Brian Cashman did not like being overruled or spending $10 million for an eighth-inning guy even though he admitted the move improved the bullpen. Last night, regardless of salary, that same person was the most unpopular player in Yankee Stadium.
That man would be Rafael Soriano, who gave up a two-run home run to Paul Konerko with one out in the eighth of a 3-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox, marking the first time this year the Yankees have a losing streak.
Soriano’s stumbles almost were overshadowed when the Yankees nearly won it only to be thwarted by Brett Lillibridge, a defensive replacement for Carlos Quentin with 31 previous innings in right field and one before this year.
The Yankees had first and second with one out in the ninth against Sergio Santos when Lillibridge’s gems occurred.
The first one featured him running back to the warning track to take away a likely game-winning double by Alex Rodriguez that likely would have scored pinch runner Eduardo Nunez with the winning run. The next one featured Lillibridge racing in towards the foul line on Robinson Cano’s sinking liner just before the ball hit the ground, causing the Yankee second baseman to slam his bat in disbelief.
When those plays happened, the focus returned to Soriano, who was beaten by Konerko on a 1-1 cutter after he hit Quentin with a slider.
“I just had a bad day … a bad month,” Soriano said.
After allowing his first home run, the bad month has featured this for Soriano: 11 appearances, nine earned runs spanning 10 1/3 innings while adjusting to the eighth after getting 72 saves over the previous two years. They also have featured nine walks in those innings for a WHIP of 1.94.
“It has not been easy for me,” Soriano said. “I’ve tried to figure out how to do the same that I did last year. I’ve been struggling right now, but I’ll take it, forget all that tonight, come back and find out.”
When he comes back, Soriano will have allowed three fewer runs than his 45-save season for Tampa Bay that earned him the big contract in New York. He already has exceeded his most earned runs in a month since becoming a reliever eight years ago with Seattle and any more blowups will keep the discussion and questions coming.
“It’s a different animal here,” Joe Girardi said. “Some guys come in and the transition’s easy; some guys, it can be difficult. I haven’t found the transition to be really difficult for him; I just don’t think at times he’s thrown great this year. I haven’t seen anything that tells me he can’t handle it up here.”
It was a continuation of three difficult days for Soriano, who was unavailable Sunday due to back soreness. That led to Mariano Rivera throwing 33 pitches and blowing his second save in a game the Yankees eventually won in 11 innings.
In Monday’s series opener, Soriano failed to retrieve a pop-up and it eventually led to insurance run produced by Konerko, but last night must have given Yankee fans nightmares of others who struggled in the difficult pressures of being the eighth inning guy for Rivera.
“You’ve got to fight your way out of it,” Girardi said. “You keep using the guys. You get them on track. I haven’t lost any confidence in Rafael Soriano. This is a very good pitcher that just happened to give up a two-run homer tonight.”
The Yankees believe he’ll handle it well and Soriano did better this time than on April 4 when he was so upset with himself he did not meet the media until the following day.
This time, Soriano was composed when explaining what went wrong and in his words, it was a pitch that was supposed to be down and away but stayed high.
It also was the first time the Yankees blew an eighth inning lead at home to the White Sox since May 4, 1996. That night Jeff Nelson, also in his first season with the Yankees, coughed up a 4-3 lead in an eventual 11-5 loss.
At that point into his first season in pinstripes, Nelson had allowed the same amount of earned runs as Soriano and wound up pitching to a 3.85 ERA over his final 63 innings. Of course, Nelson was making less than a million dollars, so it seems obvious to wonder if Soriano can handle being the $10 million man in New York.
Soriano’s latest failure undid a fine performance by Ivan Nova, who made it into the seventh for the first time as a major leaguer. Nova held the White Sox to Gordon Beckham’s fifth-inning RBI single among five hits over 6 1/3 innings during a solid 92-pitch night.
Like Soriano, the jury is still out on Nova pitching well consistently. The difference is the expectations and salary.
Brett Gardner has four hits over his last 41 at-bats and two have been home runs. Gardner homered in the ninth inning of Saturday’s rout in Baltimore and again in the fifth inning, which gave the Yankees the lead Soriano eventually blew.
This is the longest the Yankees have gone into a season without losing two in a row since the 2003 season when their first losing streak occurred in the 25th and 26th game.
Jorge Posada had the night off as Rodriguez started at DH. Posada has struggled in 70 plate appearances so far by striking out 19 times and getting nine hits (six home runs).
“It just seems like he’s kind of in between,” Girardi said before the game. “Sometimes it seems like he’s late on the fastball and early on the off-speed. Many times he’s made good pretty good contact and there have been some days where he hits the ball deep and hasn’t had a whole lot to show for it and that becomes frustrating as a player.”
The Yankees lost consecutive home games to the White Sox for the first time since August 2005 and the catches made by Lillibridge were similar to the defensive plays made by Aaron Rowand throughout that series, which saw a 3-2 game and a pair of 2-1 contests.
Francisco Cervelli appeared in his fourth rehab game and first with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre. Cervelli could return this week after going 1-for-5.