Nine of the 13 runs scored in Game Five of the American League Championship Series crossed the plate after the starting pitchers were removed from the game.
First, Angels manager Mike Scioscia took out John Lackey with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh, even though the right-hander was throwing a six-hit shutout with seven strikeouts.
Southpaw Darren Oliver entered and immediately surrendered a bases-clearing double to Mark Teixeira on the first pitch, intentionally walked Alex Rodriguez and gave up an RBI single to Hideki Matsui. The reliever left after recording no outs while blowing a four-run lead.
Next up for Los Angeles was Kyle Jepsen, who allowed a two-run triple to Robinson Cano. Lackey left the game with the Angels up, 4-0, but by the time the top of the seventh ended, the Yankees led, 6-4, and were just nine outs away from their first trip to the World Series in six years.
After the long frame, New York manager Joe Girardi let A.J. Burnett return to the mound for his seventh inning of work. I was shocked to hear some criticize this move, especially after these same people slammed Girardi for lifting Andy Pettitte after only 81 pitches in Game Three.
At the start of the seventh, Burnett had thrown only 80 pitches, had retired the last four batters he faced, and hadn't yielded a run since the first inning.
I actually thought Girardi pulled his starter too soon. Even after surrendering a single to the red-hot Jeff Mathis and walking Erick Aybar to lead off the frame, Burnett was still only at 89 pitches and had a two-run advantage.
In addition, the next two batters—Chone Figgins and Bobby Abreu—were 1-for-5 with a walk against Burnett in the game.
Reliever Damaso Marte didn't do a terrible job, giving up a sac bunt to Figgins and an RBI ground out to Abreu, but then Girardi brought in Phil Hughes, who has really struggled in the postseason, and before you knew it, the lead was gone.
The right-hander allowed RBI singles to Vladimir Guerrero and Kendri Morales to give Los Angeles a 7-6 advantage, which they would hold onto for the victory, sending the series back to the Bronx for Game Six on Saturday, when none other than Pettitte will get the ball for New York.
Here are the grades from Thursday's loss.
Joe Girardi, Manager: (D) In addition to his questionable use of the bullpen, Girardi once again did very little to get his offense going during the first six innings. They attempted not one sacrifice bunt, stolen base, or hit-and-run as the Bombers just sat back and waited for the ol' three-run homer.
It didn't wind up mattering, but I also didn't understand why Girardi pinch ran for possible ALCS MVP A-Rod with Freddy Guzman in the ninth inning. Guzman has a lot of speed, but is he really that much faster than Rodriguez, who stole 14-of-16 bases this year, that it was worth risking removing your best bat from the lineup? What if the Yanks tied it and the game went to extra innings?
Derek Jeter, SS: (C+) The captain led off the game with a single, but went hitless with two strikeouts the rest of the night. He did, however, pick up a walk and scored a run.
Johnny Damon, LF: (D+) Damon was 1-for-5 and failed to get the run in from third with less than two outs in the seventh, but was bailed out by Teixeira's clutch hit. He was also robbed of an infield single on another bad call by the umpires and had another hit stolen from him on a nice play by Morales in the ninth.
Mark Teixeira, 1B: (A+) Teixeira broke out of his postseason slump with an enormous two-out, three-run double to draw the Yanks within one in the seventh. He also singled and scored.
Alex Rodriguez, 3B: (A) A-Rod doubled, walked twice (once intentionally in the ninth) and scored a run.
Hideki Matsui, DH: (A) Godzilla tied the game with a single in the seventh and drew a big two-out walk to keep the rally going in the ninth. He may be the key to winning this series as the Angels continue to pitch around Rodriguez.
Robinson Cano, 2B: (A) Cano's two-run triple capped the six-run seventh. He was also hit by a pitch in the ninth.
Nick Swisher, RF: (F) I don't understand why Girardi keeps penciling Swisher into the lineup. His 0-for-5 night, including the final out with the bases loaded, drops him to 3-for-29 (.103) in the postseason. He's 5-for-21 (.238) against Game Six starter Joe Saunders, so I don't see why he should play on Saturday.
The Yankees need to get Brett Gardner into the lineup as a way to diversify the offense. They can't keep sitting back and waiting for the big blast like they were doing in Game Five until Scioscia let them off the hook by taking out Lackey. New York needs to start playing some small ball and Gardner is the guy to lead the charge.
Melky Cabrera, CF: (A) Cabrera needs to be moved up in the lineup. He singled, doubled, and scored a run on Thursday night to bring his ALCS average up to .381.
Jose Molina, C: (C-) Molina went 0-for-1 before being pinch-hit for in the fifth. He and Burnett had a rough first, but then settled down over the next five frames. If the Yankees do move on to the World Series, I'd continue to use Molina to catch Burnett.
Freddy Guzman, PR: (INC) Guzman unnecessarily pinch-ran for A-Rod in the ninth. He pinch-walked to second on Matsui's base on balls and then pinch-walked to third on Cano's hit-by-pitch, before being stranded there by Swisher.
Brett Gardner, PR: (INC) Gardner necessarily pinch-ran for Matsui in the ninth. He will hopefully start on Saturday.
Jorge Posada, PH-C: (C) Posada struck out looking for Molina in the fifth and finished 0-for-2 with a walk and a run scored. I thought Girardi should've started Posada as the DH because he was 12-for-29 (.414) vs. Lackey, while Matsui was just 8-for-28 (.286).
A.J. Burnett, SP: (C-) In the first inning, Burnett had his first bad blow-up inning of the playoffs that we saw so often during the regular season. He surrendered four runs without recording an out, but then retired 18 batters without giving up a run until Girardi pulled him in the seventh. I liked the way he responded after the first and kept the Yankees in the game by holding the Angels at four.
Damaso Marte, RP: (A-) Marte retired both batters he faced, although both of them made productive outs with a sac bunt and an RBI ground out.
Phil Hughes, RP: (F) The right-hander continued his poor postseason by blowing the lead and picking up the loss. In the playoffs, he has a 5.79 ERA and a 2.36 WHIP.
After getting ahead of Guerrero with a good breaking ball in the dirt, Hughes should've gone right back to that pitch to strikeout the free-swinger. Instead, Posada called for a high fastball, but Hughes threw it right down the middle of the plate and Vlad scorched it for a game-tying single.
Joba Chamberlain, RP: (D) Joba retired only one of the three batters he faced in the eighth before being bailed out by Mariano Rivera.
Mariano Rivera, RP: (A) With runners on first and third and one out in the eighth, Mo did his job and kept the Yanks within striking distance by getting Figgins to line out and Abreu to fly out.
Yankees Overall Grade: (C-) The Yanks offense was silent until Scioscia threw them a bone by taking out Lackey in the seventh. Burnett was great other than the first inning and Girardi pulled him too soon before the New York 'pen once again couldn't get the job done.
On the bright side, the Pinstripes only have to win one of two home games this weekend to win their 40th pennant and they have the veteran Pettitte and the MVP candidate CC Sabathia scheduled to pitch.
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Jordan Schwartz is Bleacher Report's New York Yankees Community Leader. His book "Memoirs of the Unaccomplished Man" is available at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and authorhouse.com.
Jordan can be reached at email@example.com