Friday, October 23, 2009

When Will Girardi Learn?

Alex Rodriguez needed about five years to learn how to relax and treat the playoffs like any regular season game.

One has to wonder how long it will take manager Joe Girardi to figure out the same thing.

The Yankees rallied with a six-run seventh inning, but Girardi continued his inept handling of the bullpen as the Yankees squandered a two-run lead and lost to the Angels 7-6 Thursday in Anaheim in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series.

The Yankees lead the series 3-2 with Andy Pettitte set to take the ball against Joe Saunders in Game 6 at Yankee Stadium on Saturday with a forecast calling for, you guessed it, rain.

But nine outs from closing out this series, Girardi deviated from the formulas that had worked all season and it cost him ... again.

Until the seventh, the Yankees' offense had been lifeless, again squandering run scoring opportunities as it struggled to get back into a game it trailed 4-0.

That all changed with stunning speed.

After the struggling Nick Swisher flied out to start the seventh, Melky Cabrera breathed life into the offense with a double. Jorge Posada, who pinch hit for starting catcher Jose Molina in the fifth, followed with a walk, as Angels start John Lackey appeared to come undone after arguing balls and strikes with home plate ump Fielden Culbreath. Derek Jeter followed with another walk to load the bases.

Johnny Damon then lofted a fly to left that Cabrera decided not to try to tag on. Had Melky gone, he likely would have been safe as Juan Rivera uncorked a poor throw.

But Melky was taken off the hook when Mark Teixeira broke out of his playoff slump with a huge three-run double off Darren Oliver to make it 4-3.

The Angels, learning from the previous four games, intentionally walked Alex Rodriguez, but Hideki Matsui made them pay, lining a single to center to score Teixeira and tie it at 4. Up to that point, the Yankees had been 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position in the game.

Robinson Cano then finally delivered a big hit, smoking a triple off Kevin Jepsen to make it 6-4 and giving the Yankees the momentum.

And that's where Girardi's problems started.

A.J. Burnett had another bipolar start, allowing four runs before recording an out in the first, then settling down to keep the Angels off the board through the sixth, giving the Yankees a chance to rally.

He had thrown just 80 pitches through six, but they were intense and laborious, then he had to sit and wait as the Yankees sent 10 men to the plate in that seventh inning that also featured two pitching changes.

In the regular season -- especially in the second half when the bullpen was so strong -- Girardi would never have sent Burnett back out there. He would have turned to David Robertson in the seventh and had Phil Hughes start the eighth with a chance to get the ball to Mariano Rivera for no more than four outs.

But that's not what Girardi did. Instead, he sent Burnett back out there and got burned.

Jeff Mathis led off with a single and Erick Aybar followed with a walk and the Yankees were in trouble.

Girardi finally lifted Burnett and brought in Damaso Marte, but the Angels had the Yankees right where they wanted them. Chone Figgins bunted the runners up and Bobby Abreu grounded out to bring in Mathis and make it 6-5.

Marte did his job, but Girardi then compounded his initial mistake by bringing Hughes to get the final out of the seventh instead of leaving Hughes in the eighth-inning role he had grown accustomed to. Again you have to wonder, why not Robertson, who has done nothing but get big outs in the playoffs?

Hughes imploded. He walked Torii Hunter, then got ahead of Vladimir Guerrero 1-and-2. Posada then called for a fastball up and in -- a pitch that Guerrero loves to chase but has trouble hitting. Hughes missed and that 95 mph heater cruised down the middle of the plate for Vlad to ground for a single to tie it at 6.

Kendry Morales followed with a single to right to bring in Hunter and the Angels reclaimed the lead at 7-6.

It could have gotten worse for Girardi as he brought in the struggling Joba Chamberlain to start the eight. Joba proceed allow a leadoff double to Juan Rivera and a one-out single to Aybar to put runners on the corners, but Mariano Rivera worked his magic and got out of the jam.

Unfortunately, that would be the last of the Yankees' magic in this game as a two-out rally in the ninth came up short when Swisher popped out on a full-count with the bases loaded to end it. Swisher is now 3-for-31 in the playoffs and I have to wonder why Girardi didn't see fit to sit his right fielder for a game, giving a start to Brett Gardner.

And we are left to wonder why Girardi insists on managing these games so radically different than the regular season. Why is he messing with bullpen roles and pitch philosophies that worked so well in the regular season? Yes, the playoffs have heightened intensity, but that alone is not reason for changing how you manage the game. You can't and shouldn't manage every game as if it's Game 7. It's now cost the Yankees two games.

And had the Yankees pulled this one out, it would have provided great momentum heading into the World Series.

Jeter and Damon started the first with singles to put runners on first and second, but the Yankees squandered the opportunity to jump out quickly on Lackey and the Angles, Teixeira striking out, A-Rod flying out and Matsui grounding out.

The Angles made them pay as Burnett wasn't sharp.

Figgins led off with a walk and went to third on Abreu's double. Hunter brought both in with double to center before scoring on Guerrero's double. Morales then singled and the Angels had a big 4-0 lead.

Of course, this wouldn't be a playoff game without a blown call by an umpire, this time courtesy of first base ump Dale Scott, who called out Damon at first to end the third. Umm, Dale, he was safe!

So the series shifts back to New York, but let's stay calm. This is not '04. This team will not blow another lead.

Pettitte won't let it happen.

Runners In Scoring Position
10-for-56 (.176)
Game 5
3-for-11 (.273)
Game 4
4-for-17 (.235)
Game 3
0-for-8 (.000)
Game 2
0-for-8 (.000)
Game 1
3-for-12 (.250)
6-for-17 (.353)
Regular Season
419-for-1,543 (.272)

Up Next
ALCS Game 6
Saturday vs. Angels, 8:07 p.m., FOX

Joe Saunders (16-7, 4.60 ERA; Postseason: 0-0, 2.57 ERA in 1 start)
vs. Andy Pettitte (14-8, 4.16 ERA; Postseason: 1-0, 2.84 ERA in 2 starts)


Anonymous said...

It's just baffleing how Giardi has been managing through this series. Another thing that I didn't understand was the pinch running for A-Rod after he was walked in the 9th. I know he's on a repaired hip and all, but he still has speed. He swiped 14 bases in a shortned season. And not for nothing, had the pinch runner scored and the game went into extra innings the Yankees would have been without their most potent weapon. Additionally, if it went into extra innings you'd be taking the bat out of Tex's hands as well. As they Angels would have been more likely to walk Tex to get to whoever was filling A-Rod's spot. I know it's all moot now, but I didn't understand it.

Unknown said...

That indeed was a very strange move. A-Rod afterall did steal a base in Game 4 ... and it's not like Girardi had Freddy Guzman run.

Girardi has been managing very tight throughout this series and I think it's beginning to affect his relievers.