As Jhonny Peralta’s third hit of the game skipped under the glove of a diving Alex Rodriguez and as Trevor Crowe, a rookie with a .237 OBP prior to the game, touched home, I second-guessed Joe Girardi.
First, I wondered why Brett Gardner did not attempt to steal second when the Yanks had first and third and one out in the top of the 9th. Second, I wanted to know why Chien-Ming Wang was removed after three innings and 42 pitches with a no-hit number nine hitter coming up. Third, I was curious to hear why Mariano Rivera was not brought to pitch at all in the ninth.
Then I watched the post-game show, and two of my three concerns were answered.
We start with Gardner. The Yanks had tied the game in the 8th, and they were threatening to take the lead in the 9th. Gardner was on first as Jorge Posada came up. Gardner did not steal, and Posada grounded into an inning-ending double play. After the game, Girardi danced around the issue. “That’s been addressed. I’ll just leave it at that,” he said.
Gardner was more forthcoming. “They wanted me to steal,” he said. “Mentally, I didn’t get a good jump off the bat.”
Basically, Gardner just didn’t feel comfortable running off Kerry Wood, a righty who isn’t quick to the plate. That one is on Brett through and through, and if he steals, perhaps the Yanks plate that fifth run and perhaps Rivera is pitching the ninth with a lead. In related news, Melky Cabrera should be back in the lineup tomorrow or Tuesday.
The second second-guess involved Chien-Ming Wang. Let’s rewind: Today’s game started out with Phil Hughes on the hill. He threw over 20 pitches in the first inning but had good stuff. His fastball sat at 93 and he dialed it up to 94/95 for a few pitches. Clearly, Hughes is growing more comfortable with his stuff.
Hughes ran into trouble in the third when the Indians plated three runs on a hit batter and a few hits. Outside of a bad Brett Gardner play in the 5th that led a fourth Indian run, Hughes threw well but used too many pitches. After five innings, he was at 95 pitches. While he had struck out six, walked just one and had allowed five hits, the Yankees turned the ball over to Wang.
For the second straight outing, Wang looked solid. With his sinker sitting at 92.5 and peaking at 93.9, his velocity is nearly back, and he had a 4-1 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio. For three innings, Wang ran through the Indians’ lineup. He gave up no runs on three strike outs, three hits and a walk.
After 42 pitches and with the Indians’ nine hitter due up in the ninth, the Yankees pulled Wang. That move I did not originally understand. Wang is a starter who can throw more than 42 pitches, and he seemed to be finding his groove today after a rough start to the season. Unless Rivera were to pitch, the Yanks would be replacing a good starter with a worse reliever.
After the game, though, Girardi said that the Yanks did not want to overextend Wang because he is Wednesday’s emergency starter. It sounds as though Pettitte may not be able to make his next start, and the Yankees do not want to find themselves without options. Having Wang throw more pitches would have led to just that.
Our final second-guess though remains unanswered. With a runner on second and one out, the Yankees went with David Robertson and not Mariano Rivera. I know that baseball tradition says that you do not use your closer in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game on the road. But with the game on the line, the Yankees have to go with their best pitcher. The Yankees ended up saving Rivera for a save situation that never came. Twenty-nine other managers would have made the same decision, but I still don’t like it.
Anyway, the Yanks have won four out of six on the road. Now that I know what happened behind the scenes, I’m far less upset over the outcome on the field.