David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Maybe Joe Girardi knew what he was doing Sunday when he dropped the M-bomb after the Yankees' unsightly 8-0 loss to the Orioles. Calling Steve Pearce's takeout slide "malicious" was a surefire method to deflect the attention away from his team's real issue this weekend in dropping two of three to Baltimore: an overpaid and underperforming lineup.
Straight from the Managing 101 handbook. Create a diversion over in the other clubhouse, and we'll go aim our digital recorders at the Orioles. By the time we're through figuring out whether or not Pearce committed a felony, everyone will have forgotten about the Yankees mustering four lousy hits off Chris Tillman, who entered Sunday with a 4.82 ERA.
To think their best scoring chance died in the very first inning, by the length of Brett Gardner's fingertips. Gardner tried for a triple on a leadoff line drive into the leftfield corner. But his headfirst slide carried him over the bag -- and Manny Machado alertly blocked the base with his foot, which prevented Gardner from hooking it with his own foot, as he usually does.
When Gardner couldn't hang on, Machado didn't take his glove off him, and the original safe call was reversed by replay. At the time, it didn't seem like a huge concern. Surely there would be more opportunities against Tillman, right?
Other than Ichiro Suzuki, who had two singles, the Yankees did virtually nothing. The expensive middle of the order -- Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran -- went 0-for-10. In the third inning, Derek Jeter (0-for-4) stranded Ichiro in scoring position by grounding into a double play, his sixth this season, and the Yankees wasted Jacoby Ellsbury's leadoff double in the fourth, too.
They've come to expect a lot from Masahiro Tanaka, and he's delivered. But how about giving back a little? As it turned out, once Jonathan Schoop hit that two-out homer in the second inning, this game was essentially over.
When Girardi was asked Sunday if he expected more offensively from this group, he resisted the urge to blurt out, "Hey, Pearcey nearly killed one of my guys!"
Instead, the manager nodded.
"I think that's probably fair to say," Girardi said. "But we still have a long ways to go. And I see signs of us swinging the bats better -- I do. It is what it is and we'll go from here."
He's not lying. Beltran seems to be coping with the bone spur in his elbow. And Teixeira, despite worries about his surgically repaired wrist, has an .818 OPS this month with three homers and 10 RBIs in 16 games.
That's what made Teixeira getting drilled on the foot Sunday in the eighth inning so frightening. It's not really a trouble spot, but the way Teixeira reacted -- flinging his shin guard, then a double-handed spike of his helmet -- suggested he could be more seriously injured.
X-rays afterward did not show a break, so the Yankees could exhale. Girardi can't afford any more missing bats, especially now that his club has to go toe-to-toe with the slugging Blue Jays this week at Rogers Centre -- minus Tanaka. It might be a good time, however, for somebody other than Brett Gardner to be earning their eight-figure paychecks. Gardner has made Brian Cashman look smart by locking him up to that four-year, $52-million extension in March.
The rest of them? We're not so sure. Before long, Girardi will need to start picking on guys in his own lineup.