CLEVELAND -- The Baby Bombers were ready for October; their manager was not.
The young, up-and-coming New York Yankees chased maybe the best pitcher in the world -- the Cleveland Indians' Corey Kluber -- before the third inning ended. Gary Sanchez, Aaron Hicks and Greg Bird all homered, while the old guard, CC Sabathia, was turning in an Andy Pettitte-like Game 2 performance. The Yanks were up five runs after five innings and winning this American League Division Series game was starting to become real.
And then, their manager, Mr. Preparation himself, Joe Girardi, ruined it all, looking like the most ill-prepared person in the stadium, losing a game that will be remembered for a long time because of his mistakes.
The Yankees are on the brink of elimination in this ALDS, but Girardi’s players deserved better. The nonchallenge of the Indians’ Lonnie Chisenhall's hit-batter call in the sixth will sting Yankees fans throughout this winter; but what probably was worse was being too tied to his binder and lifting a cruising Sabathia in that dreadful inning for no apparent reason, except, well, that was the pregame plan.
After the 9-8 loss in 13 innings that ran more than five hours, Girardi’s answers didn’t entirely add up.
He said he didn’t challenge the hit batsman because the Yankees ran out of time to see the proper slo-mo replay. This is believable, because their video replay guru, Brett Weber, has led the majors with a 75 percent overturn rate; if he saw it, he would have informed Girardi.
But here is where it falls on Girardi. He claimed that he didn’t want to take his reliever Chad Green out of his rhythm. This does not stand up, because Girardi does that all the time, coming out to talk to umpires, sometimes for extended periods, and challenging calls. With his own catcher, Sanchez, looking over to him and yelling “foul” and Chisenhall’s lack of normal reaction to being hit, Girardi needed to be instinctive.
In the sixth inning, it would be a good time to try a challenge, especially in such a trying time.
“Maybe I’ll think different now,” Girardi said, coming as close to saying he messed up.
Francisco Lindor went on to hit a grand slam and the Indians came back, putting this game in the Yankees’ lore, along with the Sandy Alomar Jr. 1997 ALDS homer off Mariano Rivera and the Joba Chamberlain midges game a decade ago.
But while egregious, Girardi’s replay mistake gets the silver in Friday night’s manager mess-ups. The gold goes to lifting Sabathia, an easy first guess when it happened.
Girardi was using some prepackaged postseason playbook that called for lifting Sabathia after 5⅓ innings, even though there was no reason.
Sabathia had gone full Pettitte, and his line would have been even better if his defense, specifically third baseman Todd Frazier, hadn’t let him down. When Girardi took the ball from him, the Yankees were up five runs and Sabathia had only thrown 77 pitches. But get this? Sabathia had retired 12 of the past 13 Indians and was facing the 7-8-9 batters.
But with one man on and one out, Girardi took the ball from the big lefty with the big heart.
“It’s kind of what we’ve done all year with Green,” Girardi said. “It was all set up for Green to come in, and I decided to go. Usually, we give CC somewhere around 90 pitches. I think he was at 80, and it was set up for our bullpen. I went there, and it didn’t work.”
So, even in this telling, Girardi lifted a cruising Sabathia with 13 pitches left in his tank. That could have been enough to get two outs.
Green could have come in for a clean seventh. David Robertson might have worked the eighth. And Aroldis Chapman could have taken the ninth.
As it was, Girardi had to lift Green for Robertson. Robertson, who threw 53 pitches in the wild-card game, looked good until an eighth inning homer to Jay Bruce tied the game. Girardi went to Tommy Kahnle, who got the job done to finish out the eighth. Chapman then pitched the ninth and the 10th.
“The one thing I haven’t done a whole lot is throwing Chapman two innings,” Girardi said.
He did it on Friday, but it was an inning too late. If Chapman had pitched the eighth and ninth, maybe the Yankees would have won.
The Baby Bombers might go on to great heights. They will grow from this experience. Their manager will need to, as well.
The ALDS should be tied 1-1. It is not, because of the Yankees’ manager. Girardi really earned this loss.