Commentary

Girardi simply manages to overmanage

For second straight game, Yankees used eight pitchers … and this time it didn't work

Originally Published: October 19, 2009
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Asked before Game 3 for his thoughts on expanding the use of instant replay, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he isn't in favor of that because it would disrupt the rhythm of the game.

Exactly. Because it's much more important for Girardi to disrupt the rhythm of games himself.

Time and again in Game 3, Girardi made unnecessary moves for the sake of making unnecessary moves. Time and again, they backfired. So instead of taking a commanding 3-0 lead in the ALCS (go ahead, insert your favorite 2004 ALCS comment here), Girardi blew a 3-0 lead in Game 3 and put the Angels back in the series.

[+] EnlargeJoe Girardi and David Robertson
John Munson/The Star-Ledger/Getty ImagesYankees manager Joe Girardi wore out a path to the mound in the Yankees' 5-4 loss in Game 3.

"We're trying to win and whatever it takes to win," catcher Jorge Posada said of Girardi's moves. "He's not just going with a hot hand or a guy who's pitching good. He's just trying to win the game."

There is nothing wrong with managing differently in the postseason than in the regular season. The postseason is different. And a manager isn't to blame when he makes a logical move only to have a player screw up afterward. But Girardi made so many pitching changes Monday that relievers were spilling out of the Yankees' bullpen like circus clowns from a VW.

Girardi's first extraneous move, however, didn't involve a pitching change -- it was simply stopping the game to talk to Andy Pettitte on the mound with two outs in the sixth inning, the Yankees leading 3-1 and a 2-2 count on Vladimir Guerrero. I'm not sure why a 15-year veteran needed tips about how to pitch to Guerrero -- the man swings at every pitch inside Orange County -- but apparently Joe felt the need to disrupt his pitcher's rhythm and overmanage the situation.

Girardi: Hi, Andy. What's happening? I need to talk to you about your TPS reports.

Pettitte: Yeah, I got the memo. And I understand the policy. And the problem is just that I forgot the one time. And I've already taken care of it, so it's not even really a problem anymore. So, if you'll just let me pitch to Vladdy here …

Girardi: Yeah. It's just we're putting new coversheets on all the TPS reports before they go out now. So if you could go ahead and try to remember to do that from now on, that'd be great. All right! Just don't throw him a meatball down the middle.

Well, you saw how well that little chat worked. Guerrero slammed Pettitte's next pitch into the bullpen to tie the score and give the Angels new life.

Pettitte said he didn't remember what Girardi told him, just that the manager wanted to know what they were going to throw Guerrero and make sure everyone was on the same page.

"We told him, and he walked back to the dugout," Pettitte said. "That's just Joe being on top of everything and wanting to know what's going on out there. He comes out there an awful lot."

No kidding. Girardi visited the mound so often Monday that he should have to pay real estate taxes.

Pettitte retired the first batter in the seventh inning and had thrown only 95 pitches when Girardi went to the mound again to bring in overhyped Joba Chamberlain. That move resulted immediately in a triple to Howie Kendrick, a run-scoring fly out to the warning track and a double down the line before Girardi took out Chamberlain for Damaso Marte.

Marte pitched to one batter before Girardi removed him for lefty Phil Coke.

Coke pitched to one batter before Girardi removed him for right-hander Phil Hughes.

Hughes pitched well for a couple of innings before giving up a leadoff double to Jeff Mathis in the bottom of the 10th. With the game on the line, Girardi logically brought in Mariano Rivera, who botched a throw on a bunt to put runners on first and third.

Girardi then responded creatively by inserting Jerry Hairston, who was in the game as the designated hitter at the time, as a defensive replacement for left fielder Johnny Damon. This was an unusual move -- you see it so seldom that the initial reaction was to wonder whether it was possible -- but it actually made good sense. With the potential deciding run on third base, Girardi needed a stronger arm in left field. Damon's arm is so weak he can't throw out a runner at home unless he is playing shallow enough to either smell Derek Jeter's cologne or grab a handful of Kate Hudson's Cracker Jack.

The problem with the move, however, was that it meant the Yankees lost their DH, meaning Rivera had to bat in Damon's slot in the order, which was due up third the next inning. The first two hitters made outs, and, with nobody on base, it seemed reasonable to let Rivera bat for himself so he could pitch another inning. Instead, Girardi pinch hit third-string catcher Francisco Cervelli, the one position player who wasn't used in Saturday's Game 2. Cervelli hadn't batted in two weeks, and it showed when he struck out weakly.

Girardi said he had decided ahead of time that Rivera could only pitch one inning.

"I didn't feel that I could stretch him out any longer than that in that situation because of what we did the other day with him," Girardi said, "so we had that one inning, and that was it."

"It doesn't surprise me at all," Rivera said. "We were tied, and we have a game tomorrow."

That makes sense. Rivera pitched 2 1/3 innings Saturday. Except for the fact that Girardi said he might have had Rivera pitch one more inning had the Yankees taken the lead in the 11th to set up a "save situation." Which is ridiculous. Either a reliever is capable of throwing more pitches or he's not. And given that Rivera had Sunday off and threw only 13 pitches Monday -- not counting the four balls in an intentional walk -- he probably could have pitched some more. A tie score in the 11th is every bit as important as a lead; in fact, it's probably more important because there is no room for error.

But fine. The Yankees had the luxury of a 2-0 series lead, so Girardi could afford to be cautious with his closer. And David Robertson had little trouble retiring the first two Angels in the bottom of the inning, so everything was cool.

Except Girardi couldn't leave well enough alone and went to the mound to replace Robertson with … right-hander Alfredo Aceves, New York's eighth pitcher of the game.

"It's just different kind of stuff against those hitters," Girardi explained. "We have all the matchups and all the scouting reports, and we felt [Aceves] was a better matchup."

Whether the matchup was better or not, Aceves gave up a single to Kendrick and a game-winning double to Mathis.

Still, the Yankees lead the series 2-1 with ace CC Sabathia set to start Game 4 on three days' rest -- a good call, by the way -- and they might very well go on to win the series. Whether they do depends less on Girardi than on how some struggling hitters come through in the clutch.

Either way, though, Girardi should have learned a valuable lesson Monday. The less time a manager spends outside the dugout, the better.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com