The New York Yankees entered Game 2 of the American League Division Series with a seemingly impossible task: Vanquish Cleveland Indians ace Corey Kluber.
The Yanks improbably succeeded, tagging Kluber for six earned runs in 2.2 innings. By comparison, the Klubot allowed four earned runs in the entire month of September.
Down 1-0 in the series and facing the presumed American League Cy Young Award winner, it was an inspiring showing by New York.
Then, "thanks" to the bullpen and the head-scratching machinations of manager Joe Girardi, it went to manure—and all but buried the Yankees' postseason hopes.
The second-guessing begins with Girardi's decision to pull starter CC Sabathia after 5.1 innings of admirable if imperfect work. The veteran lefty wobbled early but appeared to be in control after throwing just 77 pitches. Once he departed, the wheels came off.
Girardi summoned right-hander Chad Green, who threw two innings in the American League Wild Card Game on Tuesday and got up three times in the bullpen Friday before taking the hill.
After retiring left fielder Austin Jackson on a fly ball, Green yielded a double to catcher Yan Gomes that put runners on second and third.
Then, an 0-2 pitch to pinch-hitter Lonnie Chisenhall was ruled a hit-by-pitch. It appeared to hit the knob of Chisenhall's bat, per PitcherList.com's Twitter feed:
Girardi, for some reason, opted not to challenge the call, despite catcher Gary Sanchez's obvious protestations.
The next batter, Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor, blasted a grand slam that made an 8-3 game 8-7. All the Yankees' hard work against Kluber was virtually erased.
"There was nothing that told us that he was not hit on the pitch," Girardi told reporters after the game of his decision not to challenge the call. "By the time we got the super slo-mo, we were a minute—probably beyond a minute—it was way too late. They tell us we have 30 seconds. ... Being a [former] catcher, my thought is I never want to break a pitcher's rhythm. That's how I think about it."
"Think," here, is a generous term. Had Girardi challenged the call, chances are it would have been overturned and ruled a foul-tip strike three, inning over.
Instead, the momentum shifted to the Indians, who tied the game 8-8 in the eighth on a Jay Bruce home run and won it in the 13th on a walk-off Gomes double down the third base line.
The defending AL champions celebrated an inspiring comeback. The Yankees slumped into the dugout after a dispiriting defeat.
Some of the blame goes to New York's vaunted bullpen, which surrendered six hits and five earned runs. In addition to Green, David Robertson, Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman all looked mortal.
The stinkiest goat, however, is Girardi, who yanked his starter too soon, overworked and misused his relievers and failed to contest the game's linchpin play.
It was, as Joel Sherman of the New York Post put it, "A Stump Merrill inning. A Bucky Dent inning." If those references don't resonate, go ahead and Google 'em.
To make matters worse, Girardi got in front of a live microphone and offered an incoherent, bumbling "defense" of his puzzling inaction. Making a mistake is one thing. Failing to own it is salt in the wound.
Now, instead of vanquishing Cleveland's ace and heading back to the Bronx with the series knotted 1-1, the Yankees are on the brink of elimination.
Say what you will about this being a young team that should be happy to gain October experience. This is a missed opportunity, period. Girardi blew it, period.
And, barring a miracle of Ruthian proportions, New York is finished. Period.
All statistics and series information current as of Friday and courtesy of MLB.com.