David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
BALTIMORE -- These days, you don't need to read body language to decode the frustration bubbling up around the Yankees. They're spelling it out for you, from Brian Cashman hurling an expletive in Alex Rodriguez's general direction earlier in the week to CC Sabathia biting his tongue Friday night before a regrettable word popped out.
Like Cashman, who is stuck with the endlessly-annoying A-Rod, Sabathia is having trouble trying to cope with a situation that is, to some extent, out of his control.
Take Friday night's 4-3 loss to the Orioles. Sabathia had a no-hitter through five innings, then lost a 3-0 lead during a 32-pitch sixth partly because of two grounders that never reached the infield dirt.
One of them involved Sabathia having to eat the ball because of an uncovered first base.
As if Sabathia's rage wasn't red-lining by then, he later hung a slider to Nate McLouth in the seventh, and McLouth put it on top of the rightfield promenade for the go-ahead home run. When that inning was over, Sabathia stormed off the field screaming at himself, then fired his glove into the dugout.
Even with two more innings in the clubhouse to simmer down and another 10-minute cooling-off period, Sabathia refused to give himself a break. His ERA nudged up to 4.15, the Yankees dropped another game behind the second-place Orioles, and this season continued to fall short of his expectations.
Knowing Sabathia, and checking his numbers, would tell you that. But asking him to evaluate his year revealed the depth of that anger.
"I almost cussed right there," Sabathia said. "But not very good. Not very good."
On another night, with a more Yankee-like team behind him, Friday's postgame chat probably would have had a different tone. Sabathia was handed a 3-0 lead in just three innings, but it could have been twice that against the Orioles' T.J. McFarland, a rare lefthander the Yankees were able to chew up.
Instead, Sabathia was forced to cling to that lead for dear life -- until a few dinks and dunks helped snatch it away. Ultimately, that's on Sabathia. He's on the mound at the time. But there's more ways to win a game than to have Sabathia squeeze the life out of an opponent, and that's no easy task against an Orioles team with the highest slugging percentage (.451) in the majors, a team that has scored more runs (391) than every team but the Red Sox (417).
"You can't expect your ace to go out there and throw a shutout every time," Joe Girardi said.
Sabathia can think that, and there's no doubt he believes it. But the reality is that not even a guy pulling in $23 million this year can make up for a Yankees roster as full of holes as this one.
Sabathia would never use that as an excuse, nor should he at that salary. But we can say it.
As sturdy as Sabathia is, he can't take all of this on his shoulders. And the rest of the Yankees' rotation has been feeling the squeeze as well. Look at what happened Thursday to Phil Hughes, who allowed two runs in eight innings and still lost when Derek Holland shut out the Yankees on two hits and 92 pitches.
"I feel like I'm wasting starts, you know?" Sabathia said.
He's not alone. The Yankees as a whole certainly feel that way, and as long as the offense continues to sputter -- with A-Rod, Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson out on rehab, Mark Teixeira out for the season and Kevin Youkilis possibly in the same situation -- they can't afford to throw away games like Friday night.
Sabathia feels as though he was the one who flushed it. Sure, he got the loss. But this was a very winnable game, and Sabathia still put the Yankees in a position where another play or another timely hit could have preserved it.
"Things like tonight can't happen," Sabathia said.
But as long as the Yankees look like this, those things will happen. There's little margin for error these days, and when walking that line, it's too easy to slip off. Maybe that's not much of a consolation to Sabathia, but it does provide some perspective.
Sabathia just has to remember to shout the expletives into his glove.