down the Royals; and for one inning, Kyle Farnsworth shut down the Royals.

But then disaster struck, and it is here that we have to wonder whether or not to nitpick tonight’s game. With no score in the fifth and the rain visually lightening up, Girardi left Kyle Farnsworth in to pitch a second inning. Kyle Farnsworth is the master of the one-inning appearance. He made a grand total of zero appearances last year of more than an inning, and while he has complained about that, the results tonight bore out Joe Torre’s one-inning handling of Farnsworth.

In this second inning, Farnsworth gave up a home run to John Buck, hitting just over .100 on the season, and then another run on an 0-2 slider to Jose Guillen, hitting .128 at the time. He lost his effectiveness, and he lost his pitching smarts at the same time.

In the sixth inning, Girardi brought in the starter Ian Kennedy for a brief three-inning appearance. Kennedy got into some wind-aided trouble in his first inning of work and gave up two runs. But he settled down after that to restore some faith in his pitching among Yankee fans.

The nitpicking is, of course, moot. The game should have been stopped for rain at some point; the field was a mess, and both teams were struggling through the weather. But had Girardi’s strategy been put to the test, the Yankees pitchers needed to pitch 9 scoreless innings to keep pace with this team’s anemic offense.

I can’t help but question Girardi’s decision tonight. Call it Monday-morning quarterbacking; call it the nature of a baseball blog. For four innings, Girardi’s choice looked like a solid one, but in the fifth, it fell apart. Why leave Farnsworth, a one inning at his best, in for a second inning? Why not go with Ian Kennedy when the game was clearly going on? Missing offense or not, the ghost of Josh Johnson’s elbow loomed large over this game.

Our old Joe

The Dodgers and Yankees both sit at 4-4 a few games behind their respective division leaders. Despite the 3000 miles separating New York from Los Angeles, though, these teams this year will be linked by Joe Torre.

Today, Rick A., a new contributor at My Baseball Bias, waxes nostalgically about Joe Torre. With the Yankees seemingly struggling at 4-4 in the early goes, Rick wonders, “In hindsight, was it a bad move to essentially get rid of Torre?” He equivocates on the answer and ends by reaffirming something upon which all Yankees agree: We will always look back fondly on the Joe Torre Era.

I’d like to take a short stab though at answering the question posed by Rick. I think the answer is a resounding no. To me, Joe Torre and the Yankees will forever be linked. He was named the manager of the team before my 13th birthday and served in his role until I was 24. I doubt any Yankee manager will last as long as Torre did during my lifetime, and my high school years are filled with memories of the Yankees winning the World Series year after year.

Then, for me, along came college and with it, Joe Torre’s magic touch disappeared. I watched the Yankees lose two World Series, lose one divisional series in four games and lose historically to the Red Sox in 2004. It was, in fact, after that momentous ALCS that I believe Torre and the Yanks should have parted company.

Hindsight aside, during those last four games, we saw the Yankees outmaneuvered and out-managed. Torre showed his proclivity for his guys when he went with Bernie Williams over Kenny Lofton even in obvious situations. He showed his tendencies toward bullpen abuse. He showed a lack of creative strategy when he didn’t steal off of the Wakefield-Varitek battery or bunt off of Curt Schilling.

But the Yanks let Joe linger, and the last three seasons for Torre seemed more like a battle than anything prior had. It wouldn’t have been a kneejerk reaction to dismiss Torre in 2004, and it wasn’t a bad move to let him go in 2007.

So far, I have no qualms with Joe Girardi. I think he’s done a great job of managing the bullpen through the first eight games, and the players seem to respect him as they did Torre. He might not deliver four World Series championship in his first five seasons as manager, but who can? I’ll miss Torre for what he represented; I don’t miss him for his managing quite yet.