To Yankees fans, last night’s was a big game. In the big picture it was just one of 162, but after losing two straight, not to mention all seven this season, to the Red Sox, it felt like a must-win. Again, in the big picture it wasn’t. What’s happened now that they’ve lost? (A: They’ll play 102 more games.) It might feel like the season’s trickled down the drain, but trust me when I say it hasn’t.
While the major action took place in the later innings, there was plenty going on in the early frames. In each of the first two innings the Yankees saw the leadoff hitter reach second base with no outs, but in neither could they bring him around to score.
It was an especial shame in the first. Brad Penny had just plunked Alex Rodriguez, which drew a warning and precluded any attempt at retribution, putting runners on first and third with two outs for Robinson Cano. What followed was an intense at bat in which Cano fouled off the first seven pitches, took two balls, fouled off the 10th, and finally on the 11th flied out to left. Balls three and four landed in the seats at some point, but Cano’s not the kind of guy who’s going to let them go by.
The second ended in an infuriating manner. After doubling to lead off the inning, Nick Swisher found himself still standing at second base with one out and Francisco Cervelli at the dish. Frankie popped one to left, not deep but enough to approach the shallow monster. Swisher went all-in on it bouncing off the wall and he lost. Jason Bay doubled him up.
This was the second night in a row where the Red Sox caught Swisher drifting too far. There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, it’s probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once…shame on…shame on you. It fooled me. We can’t get fooled again. Don’t be surprised if Gardner starts in center tomorrow, with Melky and Damon flanking him.
The following four innings were only remarkable because Brad Penny continued to post zeroes. He entered the game with a 5.85 ERA, 6.51 at Fenway, and the Yankees couldn’t manage a run off him. Granted, he did throw 65 percent of his pitches for strikes, but he tossed 117 of them total, which is quite the sum through six innings.
On the other end, CC did his part, limiting the Red Sox to one run through seven innings. The only damage came when a 45-year-old with dry eyes popped one the other way. That was another emotional trip which warped reality a bit. Solo homers happen — Johan Santana gives up a ton of ’em. It just stings that it was the second of the series for Ortiz, he he had hit only two for the year and was hitting on the Interstate heading into the series. His single in the seventh put him over .200.
Here comes the good part. With Penny done after the sixth, Manny Delcarmen, member of the insurmountable Red Sox bullpen, entered the game. The Yankees wasted no time in taking back the game. Melky singled, Cervelli doubled down the third base line, scoring Cabrera who was moving on the pitch. A new ballgame had dawned. It wouldn’t last for long.
With runners on first and third and two outs, Alex Rodriguez stepped to the plate. A-Rod detractors cringed; A-Rod supporters prayed. Manny Delcarmen made is pitches, but on the sixth toss of the at bat he made the wrong one, and Alex drilled it to center, plating both runners and putting the Yanks up by a couple. It would be the team’s only hit in 11 at bats with runners in scoring position.
Here comes the bad part. After having thrown 106 pitches in the first seven frames, CC Sabathia came out to face Nick Green in the eighth. Nothing wrong here. As the Milwaukee Brewers proved last year, CC’s definitely the guy to stick with here. Green stymied the Yanks by singling and bringing up the top of the order. Again, no reason to go to a lesser reliever in this spot.
CC and Pedroia squared off, and it was much like how Penny and Cano battled in the first. Except, of course, that Pedroia was willing to take balls three and four. He screamed something and jogged to first after CC missed way wide. So what is the manager to do here?
Girardi decided to stick with his ace. Some might have preferred he go to the bullpen there, but I don’t think Girardi made the wrong call. Remember, as Girardi saw the situation it was a choice between Sabathia and Aceves. Can you blame him for choosing Sabathia? I find it hard to.
What’s to blame here is conventional managerial strategy. Yes, this is the part where I talk about how you want your best pitcher in this situation. If the decision of who to face Drew is no longer between CC and Aceves, but is now between CC and Mariano, I think the choice is Mo. This applies both before and after the Drew at bat, but especially after.
In the former, runners were on first and second with no outs. The started has thrown 121 pitches and just missed badly for ball four. The guy who makes the 15th fewest outs in the AL is coming to the plate, and he’s followed by the guy who makes the fewest outs. The choice is CC, your tiring ace, or Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer of all time who, after faltering in one game last week, slammed the door in emphatic fashion in the next two. Who do you come up with?
If the answer wasn’t Mo before Drew singled, it sure was after. The situation was the same as before, except it was a one-run game. Again, there was no one out, and the hitter who makes the fewest outs among all MLB starters was at the plate. Instead of inserting his best to face his opponent’s best, Girardi went with No. 2. He paid for it. Youkilis singled, which mercifully did not score a run. Jason Bay’s single did, though, and a Mike Lowell sac fly put the Red Sox up for good.
As is natural in moments of dire frustration, many fans called for Girardi’s head during and after the game. We saw dozens of tweets, I received a number of emails, and I’m sure there were plenty of comments in the game thread — which I cannot bring myself to read — to that effect. However, firing Girardi because of the way he managed this game would accomplish nothing.
Mike might have put it perfectly when he said that a book of cliches could manage this team. No manager of the Yankees, down in the game in the division to the Red Sox while playing in Fenway, will bring in his closer unless he plans for him to finish the game. Girardi said that he would have used Mo for a four-out save, but not five or six. “I was going to [call on Mo in the eighth] if the situation arose,” Girardi told reporters after the game, “but the situation did not arise.” I beg to differ.
What separates last night’s scenario was that the best hitters on the best team in the division were at the plate with runners on. The Yankees had a small lead to protect. Conventional baseball wisdom would hold that you save your closer, your best bullpen option, for the end of the game so he can lock down the lead. That cannot happen, though, if there is no lead to protect.
Mo simply gives the team a better chance to survive a threatening situation. If he can pick up for CC and get through the eighth while allowing just one run, the Yanks take a 3-2 lead into the ninth with the bottom of the Sox order due up. Mo can pitch to maybe one batter before he reaches that four-out limit Girardi set. Then you bring in Aceves to face the bottom of the order. Isn’t that a more comfortable scenario than bringing in Aceves to face the best hitters in the lineup with men on base and no one out?
Alas, this goes against “the book” so most managers will dismiss the idea. Not when the team is a contender. Yeah, maybe if the team’s in last place the manger will do something like bring in the closer in a tie game on the road, but don’t expect that from guys who will be second guessed endlessly by the bottomless media pit of New York.
No one feels good about the past three games. Not the manager, not the coaching staff, not the players, not the fans. The disappointment and frustration will wear off, though. They have 47 games left until they face the Red Sox again, and a lot can change between now and then. A lot, I expect, will change between now and then. The Yankees might have a stronger bullpen. Their starters might hit a groove. The bats might be firing on all cylinders. This could be an excellent 62-game run. They looked like a team capable of it before the series. If they really are a good team, they won’t let this one roadblock in June impede their entire season.
In the end, the Captain put it best. When asked, “Do you have any concerns about this club?” Jeter looked at the reporter and replied: “Nope.” The room fell silent. The Captain had spoken. It is time to move on.