Before moving on entirely from last night’s Game 1 loss to a dominant Cliff Lee, I want to take a few minutes this morning to delve in depth into a potential turning point of the game. Specifically, I want to see how the 8th inning unfolded and why while offering up a potential alternative. I hate to call it a second-guess of Joe Girardi because I think he made the right moves, but he could have a made a move that was perhaps more right than the ones that didn’t work out last night.
With CC at 113 pitches through seven and the Yanks eying him for a Game 4 start on short rest, Joe Girardi had to go to the bullpen. To start the inning, he went to Phil Hughes. At that point, the leverage index — a measure of how critical a particular situation is — made Hughes’ appearance a logical one. Down 2-0, Girardi wanted to keep the game close, and he went with the guy who has been the second-best reliever.
Hughes, though, couldn’t deliver. His mechanics seem out of whack, and he walked both Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino. Back to the pen went Joe Girardi and into the game came Damaso Marte. With Chase Utley and Ryan Howard due up, this move sorta kinda made sense. Utley had homered twice off of a lefty, and he hit southpaws this year to the tune of a .288/.417/.545 line. His OPS against lefties is .085 higher than it is against righties. Howard, on the other hand, hits .207/.298/.356 off of left-handers.
Marte did his job as Chase Utley struck out and Ryan Howard flew out. Again, Girardi went to the pen, and again, he made the move that, on paper, seemed to be the right one. Jayson Werth hit .302/.436/.644 against lefties but just .256/.348/.457 against righties. Although Girardi had the option to intentionally walk Werth and keep Marte in to face Raul Ibañez, another lefty bat, Ibañez had .139 points higher against lefties than against righties. Despite calls for Phil Coke, despite the populist movement to match up lefty-lefty, here, using a right-hander against the Phils’ lefty DH simply made more sense.
David Robertson, though, ran into a problem. He walked Jayson Werth on four straight pitches (even if PitchF/x disagrees). At this point, with the game on the line, David Robertson was pitching in the highest leverage situation the Yanks had faced since the Phillies had bases loaded in the first inning. They desperately needed an out, but Robertson allowed a seeing-eye two-run single into the hole between first and second. The game became officially out of reach.
Here, then is my almost-second guess: With the game in danger of being blown out, you almost have to hand the ball over to the reliever you want most for high leverage situations. The Yankees needed the game to be saved right there to have a shot at coming back against Cliff Lee, and Mariano is the guy who gets saves. This wasn’t a save situation by rulebook, but it was a save of a close game. Robertson faltered in the high leverage situation, and the Yanks let Game 1 get out of hand.
Of course, the Yankees can’t use Mariano Rivera in every late-inning high-leverage situation. He can’t pitch seven times in a seven-game series. He has, however, once appeared four times in a five-game series (2000) and five times in a seven game series (2004). Just last week, he made five appearances in the six-game ALCS. To keep the game close, the Yanks could have asked for four outs from Mariano after two days off.
In the end, it didn’t matter. The Yankees couldn’t plate two runs against Lee. Maybe the 9th shakes down differently with Mo instead of The Brian Bruney Experience and Phil Coke; maybe not. Furthermore, if the Yanks have to go to Mo for every high-leverage situation this week, they have far deeper bullpen problems than they can afford to have right now. Still, I have long challenged the use of closers in save situations as compared to leverage situations. Tonight, the Yanks rolled the high-leverage dice with someone not named Mariano and lost.