But if there’s one thing you realize after a few years of Rafael Soriano, it’s that he’s focused. His MFIKY face on the mound should tell you just about everything you need to know, but in case it isn’t enough, let me tell you a bit more. Soriano always seemed to be a pragmatist. He didn’t pitch early in Spring Training because he realized it wouldn’t take him all month to warm up to pitch one inning. He accepted arbitration because it made financial sense. He doesn’t show emotion because it doesn’t exactly help. None of this, of course, makes him very personable, but it’s helped make him a good ballplayer. When he’s on the mound, that stare let’s you know where his attention his–on the mitt, on the hitter, and on what he’s throwing next.
The focus is an indication that he cares, and here is where I think he gets misunderstood. Why else would someone focus so intently? We can argue over why they care or who they ultimately care about, but as long as he cares about pitching well, he helps the Yankees as long as he’s talented, which he is. Soriano, like most athletes, doesn’t like to fail. Is not talking to the media the right way to handle such a failure? Maybe not. But let’s think about this from Soriano’s perspective. You expect to succeed. Your world is that inning you pitch. You fail and miserably. And regarding an aspect that often gets overlooked, English isn’t your first language. I can speak Spanish pretty well, but there’s no way I’m giving an interview to the most critical media outlet in the world in a language I’m not entirely comfortable speaking. Does this excuse Soriano? Probably not. It’s generally not a good thing to leave your teammates to deal with the fallout. But it certainly makes it more understandable.
Listen, no one can tell you what’s going on inside Soriano’s head because, well, he doesn’t seem like he’s ever let anyone in there. He’s always seemed like a private person. He didn’t want a lot of spotlight or attention (Why sign in New York then? Money, of course. He accepted arbitration from Atlanta after 2009 because he realized it would potentially maximize his earnings, and New York offered him the most money). He didn’t want to talk to … anybody—teammates, media, fans. Again, none of this makes him easy to like. It doesn’t make him easy to sympathize with. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Soriano blew the game, and he compounded the error and outrage by not taking responsibility publicly for what happened. But from my experience with Soriano, he took responsibility personally for it, and I think that’s all that matters because it means he cares. As I said, I never got the feeling that he didn’t care. He’s blown saves before. He’s blown big leads before. It happens. Mariano blew five last season. If there’s one guy I’d expect to put it immediately out of mind and return to life as normal, it’s Soriano. His focus and stoicism doesn’t make him easy to like, but it makes him able to bounce back from bad outings. And in the end, that’s what really matters. Because when he’s shutting down opponents, you’ll be glad he’s on the team. You’re just upset because the Yankees lost, and you know what, that’s understandable, too.