The Yankees entered the ninth inning of Game 3 of the tied American League Championship Series at home down 2-0, and Mariano Rivera did not pitch.
It wasn’t just any lefty though; it was Josh Hamilton, the potential AL MVP, and Mariano Rivera did not pitch.
After Hamilton laced a double into the gap and the Rangers had a huge third run 180 feet from home, Joe Girardi went to the mound, and Mariano Rivera did not pitch.
You see where I’m going with this. The Yankees had a deficit that they had to maintain late in the game. They weren’t going to enjoy a save situation, and they have the best postseason reliever in the history of the game in the bullpen. Yet, Joe Girardi did what he always does: He went with the match-ups. It was a decision with which I did not agree then and do not agree in hindsight.
To me, the idea is a simple one. In high leverage situations, the ideal way to manage involves bringing in the best. To keep the game at 2-0, a large but not insurmountable deficit with Cliff Lee on the mound, Joe Girardi needed his bullpen to be perfect. It was, as we saw, far from it. David Robertson didn’t have his best stuff, and the Rangers kept finding holes. They went first-to-third a few times, knocked out a few big hits and suddenly found themselves with a blowout on their hands. It all went wrong in a hurry.
In reality though, it went wrong when the inning started with Boone Logan on the mound. Going with Logan to face Hamilton isn’t an indefensible move. After all, Logan was death on lefties this year, and Hamilton OPS’d over .300 points lower against southpaws than he did right-handers. That Hamilton’s only hits of the ALCS have come against lefties is just one of those flukes of the postseason.
Still, as I watched the ninth unfold, I had a nagging suspicion that it should have been Mariano’s inning. It was absolutely incumbent upon the Yankees to keep the game at 2-0, and that’s the job for Mariano. Yesterday afternoon, I praised Joe Girardi for making the right decisions, but I think this one was the wrong one.
It’s interesting to me to watch Girardi manage a postseason series in which the Yankees are simply getting outplayed. They’re being out-pitched, out-hit and even out-managed. They haven’t mounted a rally since the eighth inning of Game 1, and they’ve trailed in 25 of 27 innings so far. It’s been a lesson in total domination.
Yet, I see hesitancy from Girardi that is at least worth questioning. This ALCS is the first time in the postseason that Girardi has had to coax results from the team, and he hasn’t pressed the right buttons. He let Phil Hughes throw into the fifth on Saturday and allowed him to surrender seven runs in a playoff game. He didn’t go to Mo last night. During the regular season, those moves might work out, but they don’t fit in a short series.
As Hughes’ disastrous outing unfolded, I kept thinking back to Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. Granted, Game 7 has a bit more urgency than Game 2, but there, Joe Torre cut his losses quickly. When Roger Clemens threatened to bury the Yankees with his poor pitching, in came Mike Mussina with runners on first and third and no one out. The Yankees couldn’t afford to slip further behind, and it was time for a stopper. A starting pitcher can’t be allowed to dig a big hole in do-or-die situations.
Over the years, Joe Torre’s bugaboo became his unwillingness to use Mariano in a non-save situation on the road. In the 2003 World Series, he went with Jeff Weaver while Mo waited for a save situation that never came. Last night, the circumstances were different because the save situation wasn’t ever going to come, but still the Yanks’ future Hall of Fame closer just sat there. Mariano Rivera did not pitch.