Girardi's 'manic managing' costs Yankees in Game 3

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Girardi's unusual behavior began in the sixth inning, when the Yankees led 3-1 behind solo home runs from Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Johnny Damon and seemed as if they were in the process of sailing along to a 3-0 series lead -- and even to an undefeated postseason. Andy Pettitte had been brilliant for 5 and 2/3 innings, and now had a 2-2 count against Vladimir Guerrero with a man on first base. Pettitte is 37 years old and has been a major league pitcher for 15 seasons, and he was throwing to a 37-year-old catcher, Jorge Posada, who has been in the big leagues for nearly as long. In other words, the long-time battery-mates know how to approach a slugger like Guerrero. At that moment, however -- in the middle of the at-bat! -- Girardi trotted out of the dugout for the first of what would prove to be so many on-field conferences with his pitchers over the remainder of the game that the Angels' groundskeepers might tomorrow morning have to deal with a brown path worn between the Yankees' dugout and the pitcher's mound. "We just told him how we wanted to attack Vlad in that situation, and what we wanted to do," Girardi recalled later. Pettitte had seemed to be attacking Guerrero just fine before the mound visit; with his first pitch after it was over, he threw a 91-mile-an-hour fastball that Guerrero deposited into the leftfield stands for a game-tying home run.

While Pettitte's rhythm and concentration might have been broken, it's hard to pin the homer even largely on Girardi. It might have just been an unfortunate coincidence; and, anyway, the moves that came next were far stranger. In the bottom of the seventh, after the Angels had inched ahead 4-3, Girardi called upon left-handed pitcher Damaso Marte to pitch to leadoff man Chone Figgins, a switch hitter who hits much better from the left side of the plate than from the right. Marte needed only one pitch to induce Figgins into flying out to right field. A left-handed hitter, Bobby Abreu, was due up to begin the next inning after a Posada home run had tied the game at 4-4 -- perfect for the left-handed Marte, right? Not to Girardi. He called upon a different southpaw, Phil Coke, to face Abreu. Abreu scorched a double off of Coke, and might have represented Anaheim's winning run had he not inexplicably overrun second base and been tagged out trying to return. Girardi made the extremely unusual decision to replace a left-handed pitcher with a left-handed pitcher against a left-handed batter, and while it didn't burn him, it almost did.

Girardi's meddling continued in the bottom of the tenth, when the Angels had the bases loaded against Mariano Rivera and only one out. Girardi pulled his left fielder, Johnny Damon, in favor of Jerry Hairston, a former full-time second baseman whose arm is only slightly stronger than Damon's. The idea was that Hairston would have a better chance of throwing out a runner at home on a sacrifice fly, but the odds on that situation arising, by percentage, were very small. What the move seemed mostly to accomplish was to anger Damon, who was demonstrably annoyed as Hairston jogged out to replace him; to replace Damon's bat with a weaker one, in Hairston's; and to lose the Yankees' designated hitter slot, meaning that if Rivera happened to work out of his jam, the Yankees would have to send up either the pitcher or one of the weak pinch hitters they had left on the bench (Freddy Guzman, Francisco Cervelli). The wondrous Rivera escaped on a pair of groundouts. The next inning, Cervelli pinch-hit for Rivera, and he struck out swinging.

It was not until the bottom of the 11th, though, that Girardi's manic managing really backfired. Dave Robertson, the right handed fire-baller who led the AL in strikeouts per nine innings and who already has two wins during this postseason, was sent in, and he retired Juan Rivera on a groundout and Kendry Morales on a fly-out to left. Next up was Howie Kendrick, a right-handed hitter. Two outs, none on, a righty pitching against a righty -- a good matchup to anyone, perhaps, but Girardi. Girardi pulled Robertson in favor of a second right-handed pitcher, Alfredo Aceves.

In most ways, Robertson is quantifiably a better pitcher than Aceves: he has nearly twice Aceves' strikeout rate, had a lower ERA this year (3.34 to 3.54), and has been pitching better lately (Robertson has a post-All-Star break ERA of 3.00, to Aceves' 4.65). But Girardi saw something he liked in an Aceves-versus-Kendrick matchup -- perhaps that Kendrick is a fastball hitter, and Aceves throws junk -- and made yet another unconventional move. First Girardi pulled a lefty reliever in favor of a lefty reliever against a left-handed batter; now he was pulling a righty reliever in favor of a righty reliever against a right-handed batter. "We liked the matchup with Ace better," he explained afterwards. "It's just different kind of stuff against those hitters. And we have all the match-ups, and all the scouting reports, and we felt that, you know, it was a better match for us."

It wasn't. Kendrick drilled a single to center, and then Mathis hit his double, and the game was over. Videotaped monkeys jumped around, fireworks exploded, and artificial geysers spouted beyond the left-field wall. Girardi had finally made his last managerial move of the day.

"Wow, they wanted to win," Angels center fielder Torii Hunter said. Hunter added that the Yankees used so many pitchers that "I felt like I was in spring training. They tried to play every trick in the book."

On Saturday night's Game 2 victory in New York, Girardi also played a lot of tricks, some questionable -- for instance, he used his two best set-up men, Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain, for a total of only one inning and 19 pitches, and then had to rely on guys like Robertson to win the game. It might soon be time for Girardi to realize that the fact that his roster is the most talented in baseball means that he can get by with doing less, not more; and that sometimes it's better to simply trust in that talent than to seek whatever slight advantage might be indicated by a printout of a scouting report that's been slipped into a plastic sleeve in a thick binder. In fact, one expects that after Monday, he won't jump up from his seat in the dugout nearly as much.

The Angels, for their part, finally figured out the secret to winning a playoff game against the Yankees. All you need to do is make sure they go 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position, and that they leave 12 runners on base, and create for yourself so many separate chances in which you absolutely should put them away (Abreu's "double" in the eighth, the bases loaded situation in the 10th, and the Kendrick and Mathis hits in the 11th) that you'll likely come through on one of them. That formula, of course, isn't easily repeatable. The Yankees, up two games to one and with their ace, CC Sabathia, scheduled to throw tomorrow, remain the heavy favorite to advance to the World Series, no matter what their manager does.