Jaime Garcia clearly was not thrilled to get hooked by Joe Girardi in the fifth inning on Wednesday, avoiding eye contact with his manager and muttering to himself as he left the mound.
Dellin Betances offered a similar displeased reaction when he was pulled three innings later.
Girardi does not give a flying hoot, however, nor should he, about anyone’s feelings or personal goals — be it pitchers or position players — as he attempts to navigate the Yankees back into the postseason over the final two-and-a-half weeks of the regular season.
That’s simply the way it has to be, whether any players or team observers believe otherwise.
“I had a couple of difficult choices today…but those were decisions I felt like I had to make,” Girardi reasoned after the Yanks held on for a 3-2 edging of the Rays to conclude their hurricane-shifted “road” series at Citi Field. “It’s not always going to work. I’m not always going to be right. But I’ve got to make the moves that I believe in my heart.
“This is all about winning games now. This is not about numbers or when you pitch. It’s when we need you, that’s when we need you, and do your job.”
Garcia had done that much on Wednesday and appeared as if he’d finally be in line to secure his first win since the Yanks acquired him from Minnesota on July 29. The veteran lefty was nursing a 3-1 lead and recorded two quick outs in the fifth, before Lucas Duda’s single prompted Girardi to turn to lights-out middle man Chad Green.
Granting Garcia a crack at completing five innings to qualify for a win correctly was the last thing on Girardi’s mind.
“There’s a time for that. But I don’t think September when you’re four games out (of first place) is the time for that,” Girardi said. “Early in the season, I probably would’ve left him in. June, July, I probably would’ve left him in. But you start to get to this point, and you have to make some personal sacrifices for the team.”
After returning to the dugout, Girardi was shown having a lengthy conversation with Garcia and relayed that same message.
“I was explaining to him what I felt like I had to do,” said Girardi, whose contract expires at season’s end. “I tell all my players, ‘Hey, I don’t want you to want to come out. I want you to want to stay in. I don’t ever really take too much in the heat of the moment. I want competitors, and if they get hot, I’ve told them, ‘I understand if you’re mad at me. I get it.’ It’s days after (if they’re still mad), that’s when that’s an issue. But I was happy he didn’t want to come out.”
Garcia hadn’t pitched since Aug. 30 because he’d been skipped in his previous turn. He said he actually “appreciated” the frank talk from the manager, while stressing he was “more disappointed in the situation and myself” than angry at Girardi.
“There’s some emotions going on, but I don’t think I’ve ever been pleased when a manager takes me out of a game,” Garcia admitted. “The important thing was for the team to win and for us to get to October.”
Girardi similarly had pulled CC Sabathia in favor of David Robertson in the fifth inning of Monday’s series-opening win. That’s the game-shortening flexibility and depth GM Brian Cashman has provided with the Yanks’ retooled bullpen following the trade for Robertson and Tommy Kahnle from Chicago before the deadline.
Not to mention the emergence of Green as a strikeout machine and another dominant weapon, with 99 Ks now in 64 innings for the year.
“That’s a lot of it, too,” Girardi said of the decision, adding that Robertson was unavailable. “(Green) has been outstanding. He’s been as good as anyone in our bullpen.”
Regardless, the more curious decision was pulling Betances with a runner on first and two down with the two-run lead intact in the eighth. Girardi turned to Chapman against righty-swinging Steven Souza for a potential four-out save — less than a week after he’d regained the closer’s role over the weekend in Texas — and the $ 85 million flamethrower was shaky again before striking out the side in the ninth, including Duda to seal it with 102-mph heat.
Still, Betances also fully appeared miffed to be yanked, even if there was no dugout chat this time with Girardi. The four-time All-Star also had cleared out of the clubhouse by the time the media finished grilling the manager.
“I didn’t have a chance to, I’ll talk to him (Thursday),” Girardi said. “Again, that’s a competitor. He wants to be out there. That’s a good thing. I’m OK with that.”
Just as everyone needs to be cool with that sort of team-first thinking the rest of the way, an approach Girardi estimated he’s operated under “for at least the last three or four weeks.”
With 14 of the final 17 games slated for the Bronx, trying to make up ground on Boston in the division race and/or securing the first wild-card spot must remain the only priorities.
Girardi can’t otherwise care about anyone’s feelings here. And he doesn’t.