For every Yankee name, from the massage therapist to the training staff and up through Sunday night’s starting lineup, the Stadium fans clapped and cheered to varying degrees, the unconditional love for their team echoing from the upper decks.
Except for Joe Girardi. There would be none of that for the manager, who was made to feel unwelcome in his own home despite his decade-long tenure and four-ring glory in pinstripes.
When Girardi was introduced before American League Division Series Game 3, the boos rained down, and to us it felt surprisingly loud. If there was any show of support, the rogue applause was drowned out by the jeering.
Fans boo. That’s their inalienable right. But this was an extraordinary circumstance, and we couldn’t remember anything like that sort of display — before a playoff elimination game, no less.
Whatever goodwill Girardi had mustered coming off a brilliant managing job in the wild-card game evidently was erased in a matter of days, wiped away by the sixth inning he botched during the Game 2 loss in Cleveland.
“I kind of expected it, you know,” Girardi said after the Yankees’ 1-0 win forced a Game 4 Monday night in the Bronx. “I’ve seen them boo players and managers that have a lot more status than I do. So I was prepared for it. I prepared my family for it. I told my kids what was going to happen.
“But it’s life. It’s not going to change who I am. It’s no fun to be booed. But they’re passionate. Our fans are passionate and they want to win. They get upset when we don’t win or when someone makes a mistake in their eyes.”
That someone is Girardi, of course. So does the white-knuckle, season-saving victory over the Indians earn Girardi some measure of redemption? It should.
After seven brilliant innings from Masahiro Tanaka, Girardi stuck with David Robertson for only two batters before asking for — and getting — a five-out save from Aroldis Chapman. The 48,614 fans inside the Stadium all sounded pretty happy with that final fly ball by Carlos Santana. They should be able to turn the page.
Girardi himself admitted — albeit a day late — that he “screwed up” by not challenging that fateful pitch that really didn’t hit Lonnie Chisenhall, only grazed the knob of his bat and wound up in Gary Sanchez’s mitt for what should have been an inning-ending strikeout.
We all know what happened afterward. The grand slam by Francisco Lindor, the tying home run by Jay Bruce, the 9-8 loss in 13 innings that left the Yankees in an 0-2 hole in the series.
Here’s something else that should be taken into account. It’s not all Girardi’s fault, and one mistaken non-challenge is no reason to end his decade-long tenure in the Bronx.
That possibility has been raised during the past few days because Girardi’s contract is up at the end of this season. Friday’s blunder has cracked the window for plenty of anti-Girardi vitriol to seep through. Other than talk radio and the grace of Twitter, it can be difficult to accurately take the pulse of a fan base, but Sunday night’s loud outburst was easy to read.
There was nothing inconclusive about it. The fans still were angry at Girardi, and with the entire Yankees team shoulder-to-shoulder on the first-base line, faced by the Indians on the third-base line, they chose to publicly embarrass him.
Was this meant to be a one-off? Or does Yankees Universe really want him gone?
We always assumed that Girardi would be back, and believed that this 91-win season — with a team that many predicted to finish in the middle of the AL East — was the clincher for him. But you can bet the Yankees’ front office took notice of Sunday’s razzing, and at the very least, will store it away for the negotiating table.
But it shouldn’t sink him. Sensing blood in the water, reporters asked Girardi before Sunday’s game if he wants to be back as Yankees manager, a standard question with the team’s playoff fate hanging on the night’s outcome. Rather than give the standard response, as in the obvious “yes,’’ Girardi hedged, casting some doubt on what his intentions really are.
“I think an organization has to do what they’re comfortable with,” he said. “And it may not always agree with the person that is either being fired or however it goes, but I think that’s Hal’s and Brian’s decision, and whatever their decision is, I’ll live with.”
Maybe if these were George Steinbrenner’s Yankees, the impulsive owner would have issued an advance-or-else mandate to Girardi after the Game 2 brain freeze. But the more rational Hal does not take after his late father in that department, and general manager Brian Cashman has a good working relationship with Girardi.
Remember, this was supposed to a rebuilding season, essentially a freebie for a manager in his walk year, and Girardi defied expectations by piloting the Yankees to the playoffs.
That’s got to matter way more than one blown inning, even it involves sabotaging a five-run lead during a very winnable Division Series game against the defending AL champs. Girardi understands he’ll wear that one for a while. And the Bronx fans gave him an aggressively vocal reminder Sunday night.
But he should be back in pinstripes, if that’s what Girardi wants at season’s end.