Despite getting some things in Game 5 that seemed impossible just hours and minutes before they happened — big hits from Mark Teixeira and (holy cow) Robinson Cano — Joe Girardi helped pay back a terrific Yankees rally by once again mismanaging his pitchers. There are many questions to ask about the fatal bottom of the seventh, some in the Yankees’ control, some not.
1. Why can’t the Yankees retire Jeff Mathis, a career .200 hitter who normally strikes out once every 3.3 at-bats, equivalent to 152 Ks over a 500 at-bat season?
2. With a rested bullpen and another day off in front of him, why did the previously hyper-twitchy Joe “Coffee Joe” Girardi stay with A.J. Burnett to open the frame? Sure, his pitch count was on the low side, but he had also been on the bench for nearly half an hour and, despite settling down after being roughed up in the first inning, had struck out only three Angels, suggesting that, lacking his best stuff, he could again be damaged by a combination of walks and balls in play.
3. Why wasn’t Burnett yanked after the Mathis single to open the inning? Having broken ground on his grave, he was allowed to dig further by walking Erick Aybar, a hitter who took just 30 free passes in the regular season in close to full-time play. Girardi, who was so pepped to make changes in prior games, sat on his hands after the Mathis hit.
4. Why not start the inning with Phil Hughes? The way relievers pitch when they enter with men on is very different from the way they pitch when they start an inning. Though Mariano Rivera has performed some Houdini-like escapes in this series, including one to bail out Joba Chamberlain in this very game, even he yielded to the Twins in Game 2 of the Division Series, entering with two men on and allowing an RBI single.
5. If the Angels’ batting order was the problem and Girardi didn’t want to have Hughes pitch to Chone Figgins after (theoretically) retiring Mathis and Aybar, then why not burn David Robertson and his strikeouts in that spot, then pull him for the inevitable lefty?
6. Related to the previous question, is it really even necessary to worry about the platoon matchup when facing Chone Figgins? The Yankees have done a great job of taking him out of this series, in part by giving him a steady diet of lefty pitching to face. But even if Figgins beats a righty pitcher, he is likely to beat him with a single; this is a guy who homered once every 123 at-bats this year. The same is true, though to a lesser extent, of Bobby Abreu. Even against right-handers, he hit just 12 home runs in nearly 400 at-bats. That’s one per 32 ABs. Against hitters like these, a manager should only pursue the platoon advantage if it’s not going to trip them up in other ways.
In this case, it led to Girardi, so profligate with relievers previously, to keep his starter in the game, solely so he could avoid making a pitching change before those two lefties were due up. And as long as we’re on the subject of platoon advantages, let’s talk about Damaso Marte for a moment, and for that matter, Phil Coke as well. Even Casey Stengel, who loved the platoon more than anything else in the world save his wife, said that you don’t switch out a good pitcher for a bad one just to get a platoon advantage. You can see that done every day of the regular season, and though the move worked out in Game 5, Girardi might have been guilty of it here.
7. It didn’t have an impact on the game thanks to Rivera, but why is Chamberlain pitching ahead of Robertson, or Urban Shocker for that matter? It’s depressing, but sending Joba back to the bullpen has not magically turned the clock back to 2007. There are still the makings of a fine pitcher here — the guy just turned 24, which means he’s about 2.5 years younger than Tampa’s Jeff Niemann, who is going to get some Rookie of the Year votes. There is still time for him, but his moment might not be now.
8. I am sick of the Rally Monkey. Have the Yankees’ scoreboard operators gotten to work on the New York equivalent as of yet? Guys, I want to see Rally Kong climbing the Empire State Building and smashing biplanes. You don’t need more than a day to get that set up, right?