Imagine your team’s moral as a balloon: before the game starts, your team is pumped. As a manager, you do the best job you can to keep the balloon full of air as the slings and arrows of the opposition and circumstance do their worst to pop your shiz.
I’ve already been critical of Joe Girardi’s decision to flip flop Phil Hughes and Andy Pettitte in the rotation – I understand Hughes has better road numbers than home numbers, game 3 is usually considered the swing game of a post season series and the Cliff Lee vs Andy Pettitte match up gives the Yankees the best opportunity to win game 3, but I don’t think this was the best strategy towards winning the series. I thought the Yankees should have managed and played games 1 and 2 like elimination games and thrown Phil Hughes in game 3 and take their chances, but it didn’t go down like that. They stole game 1 and were lucky to do so, and when they came home knotted with the Rangers at a game a piece, I started to worry, and more than at any other time in his tenure, I started to question Joe Girardi’s managing style.
Down two games to one, I fully expected CC Sabathia to start game four on short rest, but it didn’t happen. If they lost the game under this scenario, they would have had to of asked Phil Hughes pitch the elimination game on short rest, and I guess they didn’t want to do that, so AJ Burnett started game four last night.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, A-Rod was hit by a pitch to lead off, then Robinson Cano hit a single. With 1st and 2nd and no outs, I fully expected a bunt… which never came. Nick Swisher ended up striking out. I know Swisher is a great hitter and the Yankees were playing for the big inning, but they’ve been so bad at executing in this series that I thought Girardi would bunt for sure. He didn’t.
The Yankees put more base runners on again in the bottom of the 5th and they failed to score again, but even more demoralizing was the injury to Mark Teixeira. For current team moral after the bottom of the 5th, please see the balloon image at right. Joe Girardi was going to need to take his balloon management to a new level to keep things from falling apart.
I think it’s fair to say that AJ Burnett exceeded my expectations for 5.2 innings. When he came into the sixth inning, I thought he was clearly tired after just one batter. Joba Chamberlain had been warming up for a long while, so after the intentional walk, I thought Joba was coming in for sure, but no such luck – and BOOM, home run by Bengie Molina – a guy you don’t necessarily expect to hit a home run, but a guy who was challenged by a tired pitcher who hadn’t pitched in three weeks who just walked a guy (intentional or not, I feel it’s a rhythm killer for pitchers) and hasn’t been great at locating the ball this year. Why did he face Molina in the first place? Awful managing. It was pure divine providence that Burnett got any outs in the sixth in the first place – Girardi was already gambling with house money, he let it ride and he lost big. After that home run by Molina, the game was over. All the air was out of the balloon.
Tonight, the Yankees send CC Sabathia to the hill as they face elimination. I honestly have no idea what to expect from tonight’s game – the Yankees could step up and hit with runners on base and Sabathia could turn in his first quality post season start and they could win the game. Or they might get crushed. Coming back from a 3-1 game deficit is a tall order, and with the way the Yankees have been playing in this series, I don’t think they can do it.
I hope they prove me wrong.