Commentary

Girardi's binders put Yanks in a bind

Skipper had Burnett walk Murphy to get to Molina, who pretty much clinched ALCS

Updated: October 20, 2010, 10:26 AM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees are as dead as winter, their demise just a matter of when, not if. They had to win three consecutive ALCS games to avoid a hopeless rematch with their bionic antagonist, Cliff Lee, and they couldn't even win one in a row.

So take a bow, Joe Girardi, because you'll be taking this Game 4 defeat to your managerial grave. Girardi did a hell of a job leading the Yankees to their first title in forever last year, but Tuesday night he helped bury his defending champs in a hole the size of Texas, and one offering no reasonable means of escape.

Girardi doesn't go by the book; he goes by the binder. And with two outs and a man on second in the sixth inning, the Yankees leading by a 3-2 count, Girardi's binder told him to intentionally walk the immortal David Murphy, a left-handed bat, and put the potential go-ahead run on base to get to the right-handed Bengie Molina.

Murphy had something of a noisy history against A.J. Burnett. He had five hits in 18 at-bats, one homer, five walks and four strikeouts. Molina? Not so much.

The Rangers catcher had two hits in six at-bats against Burnett, including a single in the fifth, too small a sample size to determine much of anything. But this moment wasn't about numbers, anyway. It was about feel. This moment and this decision required a manager to feel the game.

[+] EnlargeBoone Logan and Joe Girardi
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyJoe Girardi heard it from the Bronx crowd when he removed Boone Logan from the game in the midst of the Yankees' collapse.

In the previous half inning, the Yankees lost Mark Teixeira to a hamstring injury that looked and sounded far worse than Darrelle Revis'. Teixeira heard it pop, he crumpled onto the first-base bag, he took a knee and stared at the infield dirt while the Yankees coach, Mick Kelleher, signaled for help.

The full Stadium house was projecting an uneasy vibe. An injury had taken Tex out of the Texas series and the entire postseason, and the stunned crowd remained at full murmur in the sixth.

This was no time or place to allow the potential go-ahead run on base. No, Molina isn't Albert Pujols. But four years ago to the night, Pujols' teammate hit the big Shea Stadium homer off the Mets' Aaron Heilman that sent the Cardinals to the World Series.

Yadier Molina was his name.

It's in the family blood. Yadier's brother, Bengie, smashed three homers against the Yankees in the Angels' division series triumph in 2005. Bengie also had nine RBIs against the Yankees in 12 postseason games entering Tuesday night. Bengie also homered in this year's division series victory over Tampa Bay. Bengie also hit between 10 and 20 homers in eight different seasons, and drove in more than 70 runs in five.

Molina is an accomplished big league player, more like a guy you intentionally walk rather than a guy you ask to the plate with an engraved invitation.

"If you look on the back of his baseball card," said Texas manager Ron Washington, "he's always been an RBI guy."

Only Girardi wasn't looking on the back of Molina's baseball card; he was looking in the middle of his binder.

"We liked the matchup, A.J. against Molina, we did," Girardi said.

The manager liked it until Burnett released his first pitch to the Texas catcher, a fastball he wanted down and away.

"I knew as soon as I let go of it," Burnett said.

He knew it wasn't going down and away. He knew it was heading for a place where seasons go to die.

"That was the only ball I left over the plate," Burnett said.

Molina hammered it over the left-field wall, giving the Rangers a 5-3 lead and the spark they needed to tee off on the Yankees' bullpen and win, 10-3. The Rangers are nine fortuitous innings away from their first trip to the World Series, and Joe Girardi helped land them there.

"Joe makes the decisions," Burnett said when asked if he would've preferred to pitch to Murphy. "If I make that pitch down and away, you don't have to ask that question."

Girardi has been outmanaged by Washington, who has his team playing leaner and meaner postseason baseball against its top-heavy opponent. Josh Hamilton is dominating the series, and Girardi can't (or won't) check his most lethal weapon into the game.

A fully rested Mariano Rivera should've handled the ninth inning of Game 3, with Lee at 122 pitches and Girardi in position to apply some pressure on Washington. Texas held a 2-0 lead, and if the Yankees could've worked the ninth-inning counts on Lee, or if they could've put a man or two on base, Washington would've been in a bind.

Instead, Girardi let the Rangers breathe, let them blow open this ALCS. Girardi explained that he might need Rivera for multiple innings in Game 4, and how did that decision look at the witching hour Tuesday night?

"Tomorrow might be a day to use Mo for six outs," Girardi said.

Or he could wait until the first exhibition game with the Red Sox in March.

Girardi didn't fare any better in the seventh, when he replaced David Robertson with Boone Logan, who proceeded to surrender a homer to Hamilton on his second pitch. As the manager trudged back to the mound to remove Logan, he heard a vile sound from the fans.

Here's a hint: They weren't saying Booooooone.

The Cubs just hired a manager, so the fans were letting their manager know they expect better in the short and long terms. And yes, Girardi had earned these jeers even if Molina did his damnedest to take him off the hook.

"Murphy, he's a great hitter and he kills right handers," the catcher said. "So why not walk him and face me? I haven't been having a great season. I don't think it's a bad move. I think it's the right move that went wrong."

Now Bengie Molina has 12 RBI against the Yankees in 13 postseason games. Girardi?

He only has a beaten-down team, and a whole lot of explaining to do.

Ian O'Connor is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

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