As I sat in Section 419 tonight and watched Coco Crisp spring back to the wall in deep left center field, I knew the A’s outfielder had a beat on the ball Nick Swisher had just blasted into the night. The only factor would be physics. Had Swisher hit the ball hard enough at the right angle so that it would just eke past the fence to give the Yanks a walk-off Grand Slam or would a ninth inning rally falter?
Crisp had his back against the wall as the ball settled into his glove. Frank Sinatra started blaring over the PA system as the remaining fans shuffled dejectedly away. The walkoff magic was not to be tonight as the A’s won 6-5. Instead, Joe Girardi’s decisions are what doomed the Yankees, and now we’ll just have to hope that the O’Neill Theory will be in effect tomorrow.
Decision #1: Sticking with Big Bart
In the American League, a manager’s job once the game begins can be a limited one. Without the potential for a double switch, an AL manager must make some pitching changes, decide whether or not to send a runner and think about deploying the arsenal of hit and run or bunts that make up in-game strategies. Tonight, unfortunately, nothing Joe Girardi decided to do helped the Yanks win the game.
Girardi’s first decision concerned Bartolo Colon. After six innings, Colon had been reasonably effective. He wasn’t using his two-seamer, a decision he made based on the home runs Kansas City hit last week. Instead, he went to his slider, and two fat pitches were deposited over the right field wall. Through six, he had thrown over 90 pitches and had allowed three runs on six hits. That should have been fine, but with the Yanks struggling to score, Girardi pushed his pitcher for another inning.
In the seventh, facing the bottom of the lineup, Colon couldn’t get through it. After a strike out, Cliff Pennington singled and Kurt Suzuki doubled. With lefty Eric Sogard due up, Girardi went to Logan, and Bob Melvin went to right-handed Scott Sizmore. Generally, this year, Logan has been tough on righties, but Sizemore fought off a pitch that landed fair for a two-run double. It would prove costly.
I have no issue with the move to go to Logan, but I wonder about the decision to put Bart back on the mound. With his six innings tonight, Colon has now reached 130 for the first time since 2005, and the Yanks are concerned that he might be tiring. Since returning from his hamstring injury, he is 3-5 with a 4.61 ERA in just over 52 innings. He has also allowed six home runs over his last 22 innings. Before tonight, he was effective but not efficient. Now, he’s had back-to-back starts where he’s been neither effective nor efficient, and I’d love to see him get some extra rest. That, however, means more of A.J. Burnett.
Decision #2: Derek’s Big Bunt
I have spent far too much time wringing my hands over the Yanks’ bunting tendencies under Joe Girardi. An NL player who cut his teeth managing an NL team, Girardi loves to give up outs at inopportune moments. The Yankees, who entered the game leading the majors in runs scored, are seventh in the AL in sac bunts while the Red Sox, who started tonight with 670 runs, are last in the AL in bunts. The value of out, especially when only three remain, cannot be overstated.
To start the ninth, Jorge Posada homered, Russell Martin doubled and Brett Gardner reached on an error. Everyone in the stadium knew what was about to happen, and there was nothing we could to stop. Facing a pitcher who couldn’t locate his pitches and with a batter up who was 23 for his 46, Joe Girardi called for a bunt. As Steven Goldman wrote, he played for one run when he needed two, and it cost the Yanks.
When Derek Jeter made that pivotal first out of the ninth, the Yanks’ win expectancy dipped from 35 to 31. Even with two runners in scoring position, the A’s needed just a pair of outs. Curtis Granderson walked to load the bases, but Mark Teixeira popped out. Robinson Cano, showing uncharacteristic 3-2 patience, drew an RBI walk, and Nick Swisher missed that walkoff grand slam by a hair. The bunt loomed large.
After the game, Joe Girardi said calling for the bunt “wasn’t a tough decision” with the team’s big bats up next. But Jeter has been the club’s hottest hitter for weeks, and while Girardi may have been concerned over the double play, Derek hasn’t hit into many of those lately. Instead of rolling the dice on a positive outcome, Girardi went with the sure thing, and that sure thing cost the Yanks. As one of Twitter’s most vocal critics of bunting said, “That bunt guaranteed an out. That’s about it.” When outs are a scarce commodity, don’t just hand them away.
Goat: Mark Teixeira
Before we wrap up for the night, let us ponder Mark Teixeira’s evening. On a night during which the Yanks got all of one hit out of 14 chances with runners in scoring position, the Yanks’ cleanup hitter went 0 for 5 and stranded eight runners. After Granderson walked in the ninth, he took one pitch before fouling out to third. He didn’t make solid contact or get a good swing on the pitch, and that second out forced the Yanks to need a hit that never came.
Tonight, I just had to tip my cap to Brandon Allen and hope the Yanks’ decisions turn out better tomorrow. With the Yanks’ magic number to clinch a playoff spot at 27, this was a far tougher game to stomach than it shows in the standings.