Torre part of solution, not problem
Skipper should not lose job because of pitching woes
NEW YORK -- Joe Torre should not be dismissed. In fact, he probably should be applauded for handling a nearly impossible situation with his usual calm dignity.
Reputable reports in the New York press on Saturday indicated that the Yankees' manager's job was in jeopardy due to the team's recent slide.
This sort of thing comes with the territory, but the Yankees' problems have nothing to do with shortcomings on the part of the manager. New York's problems can be explained in three words: pitching, pitching, pitching.
Before Kei Igawa stopped the bleeding with an emergency long, long, long relief appearance on Saturday, the Yankees had allowed six or more runs in eight consecutive games. The last time that happened was in 1933. That 74-year span clearly illustrates how consistently, epically bad the Yankees' recent pitching has been.
But the manager typically takes the blame when a team doesn't perform up to expectations. The Yankees have been performing so far beneath expectations that they have been barely recognizable as the Yankees. Torre understands this deal better than anybody. He hasn't pointed fingers in an attempt to deflect the blame. He has accepted his share of the blame and more.
"This is my responsibility," Torre said on Saturday. "I don't want to pawn it off and say, 'It's not my fault.' I'm in charge here. I'm certainly not shying away from any responsibility. If you're going to enjoy the good times, you've certainly got to deal with some potholes.
"I'm not going to throw anybody to the wolves at this point. This is the team and I'm in charge. We have to find a way to get it done. It's not the fact that you can't win because this guy can't play or this guy can't pitch. We have to find a way to win -- that's my mentality."
The Yankees, after losing seven straight, found a way to win on Saturday, although they took an ironic and even painful route to victory. Igawa had been skipped in the rotation because of his own erratic performance. But his replacement, Jeff Karstens, was struck just below the right knee by a Julio Lugo line drive to open the game. The result, tests later showed, was a fractured fibula.
Karstens lobbied to stay in the game, but after he gave up a hit to the next batter, Kevin Youkilis, Torre wisely removed him and summoned Igawa.
Igawa responded splendidly, producing six-plus shutout innings, earning the decision in a 3-1 victory over the Red Sox. Closer Mariano Rivera got his first save of the season, which means that there is still some order in the universe. But Igawa's work was the equivalent of the life-saving starting performance the Yankees have desperately needed, but had not recently received.
"The stability of the starting rotation usually helps the personality of the team," Torre said.
The Yankees' rotation, through a combination of injuries and ineffectiveness, had recently contributed anything but stability.
Yankees starters have averaged fewer than five innings per start. The result has been that the Yankees have led the Major Leagues in relief appearances. The ineffectiveness of the starters, and the resulting overuse of the relievers, was a downward spiral that didn't stop until Saturday. This sort of thing is beyond the range of managerial decisions.
"The winners are the guys who handle the bad times the best," Torre said.
Even on Torre's teams that have won nine straight division titles and have appeared in 11 straight postseasons, there have inevitably been bad times. Understanding that, and getting through that, is a large part of this manager's job.
Have we mentioned the four World Series championships? For some people, because none of those happened in the last five minutes, the championships somehow don't count. But they still should.
Whenever the Torre's-in-trouble stories surface, this storyline becomes the center of the universe. It was again on Saturday, and the manager accepted this reality with grace and patience. An empathetic questioner asked Torre how difficult it was, in the midst of losing all these games, also dealing with all the queries about the possibility of losing his job.
"The losing is much worse than the questioning," Torre said with a smile. "So have free reign. Knock yourself out. Don't worry about it."
Winning a game, a well-pitched game, particularly against the Red Sox, will provide temporary relief for Torre and his team. But even in victory, another pitcher was lost. It wasn't all pleasant sighs of relief for the Yankees on Saturday.
Torre's inherently optimistic position is that when his starting rotation returns to something resembling full health, the starters will work more innings, the bullpen will be more rested and thus more effective, and the whole operation will function the way it was supposed to function.
That could happen. The surer thing is that dismissing the manager won't come close to curing the problems this team has had. Over the course of his managerial career in the Bronx, Torre has been much more part of the solution than part of the problem. That hasn't changed just because the pitching hasn't been adequate.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.