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Girardi's Yankees running on fumes

BOSTON -- On Friday night at the fights, Joe Girardi was slumped so far down his office chair in the bowels of Fenway Park, he looked like a spent middleweight with no intention of answering the bell.

"That's not in my DNA," he said.

Quitting, he meant. The manager of the New York Yankees said it was going to take a lot more than a Jarrod Saltalamacchia grand slam off a watered-down bullpen to make him quit on his stool.

"And that's not going to change," Girardi told a reporter, "because I didn't see that at home with my mom."

Suffering from ovarian cancer in 1977, Angela Girardi was told she had three months to live. She made a mockery of that doctor's forecast by surviving for another six years before her last words to Joe went like this: "Just don't forget me."

So Joe never forgets what he learned from his mother and father, Jerry, who always had a blue-collar solution to the issues of the day. The Girardi children weren't just taught to relentlessly work the problem, but to work it with their bare hands.

But after this crushing 8-4 loss to the Red Sox, after he'd conceded that Brett Gardner could be done for the year, Joe Girardi looked like a guy who was running out of options and running out of time.

Derek Jeter was lost for the season on Wednesday, and then the leadoff man who had a much greater impact on the 2013 Yankees than their captain did was all but ruled out two days later. Meanwhile, for all the impactful things Alex Rodriguez is doing at the plate (and he's doing more of them than I suspected he would), his inability to run faster than your average 330-pound offensive lineman is catching up to his team.

Friday night, with the Yankees down 4-2 in the seventh, Robinson Cano ripped a two-out, bases-loaded double into the right-center gap that would've scored CC Sabathia (the pre-diet version) from first base. Yet Rodriguez, confined to DH duties, never even tried to round third and gun it for home, not after tweaking his hamstring the last time he made a mad dash for the plate.

"He must not feel like he can really push it," Girardi said.

Alfonso Soriano couldn't drive Rodriguez home, the Yankees never finished off their rally after Hiroki Kuroda turned it into a 4-0 game in the first, and then A-Rod's replacement at third, Eduardo Nunez, retreated Little League-style from Shane Victorino's leadoff liner in the seventh that led to Saltalamacchia's blast.

Preston Claiborne surrendered the moon shot on an 0-1 fastball, this after throwing his changeup to strike out Daniel Nava and to get ahead of Saltalamacchia. And just like a fellow right-hander, Geno Smith, did in nearby Foxborough the night before, Claiborne accepted full responsibility for blowing the game.

"I just made a mistake, left it over the plate, and he punished me for it," Claiborne said. The 25-year-old rookie was trying to get inside on Boston's catcher, trying to force him to hit a benign grounder to Lyle Overbay, and threw away the Yankees' chance to stay one game back of Tampa Bay in the wild-card race instead.

"It hurts pretty bad," Claiborne said. "I know I let the guys down. I know this one's on me."

Claiborne isn't a potential franchise player like Smith; he's a former 17th-round draft pick who has faced the Red Sox in his past three appearances, and who has given them eight runs and three homers in 1 2/3 innings.

But Girardi, noted bullpen scholar, had no choice but to turn to him. Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, and Boone Logan were all unavailable, leaving the manager to hope and pray Claiborne could build him a bridge to Joba Chamberlain, of all saviors, in the eighth, and then to Shawn Kelley in the ninth.

This was no way to approach a series opener against the Red Sox, who stand 10½ games ahead of their historic rivals for a reason. They have a lot more talent than the Yankees, and they have John Farrell, in his first year as Boston's skipper, in line for Manager of the Year.

But Girardi has been coaching his you-know-what off, too, enduring an absurd number of injuries while somehow getting the best out of the house pariah, A-Rod, who said his goal is to not "blow out" his hammy before he's able to return to the field.

Even after the three consecutive victories over Baltimore, this team appears to be physically falling apart. "I believe in these guys," Girardi maintained. "I believe in the character in that room.

"Maybe I've kind of gotten used to the injuries this year, because we've seen it a lot. Just, 'OK, move on.' You have to move on. Sometimes that sounds like it's cold in a sense, but it's not. It's part of the job, and it's what as players and coaches and an organization you need to be able to do because you owe it to each other in that room, and you owe it to your fans."

Girardi has given the fan base a meaningful September despite a mere 17 games from Jeter, despite the injuries to A-Rod, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Gardner, you name it. The manager deserved his share of credit for tempering his intense approach in the championship 2009 season, but he's done his best work in 2013 and it's not even close.

Now the Yankees are two back of Tampa with 14 games to play, and with a three-game series against the Rays still to come in the Bronx. As he sat slumped behind his office desk Friday night, the weight of this defeat driving him closer and closer to the floor, Girardi was asked if that series in the Bronx provided him with a safety net.

"The problem is," he said, "we've got those other teams to worry about besides Tampa."

Cleveland, Baltimore, maybe even Kansas City. It's getting hard to picture this old and battered Yankees team beating them all.

"Some nights we're a little limited," Girardi conceded.

And some nights they're a lot outmanned. Raised to fight by a tough set of parents, Joe Girardi won't be reaching for a white towel anytime soon.

That doesn't mean his team won't end up flat on its back.