October 23, 2009
It was impossible not to feel like the world's biggest wind sock during Thursday night's ALCS Game 5.
It's a tough job, maintaining a minute-by-minute position here in the peanut gallery, though I don't think we should feel one bit bad for choosing our dance by the song that happened to be playing during the Angels' big 7-6 victory.
After watching his team take advantage of Scioscia's quick hook with six two-out runs, it was imperative for Girardi to save Burnett from himself and bring in the bullpen to protect a slim two-run lead over the final nine outs before sealing the team's first World Series bid since 2003.
Instead, Girardi looked the other way like an indulgent grandmother as Burnett again strode to the mound. The $80 million righty immediately awarded Girardi's
slumber loyalty by giving up a single to Jeff Mathis(notes) (who had already managed two hits off Burnett on the night) and by walking Erick Aybar(notes). Girardi finally showed Burnett the way to the dugout, but not before the tying runs had climbed aboard the bases.
By the start of the eighth, the Yanks were again trailing and workers had wheeled away all of the champagne they had delivered to the expectant Yankees clubhouse. A disappointed Jimmy Traina suggested the New York tabloids print the series score as "Yankees 3, Girardi 2." Columnists and bloggers sharpened their carving instruments.
Later, Girardi explained his decision to keep Burnett pitching:
"He was throwing the ball so well. He put up five shutout innings. He had only thrown 80 pitches. And we with just liked what we saw from him, and we stuck with him."
No mention, of course, that Burnett had given up four runs before those five shutout innings, hadn't completed seven innings since Sept. 18 and had a pretty good bullpen waiting behind him. No bringing up the fact that history's best closer, Mariano Rivera(notes), could have handled four to six of those nine outs.
Look, there's no doubt that it's been a tough postseason to be a manager. Twelve games have been decided by only one run and almost every decision to yank or not yank a pitcher has been magnified even more. Girardi is under the biggest microscope of them all, given that he sits in the world's biggest media market and that he's the only LCS manager without a World Series title to his name.
There's no guarantee, of course, that the Angels' Rally Monkey wouldn't have done its damage anyway had Damaso Marte(notes) or Phil Hughes(notes) started the inning. There's no one saying that Rivera would have avoided a big blown save like in the '01 World Series or '04 ALCS.
But what we are saying is that in a tied extra-inning Game 3, Girardi burned through pitchers as if he had a limitless supply and pulled a reliever who was throwing well.
Then, in a tight two-run Game 5 with a World Series end in sight, he treated his bullpen charges as a rare commodity he was unwilling to spend. He showed confidence in an overrated pitcher that few others have any confidence in.
Admittedly, it's quite easy to sit on the computer and apply hindsight. But this criticism of Girardi is more than just us Internet folks doing what we do best by piling on early and often. Eight games into his postseason managerial career, the Yankees skipper simply isn't following sound logic when it comes to decision-making time. We see it happening as the calls are being made and we call 'em as we see 'em.