During the 11th inning on Monday, seconds after Dave Robertson had registered the second out of what seemed to be an uneventful half inning, FOX cameras cut to Joe Girardi.
The Yankees manager looked discombobulated...even frantic. He took three quick steps toward his matchup binder sitting on the dugout bench, hurriedly flipped through the first few pages, and then he quickly turned around and shot up the dugout steps to pull Robertson from the game.
That was the precise moment when I knew for sure that Girardi was in over his head.
It goes without saying that Girardi had his toughest day as a manager in Game Three of the ALCS. It very well may have cost his team the privilege of a 3-0 series lead. Another way of saying it was the Yankees may have lost Game Three because their manager was watching the game with two hands wrapped around his neck.
Giardi made three crucial errors that helped bury the Yankees on Monday. Let's count them off:
- Aceves for Robertson in the 11th. Neither pitcher had a real track record against the upcoming hitters. Robertson looked good to that point. Leaving him in wasn't just baseball smart, it was commonsense smart.
- Double-switching Damon out of the game was completely unnecessary for a number of reasons. a) It took Damon's bat out of the lineup (he had already homered in the game). b) You were only getting a minimal arm-strength upgrade in left field with utilityman Jerry Hairston. c) You eliminated the chance of having Rivera work a second inning. d) You emptied out your bench prematurely, putting yourself in position to have pitchers bat if the game went further.
- Girardi is not protecting A-Rod late in games. Removing Matsui as a pinch-runner late in games is understandable, but by having Matsui bat behind your hottest hitter, you are leaving yourself vulnerable. Girardi has been burned by this in back-to-back nights. Angels manager Mike Scioscia intentionally walked A-Rod with two outs and nobody on in the 11th because he knew Girardi had nobody to hit behind him. The likes of Freddy Guzman and Hairston aren't going to scare anybody. The Yankees bench seems stunningly thin right now. Makes you long for the days when Boggs and Strawberry were waiting in the wings.
We all knew the Girardi-Scioscia showdown was a mismatch from the start, but now you have to wonder if it's something that can actually swing the series. Girardi has looked hesitant and jumpy the entire postseason, but Alex Rodriguez and a superb pitching staff had continually let him off the hook.
Girardi finally got hung out to dry on Monday.
Joba Chamberlain and Aceves both folded in big spots, and Pettitte allowed a broken-down Guerrero be a difference-maker again.
The Yankees offense, meanwhile, continued their disconcerting drift into the abyss. If I had the number to the Elias Sports Bureau, I'd love to find out if a team had ever hit four homers in a game and lost to an opponent that scored just five runs. Not enough people are getting on base, and when they do, you have the likes of Nick Swisher, Robinson Cano, and yes, Mark Teixeira coming up small when it counts the most.
How bad have the Yankees been in clutch situations? The answer is pitifully bad. They were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position and left 10 men stranded on Monday. The Game Three performance followed up an 0-for-8 with 12 men left in Game Two, and a 3-for-12 with 11 men left in Game One.
The Yankees have once again slipped into the offensive strategy that has doomed them so many times this decade. Waiting and waiting and waiting for that three-run homer that will save them. But what works against the Orioles in June doesn't work against the league's top teams in October. Not by a longshot.
Girardi was sheepish after the game, perhaps aware of his blunders and just hoping for a new day to begin. Fair enough. Hopefully this will be a wakeup up call for him. Both Girardi and the Yankees need to be much better, or this season will quickly meet a bitter conclusion.