Last night’s game was the kind that ignites a fan base, but not in a good way. It wasn’t so much the offensive futility; David Price, after all, is among the league’s top pitchers, and the Tampa Bay bullpen, especially at the back end, can take care of business. Rather, it was the manager who drew the fans’ ire. Joe Girardi had a number of tough decisions to make last night, and on the surface it looked like he botched each one. But in any game as complex as baseball there’s always at least one more layer, and often more, to the decision making process.
As RJ Anderson wrote this morning, Joe Maddon made all the right moves. He rode his starter for eight innings and then went to the best arm in his bullpen, closer Rafael Soriano. After Soriano pitched a scoreless inning he went to his second best guy, Joaquin Benoit. When the game went to the 11th he went with the next best option, Grant Balfour. Those moves deserve praise, because they were the right moves. But they were also the obvious moves. Maddon had everyone available, so there was no reason to not do this.
Girardi, on the other hand, had limits to the moves he could make. As we learned after the game, David Robertson was unavailable after having thrown 36 pitches on Saturday. It also appeared that Girardi wanted to give Mariano Rivera a day off, though he would have brought him in to close the game if it came to that — in other words, he wasn’t bringing in Sergio Mitre to preserve an extra innings lead. These are understandable decisions. Joba Chamberlain, too, was unavailable, though that’s a bit more curious a situation. The Yankees are apparently concerned that he’s getting up there in appearances, which was part of the reason why they held him out. But he was unavailable in any case, which made the late-game decisions that much tougher.
After Sabathia exited Girardi went to his best available reliever, Kerry Wood, who used just 11 pitches to strike out two Rays and complete a 1-2-3 inning. Here is where Girardi’s decisions become curious. Robertson, Joba, and Mo were not options. Jonathan Albalaedjo wasn’t much of an option to begin with, and probably wasn’t available after having pitched in the last two games, including 26 pitches on Sunday. That left just Boone Logan, Chad Gaudin, and Mitre, unless Girardi wanted to completely change the rotation game plan.
This is curious because of Wood’s light workload during the previous inning. He didn’t pitch on Sunday, but he threw only 21 pitches during his two innings on Friday and Saturday. The Yankees have a better idea of what Wood can handle than I do, but given the bullpen limitations does does seem like Girardi could have stuck with him for another inning as to delay the necessity of using his two worst bullpen arms. I’m not sure if it was Wood’s workload or if it was the desire to match-up lefty-lefty against Carlos Pena, but Girardi went to Boone Logan to start the 10th.
Despite his early-season troubles, Logan has been one of the better arms in the Yankees bullpen since his latest recall. Like Wood he pitched both Friday and Saturday, but in those stints he threw just 14 pitches. He hasn’t thrown more than 10 pitches since September 6. In other words, it would seem he was well rested. Yet Girardi stuck with him for just one batter. That one did work out — he struck out Pena — but I just don’t understand why he didn’t stick with him. Instead he went to Chad Gaudin, who is pretty much worse than Logan on every level.
The move seemed to work, since Gaudin held the Rays scoreless. But it wasn’t perfect. Guadin loaded the bases and needed 31 pitches to record the inning’s final two outs. This, I guess, meant that he couldn’t go another inning. That’s also a bit odd for a guy who has gone two innings as recently as September 7 — though Gaudin needed only 18 pitches to record those six outs. In any case, that necessitated Sergio Mitre’s appearance. Game over. Even if Brignac hadn’t homered I’m sure the Rays would have mustered a run. Mitre hadn’t pitched since the fifth, and hasn’t gotten consistent work all season. That’s often death for a sinkerballer.
Once the game went into extras the Yankees were at a distinct disadvantage. Two of their best bullpen arms weren’t available at all, and their best overall was essentially unavailable. Meanwhile, the Rays had all hands on deck, meaning they could keep going with the best guy available. The Rays had a distinct advantage from the 10th inning on, and they predictably won the game. A few of Girardi’s bullpen moves were odd, but they weren’t what killed the Yankees last night. Maybe the game would have gone a bit longer had Logan pitched a scoreless 10th and Gaudin was able to pull the rabbit out of his hat an inning later. But none of that is guaranteed. The Yankees played a few men short and it ended up being the difference.
NOTE: Any small ball decisions are not part of this post. Mike will cover them later today, so please hold your comments.