As the New York Yankees try to climb back from a 2-0 ALDS deficit to a tied series tonight in the Bronx, let’s discuss how it got here. In one of the more exciting postseason games of the last few seasons, the Yankees found multiple excruciating ways to blow a five-run lead Friday night against the Cleveland Indians. They did this with arguably the best bullpen, on paper, in Major League Baseball history. Although the bullpen stats will show five earned runs, you can make the case not one of them should have scored. There is a culprit and his name is Joe Girardi. The Yankees and Girardi didn’t just lose a game Friday night, he lost his locker room and it all happened in one half inning.
Joe Girardi’s Infamous Half Inning
Carsten Charles Sabathia
When CC Sabathia got the nod for game two from Girardi there wasn’t much question to it. He’s a borderline Hall of Fame pitcher who has won his fair share of big games. He’s a guy Girardi trusts.
In no stretch of the imagination was this one of the biggest game of Sabathia’s career. It was the biggest start the big man has had in the past few years. Returning to the place where his career began, against the team who maybe favored to win the whole thing, against the possible AL CY Young award winner, it wouldn’t be easy. Oh and CC, you’re already down 1-0.
It didn’t start well for Sabathia, but hardly his fault. Two errors by the usually sure-handed Todd Frazier helped the Indians to scratch across a few runs in the first two innings. Sabathia didn’t blink, he kept his composure and dominated the Indians the next time through the order. At one point, Sabathia retired 11 straight Indians. Then came the bottom of the sixth.
Sabathia was cruising through the lineup, but in Girardi’s mind he had already got enough from Sabathia. When you have a bullpen with the likes of Chad Green, Dellin Betances, David Robertson and Aroldis Chapman; it’s fair for Girardi to think he just needs five innings. The Yankees are built on their bullpen.
He let Sabathia start the sixth, having under 70 pitches, not to mention no one had reached base since the second inning. Sabathia was on a short leash and walking Carlos Santana scared Girardi. He allowed his lefty to take on Jay Bruce, but that was it. Sabathia left throwing just 77 pitches, retiring 12 of the last 13 batters he faced, and a facial expression that screamed “you can’t take the ball from me.” Little did we know, he was right.
Green came in and took care of business with his first batter. Then Yan Gomes put together the least talked about, most underrated at bat of the Indians season. He gets behind in the count 0-2, takes a ball and then fouls off three straight pitches. Green challenges one more time with a 97 MPH heater and Gomes rips a line drive off the wall in left field.
Here’s the thing with fastball pitchers. Big league hitters can foul off fastballs until their arms fall off. They can shorten their swing and spoil pitches. It’s what separates big league hitters from career minor leaguers. Green threw 23 pitches, seven to each batter he faced, and then two to Francisco Lindor. Thirteen of those 23 pitches were fouled off. The Indians forced Green into making mistakes.
The Replay Heard Round the World
Getting hit in the hand hurts. Watch every batter ever who has been hit in the hand and drops the bat, shakes his hand. You know when a batter is hit in the hand. That sentence is for Girardi AND home plate umpire, Dan Iassogna. While Girardi deserves 100% of the blame, Iassogna made the wrong call.
As we all know Lonnie Chisenhall was not hit in the hand. Girardi can take the blame, he can feel awful, but at the end of the day not trusting your young catcher (his position) shows a clear lack of trust in the kid. That kid is an integral part of this team’s future. For the Yankees going forward, in a matter of 15 minutes, Girardi showed no trust in the most experienced pitcher on his staff as well as his starting catcher for possibly the next half decade. It’s not a good look, it’s something that every player saw, and it’s something Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenner brothers saw.
What it Means
The numbers say the Yankees will lose this series. The numbers will be right. The Yankees lost this series in the bottom of the sixth inning in game two. Of course there were chances that they had as that game went on. Yes Robertson had to give up the tying shot to Bruce. Yes Ronald Torreyes can not get picked off second base with no outs, but momentum is real in sports. The Indians have rode this momentum wave since the middle of August. There may not be a team able to stop them.
In just one half inning, a season Yankees fans couldn’t have dreamed of came to a nightmarish halt. Normally it’s hard to blame a manager, it’s the players that throw the pitches, that make the plays. On Friday night, in the biggest game of the season, a manager in the last year of his contract made decisions that could cost him his future and will cost this 2017 Yankees squad their chances at a championship.
James is a current contributor to LWOS baseball. A lifelong Yankee fan, as well as an avid hockey fan with a little fantasy football.