It was the first inning of the first game of the season. The Tampa Bay Rays had runners on second and third with two outs. When the right-handed batting Sean Rodriguez stepped into the batter’s box, Joe Girardi ordered C. C. Sabathia to walk him.
It was the first inning of the first game of the season.
Girardi couldn’t have mistaken Sean Rodriguez for Alex Rodriguez or even Pudge Rodriguez. No, it was clearly Sean Rodriguez, the same Sean Rodriguez that batted .223/.323/.357 with eight home runs and 36 RBIs in 2011.
Girardi preferred that Sabathia face the left-handed hitting Carlos Pena instead of Rodriguez.
Last season, with the hapless Chicago Cubs, Pena batted only .225/.357/.462, but he hit 28 home runs. The fact that Pena had only one hit in his last 29 at-bats against Sabathia certainly came into play when Girardi made his decision.
Pena hit a grand slam home run on a 3-2 delivery.
Craig Calcaterra at HardballTalk referred to events as “Great Moments in over-managing: Joe Girardi Edition.”
Calcaterra wrote that just before Pena’s grand slam, the Rays’ radio announcer said that Girardi was competing with Buck Showalter for “the most over-managing Yankees manager of all time.”
There is no excuse, not even lefty against lefty, for Girardi’s over-managing in the first inning. Even if the right-handed batter were a good hitter, it would still be a questionable move in the first inning. It would be an acceptable strategy late in the game.
Many years ago, a manager whose record and baseball knowledge Girardi will never match, Casey Stengel made a similar move. But, Stengel's over-managing occurred with the Yankees batting.
Yogi Berra led off with single against right-hander Vernon Law. Bill Skowron singled Berra to second base. Clete Boyer (.242/.285/.405 with 14 home runs) was the scheduled batter.
Stengel, in the second inning of the opening game of the World Series, sent up left-handed batting Dale Long to hit for Boyer. All Long could manage was a fly ball to right-fielder Roberto Clemente. Bobby Richardson lined into a double play, and the Yankees failed to score.
Girardi has a well-deserved reputation for over-managing. He should, but of course will not, learn from Willie Mays.
When asked about his approach to the game, Mays responded simply "They throw the ball, I hit it. They hit the ball, I catch it."