Sunday, April 12, 2009

Girardi should've left genius cap at hotel

Easter Sunday was shaping up pretty nicely for the Yankees. Joba delivered a solid first start, the offense got to Royals ace Gil Meche, and a series sweep was within reach -- all with Mark Teixeira on the bench with a brace on his wrist.

Unfortunately, manager Joe Girardi used the finale at Kauffman Stadium to prove to all the nice Midwesterners what a smart man he is. It ended up costing his team what would have been a very nice win.

The scenario: Joba goes six strong innings, departing with a 4-3 lead. Enter Brian Bruney, who looks great in a scoreless seventh. He throws just 14 pitches, and certainly appears capable of going longer.

No dice. Girardi instead opts to mix and match in the eighth. Damaso Marte takes over and gets two quick outs before Girardi emerges from the dugout. The righty swinging Billy Butler is pinch-hitting for Mike Jacobs, so Girardi naturally calls on Mariano Rivera for his first four-out save of the ...


Instead, Girardi opts to bring in the always unpredictable Jose Veras, who walks Butler on five pitches. In fairness to Veras, he appeared to get squeezed on ball four, but the bottom line is he didn't get it done. Again emerges Girardi, unknowingly about to bury his team. He calls on the untested Phil Coke, who gives up double, single, double and it's 6-4. Soria strikes out the side in the ninth and that was it.

Now ... you can say it's too early to bring in Mo for a four-out save opportunity, and I suppose you have an argument seeing as he is coming off offseason shoulder surgery. But you also have to keep in mind that Rivera is unlike most relievers in that he typically needs only 10-15 pitches to complete an inning. He's a strike-throwing machine, and against a weak-hitting Royals team it was unlikely Rivera was going to labor.

I just don't like how Girardi went about the whole thing. This Yankee 'pen has potential, but of the Bruney-Veras-Marte-Coke group, I'm always worried whether we get the good or bad version of each. To trot out all four them is take four chances that one of them doesn't have it. At a certain point you're spitting in the sky and on Sunday, Coke was the dud.

You'll never hear anyone call Joe Torre a magician in handling his bullpen -- I believe Scott Proctor is readying his class-action suit as we speak -- but I'd like to think that if Old Joe's in charge Rivera's coming in after Veras walks Butler there. Torre was a disciple of common sense, it was his best trait as a manager and it typically served him well.

Girardi, a promising manager in his own right, will hopefully acquire that trait in time. He'll review this game and replay the situations in his mind, because he is a classic tactician manager and because of that I'm sure this loss will eat at him. What I'm hoping will come out of that introspection in this particular case is the realization that you have the best closer in baseball history in your bullpen.

Sometimes, in life and baseball, it's best not to over-think things.

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