David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
BALTIMORE - The Boss would have been proud. For a few fleeting moments anyway.
Only hours after Hal Steinbrenner prodded his Yankees from a nearby hotel lobby -- in a much tamer fashion than his dad -- Joe Girardi displayed the kind of fire George really enjoyed while purposely getting tossed from last night's series finale at Camden Yards.
The junior Steinbrenner, who is in Baltimore attending the owners' meetings, didn't rail against his underperforming club. But he chose to lay the blame on the Yankees' misfiring bats, even after citing the rash of injuries that wiped out the rotation.
"We've put a lot of money into the offense," Steinbrenner said, "and they have been, as a whole, inconsistent. It's been a problem. And it needs to change."
Shortly afterward, Francisco Cervelli -- not one of those expensive bats -- stepped up with a two-run homer off Orioles starter Chris Tillman. The way Michael Pineda was pitching, it looked like it might hold up, too.
But Pineda, already on a 90-pitch count, was removed after 67 as Girardi showed a playoff urgency with his rested bullpen. Girardi had fumed after Monday night's 11-3 loss, and in watching the Yankees claw for any crumb of offense again Wednesday night, the manager finally boiled over in the seventh.
With two outs, Stephen Drew hit a dribbler toward the mound, and Tillman hustled over to field it. In scooping the grounder, however, Tillman threw poorly to first base and the ball rolled into rightfield. That looked like another break for the Yankees, who scored two runs Monday when the Orioles' suffered a meltdown on a double-steal.
But as soon as Drew took the turn and headed for second, umpire Gerry Davis walked onto the grass from behind the plate and signaled that Drew was out for running outside the baseline. Drew was shocked and Girardi immediately emerged from the dugout to argue with Davis.
After a brief but animated conversation, with Girardi repeatedly pointing to the baseline, the manager suddenly spun around and returned to the dugout. By then, it was obvious he wanted to double-check the replay. Once Girardi did, he was much angrier, and his motive was clear as he headed for Davis again. He planned on getting tossed.
We couldn't read Girardi's lips from the press box, but the discussion was brief. When Girardi turned his back, Davis signaled the ejection.
Girardi probably deserved it, and from what we could tell by the replay, he was right to be annoyed. Runners stray onto the infield grass all the time en route to first base and the rule is rarely enforced. But in Drew's case, he was almost entirely on the dirt.
In a strange coincidence, Davis was the same umpire who tossed Pineda on April 23 at Fenway Park for having pine tar on his neck. Pineda was guilty of a crime that is committed on a nightly basis, especially in chilly April climates. But that breach of conduct was too obvious for the Red Sox or Davis to ignore.
For Girardi, it's been a rough stretch, coming off that lost Bronx weekend to the Indians and the drubbing delivered Monday by the Orioles. With 43 games left, and the AL East all but conceded, we can't blame Girardi for feeling the pressure. Injuries or not, the Yankees are still a $200-milllion team, and Steinbrenner signed those checks during the winter to get them back to the playoffs.
Some of the key players are missing, but Steinbrenner's expectations are still there.
Those aren't going away. Not for what he's paying. He's just a little nicer than his dad in conveying them. When asked Wednesday if he was confident the Yankees would make the playoffs, Steinbrenner spoke in his usual measured tones.
"My job is to be an optimist," Steinbrenner said. "Not to be anything else. I am confident. So we'll see. Six weeks to go."
We can't tell if that's a good or bad thing. The Yankees entered Wednesday night with a 2½-game deficit for the second wild card and three teams ahead of them, and their fourth straight loss Wednesday night put them closer toward the danger zone.
Not many optimists there.