10/19/09 11:30 PM ET
Girardi's late-game moves questioned
Pitching matchups in 11th inning backfire on Yanks' manager
By Anthony DiComo / MLB.com
In a tradition that's quickly becoming as common as a Manny Ramirez home run or a John Smoltz gem, Yankees manager Joe Girardi walked to the mound in the 11th inning Monday to make a pitching move.
It would be his final move of the night.
Rather than stick with David Robertson, who had just made quick work of the only two batters he faced, Girardi called on Alfredo Aceves. And Aceves promptly allowed a single to Howard Kendrick and a walk-off double to light-hitting backup catcher Jeff Mathis, giving the Angels their first gasps of air in this best-of-seven American League Championship Series with a 5-4 victory.
"It's just different kind of stuff against those hitters," Girardi said in his brief postgame explanation. "And we have all the matchups and all the scouting reports, and we felt that, you know, it was a better matchup for us."
In retrospect, it was not. And as far as history goes, there was nothing to indicate that Aceves, who had never faced Kendrick, might have an easier time with the Angels' second baseman than Robertson, who had struck him out once and allowed a two-run single in two career at-bats.
Even if Girardi thought Aceves' cutters and changeups would work better against Kendrick, a strong fastball hitter, than Robertson's low-90s heaters, he ignored some recent history in making the quick hook. Robertson, who earned the nickname "Houdini" after escaping from a bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the 11th inning of Game 2 of the AL Division Series, has performed admirably this October, wriggling free from a similar jam in the 13th inning of Game 2 of the ALCS.
Aceves, meanwhile, struggled in that game, walking the leadoff batter and allowing a game-tying run in the 11th.
"He makes the call," Robertson said of Girardi's move. "I just follow it."
And Girardi clearly preferred to micromanage in that situation, wasting no time in trotting to the mound.
"It's a lot about matchups," setup man Phil Hughes said. "It's not like you can kind of just give up a game here and there. You have to play every game to win, and you have to use your bullpen accordingly. That's why sometimes a lot of arms are going to be used in some games, especially when we go back-to-back extra-inning games. That's just the way it is."
That 11th-inning curiosity, however, was just the latest in a line of questionable moves Girardi has made throughout the postseason to date. Just moments earlier, with the bases loaded and one out in the 10th, Girardi replaced Johnny Damon in left field with Jerry Hairston Jr., who had been batting in the designated-hitter position. In doing so, he gained a stronger throwing arm in left field, but lost out on his DH.
By rule, if a team's DH moves to the playing field, its pitcher must assume the empty spot in the batting order. And with closer Mariano Rivera due up third the next inning, it's difficult to say that it was a risk worth taking. With Bobby Abreu representing the winning run at third base, it would have been nearly impossible for anyone to throw him out at home -- even with the outfield drawn in, guarding against a base hit.
No balls were hit to left field, and when Rivera's spot came up the next inning, Girardi replaced him with pinch-hitter Francisco Cervelli. Girardi's justification was that Rivera, who had thrown 2 1/3 innings in Saturday's Game 2, was only available for one inning in this game.
"It's a tough situation, because there's no guarantee that we're going to score the next inning," Rivera said. "It's a tough decision for the manager."
Rivera had thrown 25 pitches in Game 2, but he was working with a full day of rest.
"We thought we had Mo for an inning," Girardi said. "I didn't feel that I could stretch him out any further than that in that situation, because of what we did the other day with him. So he had that inning, and that was it."
Earlier in the game, Girardi used both of his left-handed relievers in succession, replacing Phil Coke with Damaso Marte to open the eighth -- despite Coke having thrown only three pitches. That meant that the Yankees had no left-handed foil for Chone Figgins, Abreu or switch-hitter Kendry Morales later in the game.
Then there was the quick hook for starting pitcher Andy Pettitte. Though Girardi allowed Pettitte to finish the sixth inning and open the seventh after serving up a game-tying homer to Vladimir Guerrero, he took him out after retiring the first batter in the seventh, Morales.
Kendrick promptly tripled off reliever Joba Chamberlain and pinch-hitter Maicer Izturis hit a sacrifice fly, giving the Angels their first lead of the game.
It's important to note that this management style is nothing new for Girardi, who has displayed a quick hook throughout the first two rounds of his first postseason at the helm of the Yankees. It's just few have scrutinized his moves this heavily because up until now, they have worked.
In Game 2, Girardi perhaps prematurely removed both Chamberlain and Hughes from the game, forcing Rivera to throw his 2 1/3 innings in relief and forcing the Yankees to turn to Aceves, Marte and Robertson -- the underbelly of their bullpen -- before they otherwise might have.
Then there was Game 3 of the ALDS vs. the Twins, when Girardi snatched Pettitte off the mound after just 6 1/3 innings and 81 pitches, turning instead to a shaky Chamberlain.
Those moves worked, because the Yankees ultimately won the games. But Girardi's Game 3 machinations did not, leaving the Yankees' manager open to a shower of criticism under the intense microscope of October, when the same move -- and same result -- in April might be brushed aside after only a moment's consideration.
"The bottom line of this thing is we lost," Rivera said. "It doesn't matter what we did or what I did. It doesn't matter. We lost."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.