The Yankees head to Detroit for Game 3 tonight after losing home field advantage on Sunday. Much has been made of Max Scherzer's impressive performance and the weather conditions toward the end of the contest, but two decisions in the seventh and the start of the ninth inning ended up costing the Yankees dearly.
With the Tigers leading 4-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh, Nick Swisher and Jorge Posada led off the inning with a walk and single against Scherzer. Jim Leyland pulled Scherzer in favor of setup man, Joaquin Benoit, to pitch to Russell Martin. Martin struck out with the runners on second and first with Brett Gardner to follow.
Girardi then made his first curious move of the game by pinch hitting for the left-handed hitting Gardner with Eric Chavez. In 175 plate appearances, Chavez hit two home runs and produced a slash line of .263/.320/.356. Gardner produced a similar slash line, .259/.345/.369 along with seven home runs in 588 plate appearances. Both Chavez and Derek Jeter, the hitter to follow, struck out ending the Yankees' rally.
In Girardi's postgame press conference, he mentioned a that he was looking for a three-run home run and that it was not a difficult decision to make. This makes that move even more perplexing. Gardner has a higher OBP (.345), SLG (.356) and ISO (.110) than Chavez. Furthermore, Gardner has a slightly higher home run percentage this season (1.2 percent) than Chavez (1.1 percent).
To make matters worse, Girardi brought in Luis Ayala into the ninth after Curtis Granderson hit a home run to bridge the gap to 4-1. Both Rafael Soriano and David Robertson, who have not pitched since Tuesday, were available and were better candidates to get through that inning without scoring a run. Ayala had a 4.15 xFIP this season despite pitching to a 2.09 ERA.
Girardi used the possibility of pitching in three straight games as his reasoning, but if things work out well in Game 3 with C.C. Sabathia on the mound, there is a good chance one of those relievers will not need to work in that game. Of course, Ayala allowed a run and gave the Tigers a 5-1 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth.
Nick Swisher hit a solo home run off of Valverde to begin the ninth, and Posada and Martin then followed with a triple and walk respectively. Further complicating matters, Andruw Jones followed with a sac fly in Gardner's spot in the lineup. Jones does have better power numbers than Gardner with a .247 ISO and 13 home runs in just 222 plate appearances.
However, Jones is vastly an inferior hitter against right-handed pitching (wRC+ of 94 against RHP compared to 151 wRC+ against LHP) and Valverde owns better splits against right-handed hitters (4.44 xFIP against LHH versus 3.53 xFIP against RHH).
Of course, Soriano could have allowed a run and Gardner could have produced the same results in his two plate appearances. However, the numbers show that Girardi's reasoning was flawed from the beginning, and with a closer game, he might have been able to distance himself from the idea of using Ayala.