Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is reflected in the sunglasses...

Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is reflected in the sunglasses of Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter as they talk before a spring training baseball game. (March 3, 2011) Credit: AP

TAMPA, Fla. -- Buck Showalter's months-old comments about Derek Jeter and Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein that went viral Thursday probably can be chalked up to nothing more than gamesmanship.

And the Orioles' manager all but admitted as much after an afternoon of verbal gymnastics.

First, though, he didn't think anything he said, especially about Jeter, constituted a "rip" job. "That was really a rip," Showalter said sarcastically Thursday afternoon on Michael Kay's show on 1050 ESPN radio. "That's pretty comical."

Showalter is quoted in the April issue of Men's Journal as taking umbrage with the way he perceives the shortstop exaggerating at times to make borderline pitches look like balls.

"The first time we went to Yankee Stadium [Sept. 6], I screamed at Derek Jeter from the dugout," Showalter told the magazine. "Our guys are thinking, 'Wow, he's screaming at Derek Jeter.' Well, he's always jumping back from balls just off the plate. I know how many calls that team gets -- and yes, he ---- me off."

Speaking to reporters in Sarasota before Thursday night's game against the Pirates, Showalter at first tried to distance himself from the comments.

"I didn't really say it in that [context]," he said. "I was talking to a guy, like most people, just joking around, whatever."

Later Showalter joked at his expense. "We were sitting down at a table laughing about different stuff, and three or four months later, somebody brings it up as a quote and it's newsworthy," he said. "I can't remember if I said it or not, but I am 55 years old. I probably did."

The Yankees were off yesterday. General manager Brian Cashman, after watching Freddy Garcia's start in a minor-league game at the Yankees' minor-league complex, shook his head, laughed and said "no" when asked if he had a reaction.

In the Men's Journal story, Showalter also was quoted as saying, "I'd like to see how smart Theo Epstein is with the Tampa Bay payroll."

Showalter took over the Orioles Aug. 2 of last year, and one of his first priorities was to infuse in his young team the attitude that it wasn't to be pushed around by anyone in the rough AL East -- the Yankees, the Red Sox or anyone else. The team responded, going 34-23 under him.

Showalter indicated Thursday that his comments were more reflective of that won't-be-bullied perspective than personal shots at Jeter or Epstein.

"I do want the players to realize I will fight the fight for them when the time comes," Showalter said on Kay's show.

Showalter demonstrated that before the Sept. 6 game, telling a group of Yankees pitchers playing catch in the outfield during Orioles batting practice to disperse, Newsday reported at the time.

During the game that followed is when Showalter said he yelled at Jeter, though when Jeter was asked about it before the next day's game, he said he didn't hear anything. After the Sept. 7 game, Jeter told Newsday he checked with the plate umpire from the night before, Laz Diaz, who didn't recall hearing anything either.

Regardless, Showalter -- Jeter's first major-league manager during the shortstop's brief tenure with the Yankees in the 1995 season -- made it clear Thursday that he respects Jeter.

"Maybe it is envy or something on my part," he said in Sarasota. "But obviously you all know what I think of Derek and the success the Red Sox have had. Hopefully, we can get to their level one day."

As for Epstein, other than saying "he's definitely very smart," Showalter didn't do much to distance himself from anything in the story Thursday.

Pressed by Kay about seeming to back away from his comments, Showalter interrupted him and said: "At any point have you heard me completely back off of them?"

With Anthony Rieber

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