New York Yankees: 5 Horrible Managerial Moves That Lost Them the ALDS
The Yankees received an admirable performance from their bullpen following an injury to rookie starter Ivan Nova that limited him to two innings on the mound. Phil Hughes, Boone Logan, CC Sabathia, Rafael Soriano, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera all came into the game in relief of Nova and combined they pitched seven innings, allowing one run on five hits and two walks with 10 strikeouts.
This was after Nova had given up back-to-back home runs to Don Kelly and Delmon Young in the first inning, so overall, the Tigers scored a grand total of three runs in Game 5.
It turns out that's all they would need, as the Yankees struggled heavily against Detroit's pitching combination, made up of arguably the four best Tiger pitchers not named Justin Verlander. Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde combined to limit the Yankees to just two runs, despite giving up 10 hits and three walks. This was largely due to the fact that the Yankees—mostly A-Rod—struck out 10 times, mostly in pivotal at-bats.
When a team loses a postseason series and gets sent home, the finger is usually pointed almost exclusively at the manager. Now don't get me wrong, I too am pointing a finger at the $31-million-man, Alex Rodriguez, who had yet another postseason for the ages (yeah, right), but I do have to admit that there were a handful of decisions made by Joe Girardi that might have cost the Yankees a shot at No. 28. Most of them didn't seem too pivotal at the time, but I honestly feel that they might have been the difference in this series.
Game 1: Girardi Sends Out Ivan Nova in the 9th
Apart from the exploits of Curtis Granderson, I don't think anyone can argue that the Yankees won't look back at 2011 as the year they discovered Ivan Nova. The 24-year-old righty had quite the interesting season in New York.
Beginning the season as the No. 4 starter, Nova proceeded to put up numbers that made him the Yankees' "Game 2 Starter" in the playoffs and also has put him in line for some serious consideration for AL Rookie of the Year.
He posted a 16-4 record with a 3.70 ERA in 28 starts, but many people (myself included) believe that he could have been a 20-game winner had he not been sent to the minors for a month to make room for Phil Hughes in the rotation.
Nova pitched beautifully in Game 1 of the ALDS following the rain postponement, but as the Yankees entered the top of the ninth inning leading 9-1, Nova's pitch count was hovering around 90. With a lead of eight runs, the best option is to put in a reliever like Cory Wade or Luis Ayala to get those final three outs to make sure Nova is 100 percent for a potential Game 5 or ALCS Game 2. Girardi didn't do that, Nova threw a dozen more pitches, giving up two singles and a walk and was removed with one out in the inning—his final pitch count at 101.
Now you might say, "So what? 101 isn't a lot of pitches, so why does it matter?" Well, at the time, it didn't seem like it would matter. However, in Game 5, Nova was not nearly as sharp, giving up two solo home runs and leaving with a right forearm strain in the second inning. Is this due to that extra inning he pitched?
After all, this is a rookie pitcher who threw 181 innings in 2011—his first year in the majors. The point is Girardi should have been more cautious with Nova, and although we'll never know, that one inning might have cost Nova and his team a Game 5 win.
Game 2: Girardi Pinch-Hits Eric Chavez for Brett Gardner
With guys like A-Rod, Teixiera and Swisher slumping, it's a wonder the Yankees even made it to a Game 5 in this ALDS. One big reason as to why they got there was the hot-hitting of left fielder Brett Gardner.
Despite enduring a rough season in which he posted a .259 batting average, Gardner was a hitting machine in the postseason, hitting .412 with five RBI during the ALDS. In Game 2, Gardner came up to bat with two men on and one out in the seventh inning with the Yankees trailing by four.
However, Girardi decided he would rather have Eric Chavez bat in that situation, so he pinch-hit for Gardner. Chavez struck out, then Jeter, inning over. The Yankees would lose Game 2 by a score of 5-3. That at-bat proved to be a huge moment in the series, and Girardi neglected to play the hot hand, his speedy outfielder who had hit a 2-run single in Game 1.
Game 3: Girardi Allows CC Sabathia To Pitch the 6th
Game 3 of the ALDS featured the marquee pitching matchup that made an inning and a half appearance in Game 1 before the rains came and washed everything away, CC Sabathia vs Justin Verlander. Obviously, despite CC's resume, Verlander was the favorite to win the game, having had an incredible 2011 season that will net him a Cy Young Award and maybe a MVP. Despite scoring two runs in the first inning off Verlander, the Yankees couldn't muster anything else until the seventh, when they tied the game at 4-4 with Brett Gardner double.
So, on a night when CC had thrown a decent amount of pitches and didn't really have his best stuff, having already walked six, a season-high, Girardi sent him out to pitch the sixth inning. Obviously, this backfired, as CC gave up two straight hits and the game-deciding run.
Everything went right in Game 4 for the Yankees, so let's skip ahead to Game 5...
Game 5: Girardi Removes Phil Hughes after Only 4 Outs
I've already discussed how Ivan Nova left Game 5 after two innings and two solo home runs, but I haven't yet spoke of the man who relieved him initially, Phil Hughes. At the start of this season, most people would have picked Hughes, not Nova, to be the "Game 2 Starter" for the Yankees in the postseason. However, following an arm injury that sidelined him for half the year, Hughes struggled heavily, leading to him barely even making the playoff roster as a relief pitcher.
The way Phil Hughes looked on that mound on Thursday, I started getting flashbacks of Game 3 of the 2007 ALDS vs. the Indians, when the Yankees were forced into using Hughes after Roger Clemens suffered a hamstring injury. The rookie Hughes pitched three-and-two-third scoreless innings in that game, earning the win in relief. It was this kind of performance that I thought the Yankees were about to get on Thursday, that is, until Girardi came and took him out with one out in the fourth.
Hughes looked really sharp in Game 5, and if he had been allowed to continue, he could have pitched right through the point of the game in which CC Sabathia would give up the eventual game-winning run. Would Hughes have continued to shut down the Tigers? We'll never know, but regardless, it doesn't seem too smart to remove a guy with length that is pitching well.
Game 5: Girardi Uses CC Sabathia in Relief
I have to say, sometimes I feel bad for Joe Girardi. Ironically, the same decision he didn't make last year in the 2010 ALCS vs. the Rangers is the very decision that comes back to haunt him in Game 5 of the 2011 ALDS vs. the Tigers.
Last year, Girardi was criticized for not using his ace lefty, CC Sabathia, in relief to get out of a key jam in the series. This year, Girardi was not about to make the same mistake, especially in a do-or-die game.
He brought in Sabathia to start the fifth, and CC surrendered a two-out single to plate the Tigers third run and give them a 3-0 lead. We would later see that it was that run that made all the difference, as the Tigers would win by a final score of 3-2, eliminating the Yankees from the 2011 playoffs.
The difference between 2010 and 2011 was that in 2010, Sabathia had been pitching well thus far in the playoffs, so he was clearly the best option with the season on the line. This year, Sabathia had been roughed up by the Tigers in Game 3 and had shown little to no command of any of his pitches in that game.
CC was absolutely not the best choice to try to keep the Tigers at bay. Girardi would have benefit from trusting relievers like Phil Hughes and Boone Logan to give him more length than he asked, or by using another pitcher, such as Cory Wade or Luis Ayala.
The entire bullpen stepped up and did everything in their power to give the slumping Yankees offense a fighting chance in Game 5. It was the starting rotation that let them down, and now, the Yankees will be watching the Tigers or Rangers celebrate winning an AL Pennant.
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