No matter how you dissect the New York Yankees' loss Friday night, first baseman Greg Bird explained in the somber clubhouse, the outcome was excruciating for everyone: For the Yankees’ accomplished relievers, who failed to maintain an 8-3 advantage, the second-largest blown lead in franchise history; for the hitters, who pounded likely Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and saw their work squandered; for Ronald Torreyes, who was picked off second base in a crucial spot in extra innings.
But the defeat weighed on manager Joe Girardi more than any other Yankee. His initial explanation to reporters for failing to ask for a replay review of a hit batter ruling in the sixth inning sounded hollow and bureaucratic. A little while later, Girardi looked distraught as he stepped down a hallway in the clubhouse, his face seemingly veiled in sadness. He and a reporter nearly bumped into each other, and Girardi quietly and genially yielded the right of way.
After a night of further contemplation, Girardi responded differently Saturday afternoon to questions about what had happened, simply acknowledging and owning a mistake that, if the Yankees lose this series, will become part of franchise lore. The worst decisions in organization history probably include Babe Ruth’s failed stolen-base attempt to end the 1926 World Series, the firing of Yogi Berra after the 1964 season, the signing of Ed Whitson before the 1985 season, and Joe Torre’s passive handling of the midge situation in the 2007 playoffs. Girardi’s gaffe now becomes part of that infamous list, especially if the Yankees lose.
“I screwed up,” he said repeatedly.
But it might turn out to be a teachable moment that informs all other managers how to handle possible challenges in the postseason: When in doubt, ask for a review. Every time.
By rule, the managers have limits on how often they can trigger a review, and during the regular season, they need to be cognizant of this. But in the playoffs and the World Series, the umpires are under incredible scrutiny, more than at any other time of the year. As several have explained to me privately, the last thing they want is to be saddled with a mistake that will be replayed over and over through the years, like Don Denkinger’s missed call in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series or Phil Cuzzi's misread of a fair/foul call in the 2009 playoffs. I remember talking with Rich Garcia after he acknowledged botching the call on the Jeffrey Maier play in 1996. He talked with some frustration about his own positioning on the play, about watching the replay afterward and knowing immediately that his mistake probably affected the outcome of a game.
Girardi still had the right to challenge in the sixth inning, and even if he had been wrong and had burned a challenge, he would have had the safety net of knowing that after the seventh inning, the crew chief can initiate a review. And at this time of the year, the umpires almost certainly would grant any request. Just to make sure.
This is what happened in the Cubs-Nationals game Saturday after Anthony Rizzo clubbed a two-run homer that cleared the right-field wall. Washington manager Dusty Baker asked the umpires to double-check the call, and although they all probably had a pretty good idea of what happened, they reviewed the homer. Just to make sure.
Girardi needed to get the call right; the umpires want to get the call right. This time of year, when everybody wants to avoid the big mistake, there really are no limits on review challenges.
When in doubt, ask for a review. Every time.
Hosmer won't have many teams in pursuit
Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star wrote the other day about how the Royals are holding out some hope that they can retain first baseman Eric Hosmer, even if it means committing a nine-figure contract. And it might work out for them, because so many big-market teams already are committed to first basemen, either because of an existing contract or because they have a young and cheap alternative.
Cubs: Anthony Rizzo.
Dodgers: Cody Bellinger.
Phillies: Rhys Hoskins.
Braves: Freddie Freeman.
Nationals: Ryan Zimmerman.
Blue Jays: Justin Smoak.
Mets: Dom Smith.
Hosmer theoretically fits the Red Sox or the Yankees, but each of those big-market teams have worked to get under the luxury-tax threshold. New York believes in Greg Bird’s talent and swing, and the potential savings of Bird over Hosmer is likely to keep the Yankees out of the Hosmer bidding. The Red Sox already have over $130 million committed in 2018 payroll before they pick up the options on closer Craig Kimbrel ($13 million) and Chris Sale ($12.5 million) and before they deal with the pricey arbitration cases of Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts.
The Giants also have very little payroll flexibility, to the degree that they informed Madison Bumgarner last winter they weren’t ready to talk about a contract extension yet because of luxury-tax implications. The San Francisco front office would probably love to have Hosmer, who would help in so many ways -- the offensive production and RBI potential, the defense, the leadership. But Brandon Belt is about to reach the backloaded portion of his contract: He’ll make $17.2 million for each of the next four seasons, a staggering debt that the Giants might have to live with.
If Justin Upton opts out of the last four years of his deal with the Angels and walks away from $88.5 million, the Angels could be a fit for Hosmer. But if Upton stays, there might not be enough payroll flexibility for a serious run at the Royals’ first baseman.
The Cardinals again face the challenge of trying to figure out a way to make all of their ill-fitting pieces work. Matt Carpenter has been one of their best hitters for years, and during the 2017 season, he posted a .384 on-base percentage. Increasingly, however, evaluators view him as a defensive liability. The Cardinals have moved him from second base to third base to first base without settling on any one spot.
What follows is speculation: Carpenter is owed $30.5 million for the next two seasons, including a $2 million buyout on a 2020 option. The Cardinals have discussed the need to get better defensively, to get more athletic, and unquestionably, they would do so if they dealt Carpenter away and invested in Hosmer to be their everyday first baseman -- and Hosmer would make the Cardinals' pitching and the rest of the St. Louis infielders better with his defensive prowess.
As the saying goes: All it takes is one serious bidder. But it does not appear as if Hosmer will have a high volume of teams in pursuit, and the Royals might turn out to be his most ardent suitors.
Baseball Tonight Podcast
Friday: Aaron Boone discusses the Diamondbacks-Dodgers series and his interest in becoming a major league manager; Karl Ravech and Paul Hembekides on the playoffs; Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post discusses the Nationals.
Thursday: A conversation with Phillies slugger Rhys Hoskins about his instant success, dealing with the media and his sports fandom; Tim Kurkjian on the playoffs; Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle discusses the Astros; Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago talks all things Cubs.
Wednesday: Keith Law on the re-energized Yankees and the Braves’ debacle; David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution on what’s next for Atlanta; and Alex Speier of the Boston Globe on the Red Sox.
Tuesday: Jessica Mendoza and Boog Sciambi on the playoffs; Sarah Langs plays The Numbers Game; a discussion about the greatest home run in MLB history.
Monday: Jerry Crasnick on the best and worst moments of baseball’s final weekend -- the Royals and the Mets highlight this segment -- plus a conversation with former Dodgers GM Ned Colletti, who tells stories about the deals for Manny Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez and about what he first saw in a teenage left-hander named Clayton Kershaw; Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post on the Rockies; Todd Radom’s uniform and logo contest.
And today will be better than yesterday.