David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Before Sunday night's game, Joe Girardi chose to sit Derek Jeter because of a quadriceps issue, but he said he would use the shortstop in case of an "emergency.''
Managers say this stuff all the time, likely with fingers crossed behind their backs, praying that everything goes as planned. They don't want to be forced to break the glass. They fear losing control.
But after watching the weirdness that went down Sunday night in the Bronx, we have to wonder what Girardi considers an emergency. This is a guy who would calmly fill a squirt gun to tame a three-alarm fire. Maybe bring an ice-cube tray for backup.
How many infielders did Girardi have to lose before going to Jeter? Apparently more than the Yankees sacrificed for this 3-2 win over the Red Sox.
With Jeter already on the shelf, they also had a lineup minus Brian Roberts, who complained earlier in the day of lower-back soreness and was sent for a precautionary MRI (it was negative).
And that was only the beginning. Francisco Cervelli, making the second start of his career at first base, didn't survive four innings. When he pulled up lame with a hamstring injury while (successfully, thanks to a replay overturn) trying to beat out a double-play grounder, it set in motion a chain of events that allowed the Yankees to score what proved to be the winning run. And get Sox manager John Farrell ejected for arguing the verdict, oddly enough.
But that collateral damage was nothing compared with what the Yankees suffered. By game's end, Cervelli already was in an MRI tube, and Girardi did not count on a short absence for his backup catcher. Cervelli's injury also pushed Carlos Beltran into his career debut at first base.
Think about that. The $200-million Yankees went from a first baseman with less than two games' experience at the position to none. On top of that, Girardi considered using Ichiro Suzuki there before deciding on Beltran.
The determining factor? "I figured Carlos was a bigger target to throw at,'' Girardi said.
So much for scouting reports. This was seat-of-the-pants managing, and as bad as things looked for the Yankees, they almost got worse.
In the sixth inning, Yangervis Solarte, an April success story, appeared to hurt himself running to first base, not unlike Cervelli back in the fourth.
Solarte didn't grab at the back of his leg, the surefire sign of a hamstring problem, but doubled over instead. When he straightened up, Solarte still walked with a limp. Fortunately for Girardi, his second baseman stayed in the game. Only later did we learn the full extent of Solarte's, um, problem.
"He got hit in a place you really don't want to get hit,'' Girardi said.
Gotcha, Joe. No need for further explanation. With Solarte stable, the infield could remain relatively intact, and switching Beltran to first base actually became a serendipitous move when Ichiro made an incredible leaping catch to rob David Ortiz of extra bases in the eighth. With one out, Ortiz ripped a drive toward the right-centerfield gap, but Ichiro, on a full sprint, speared the liner on the warning track.
For everything that went wrong for the Yankees, something else went right, but the long-term ramifications are more worrisome. As exhilarating as it was to beat the Red Sox and take three of four from the defending champs, the Yankees are highly likely to put Cervelli on the DL and Roberts, despite the clean MRI, can't be considered in the clear yet.
We also had the first red flag go up on Jeter, who now will be scrutinized more closely in the days ahead.
Despite Sunday night's mayhem, Girardi was pleased that he could stay away from using Jeter, just as he had hoped to. But just barely.
In the eighth, when Brian McCann's throwing hand got smacked by a David Phelps pitch -- after it deflected off A.J. Pierzynski -- he was in obvious pain. Dean Anna was the only backup catcher left, but he was playing short. What then, Joe?
"If McCann went down,'' Girardi said, "Derek was going in. That was it.''
So now we know. Good thing this wasn't an emergency.