- Wallace Matthews, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOSTON -- Joe Girardi can't even remember who broke the news to him -- just moments before one of his team's most important games of the year -- that he would have to play it without the most fearsome hitter in the Yankees' lineup.
"I think it was Stevie," Girardi said, referring to Steve Donohue, the team trainer who has been the bearer of similar bad news so many times before this season.
Then again, it could have been Alfonso Soriano himself who came to the manager to inform him that his right thumb had swelled up overnight and he wouldn't be able to go in Saturday's game against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
Three hours later, after the Soriano-less Yankees had managed just three hits off Jon Lester and lost 5-1, Girardi was asked if he had reacted with an, "Oh, not again!" or maybe even some stronger language, when faced with yet another subtraction from his injury-depleted roster.
"No," he said, wearily. "We just scrambled because it was a little later today. I think it was about 12:20 that he informed us, so I had to figure out what we were going to do. I knew who we were going to put in, but I had to figure out what order you were going to put guys in today."
That's what happens when you've already had 20 players on the disabled list and more than 1,200 games lost to injury. And this week alone the Yankees have had to face the loss of captain Derek Jeter for the rest of the season and the playoffs, if any, as well as leadoff hitter Brett Gardner.
Add to that the fact that third baseman Alex Rodriguez has been reduced to a designated hitter who would need a courtesy runner if this was Sunday morning softball, and with the everyday catcher both run-down and beat-up, the Yanks have to go with a 22-year-old kid, J.R. Murphy, making his first major league start behind the plate.
And now they wake up to learn their cleanup hitter, Soriano, can barely grip a bat.
And, oh yeah, they have to win just about every game to have any hope of sneaking into the final playoff spot, which guarantees nothing more than one more road game after the merciful end of the regular season.
No wonder Girardi is reacting not with anger or despair, but with a sense of bemused resignation. Another day, another ambulance. Business as usual around the 2013 New York Yankees.
"Well, we've lost a couple of guys recently," Girardi said, with all the emotion of a guy who had just dropped 50 cents in a poker game. "Obviously, it shrinks your lineup a little bit whenever you have to take someone out, but it's no excuse. You're still major league hitters and you got to figure it out."
As Girardi's lineup has shrunk, his roster has grown; the Yankees have used a franchise-record 55 players so far this season, and if he ever works relief pitcher Mike Zagurski into a game, the new record will be 56.
And yet, quantity has not meant quality. The Yankees' loss on Saturday was one of their most lifeless of the season, due in equal measure to the Lester's effectiveness and the continuing futility of the Yankees' former ace, CC Sabathia.
When it was suggested to Girardi that Sabathia's performance was to blame -- after a briskly efficient, seven-pitch first inning, he allowed five runs over the next four innings -- the manager bristled slightly.
"No, I don't ever think like that," he said. "It's always more than one guy. I think by the question you're asking you're putting it on one guy, in a sense, and I don't think that's fair to do. It's 25, well, 55 for us, that need to contribute."
No one is doing much of that right now for the Yankees, injured or healthy. Two of their three hits off Lester on Saturday, a triple and a double, came from Curtis Granderson, a lefty who is not supposed to be able to hit lefties. The other, a single, came from Brendan Ryan, who is not supposed to be able to hit anyone.
The rest of the lineup was 0-for-23 with two walks and only three balls hit out of the infield. And Sabathia put up what's become depressingly familiar numbers: six innings, nine hits, five earned runs and a career-high 13 losses earned.
With at least two, and possibly three starts remaining, Sabathia can add to that total while being reasonably assured of a career-high ERA. It stands now at 4.90 and the only way he can get it under 4.39, his high-water mark earned as a 20-year-old rookie in Cleveland, would be to throw three complete-game shutouts between now and the end of the year.
"It hasn't been coming along as quick as I wanted to," Sabathia said. "Very frustrating, because everybody keeps telling me I'm close. But I don't see it. I want results, and I know the team wants results. I know the fans want results. It's just tough not being able to deliver."
Sabathia followed that by saying he thought he still had time to put together a few good starts before the end of the season.
But time is running out in a hurry for both him and his team. Soriano originally hurt himself diving for a sinking liner off the bat of Danny Valencia in the fourth inning of what became a rousing 6-5 win over the Orioles in Baltimore on Thursday night.
Soriano contributed mightily to that win with a leaping catch that pulled a Manny Machado home run back from the stands in the ninth.
And since joining the Yankees on July 26, Soriano has not only been the most productive hitter in their lineup, but also among the most productive hitters in all of baseball. No one has hit more home runs (15) or driven in more runs (47) than Soriano has in his 46 games as a Yankee, and the mere presence of his bat in the lineup has benefited everyone before and after him in the batting order.
For the first couple of weeks after he joined the team, along with Granderson, who came off the DL after suffering two broken hands, and A-Rod, who missed the first 110 games following hip surgery, Girardi said that for the first time all season, his team felt "whole" again. But now, as they have been for most of the season, the Yankees are full of holes again, and there doesn't seem to be enough time left to plug them all.
"I don't think Soriano's [injury] will be real long-term, I don't," Girardi, ever the optimist, said.
But when it was suggested to him that it might be more beneficial for the Yankees to rest Soriano, A-Rod, and whomever else needs a day off on Sunday to give them two days to rest (they have a scheduled off-day on Monday) before they make a full-on playoff push over the last 12 games of the season, the eternal optimist quickly turned realist.
"I'll see how they are," he said. "If they say they're able, I'm going to play them. Because you can't take for granted one game and say, 'We're not going to put what we feel is the best team out there.' You can't do that at this time."
All Joe Girardi can do is sit back and wait for the next visit from a bearer of pregame news, hoping for the best, bracing for the worst.
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