Here are 3 reasons why we lost last night's game, in order of importance:
1) Poor offense.
2) Andy Pettitte's 2-2 pitch to Vlad Guerrero.
3) Girardi's pitching change.
First, and most crucial, our offense looks terrible. In the past two games, we've scored 8 runs. One of them was on a Robbie Cano triple. Another was on an error. The other 6 came via the solo home run. Our stats with runners in scoring position are abysmal. Last night, in both the second and fourth inning, the Yanks had runners on first and second with no outs. In both cases, Cano hit a lame ground ball to make it first and third with one out, and Swisher followed with an unproductive out (short fly to left, strikeout). Melky couldn't clean up on either occasion with two outs, and the Yanks left those hugely important runs on the table.
We're now 3 for 28 with runners in scoring position in the ALCS. 3 for fucking 28. Girardi will take a lot of flack for point #3 above, including some from me in a second, but make no mistake; last night's loss was on the offense. Like I said in yesterday's post, you can sometimes win without great hitting. It happened in game 2. It's happened before in an entire series. But then again, sometimes you can't, and last night the Yanks were finally exposed. Our preternatural ability to hit clutch home runs continued with Posada's 8th inning blast, but it wasn't enough.
Here are the playoff stats for our regular line-up:
1. Jeter: 8-26, .308, 3HR, 5RBI
2. Damon: 6-28, .214, 1BB, 1RBI
3. Teixeira: 3-25, .120, 6K, 1RBI
4. A-Rod: 8-23, .348, 4HR, 9RBI
5. Matsui: 6-18, .333, 6BB
6. Posada: 7-21, .333, 4RBI
7. Cano: 5-25, .200, 1RBI
8. Swisher: 3-22, .136, 9K, 1RBI
9. Cabrera: 5-25, .200, 9K, 0RBI
The players in bold represent our 'black holes,' chunks of offense with absolutely no production. And as bad as they are, the numbers don't even tell the entire story. Teixeira and Swisher are utterly useless at the plate. Pitchers are throwing them low curves (outside, in Teix's case) and watching them flail away helplessly. It honestly looks like there's no chance for them to get a base hit. For an MVP candidate like Teix to be so totally outmatched in every plate appearance is mind-boggling and very frustrating. His defense has been stellar, and it almost saved us last night, but where's the production? Swish, for his part, has been so egregiously bad that it might not be an awful idea to give Gardner a start. If Girardi had carried Hinske on the post-season roster, rather than Guzman (??), you can bet he'd be getting a shot in right.
Cano, meanwhile, is good for a weak ground-out every time a runner is on base. I've given up trying to defend him. So much talent, but at this point he's too mentally frail to deal with pressure. I do believe that aspect of his game will improve as his career continues, but there's no good reason to expect a sea change in the next few games. Cano can't cut the mustard. If he comes up again with men on 1st and 2nd and no outs, like he did twice yesterday, Girardi would be a fool not to have him bunt.
Damon, despite his poor numbers, had a home run blast yesterday, so hopefully his slump is on its dying breath. Melky is Melky...he's going to swing for the fences, and most of the time he'll come up empty.
Considering the collective underachievement of 5/9ths of this lineup, it's not a miracle that we lost to the Angels last night; it's a miracle we'd gone 5-0 up to that point.
Second, Andy threw a 2-2 meatball with Abreu on first in the 6th, and Vlad crushed it to tie the game at 3. It was a mistake. A huge mistake. But Andy pitched an amazing game otherwise, and for the savvy vet to hold the Angels offense to 3 runs through 6 and 1/3 is fantastic. His momentary lapse changed the game and the series, perhaps irreparably, but in the bigger picture he gave us a solid outing that should have been enough.
Third, Girardi the Over-Manager took out a cruising David Robertson after two outs in the 11th to bring another righty, Alfredo Aceves, to face Kendrick. Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, announcing on FOX, immediately called this move into question. So did I. So did every Yankee fan with a tv, radio, or gamecast. Robertson has better stuff. They're both righties. It didn't make sense. And it backfired; Kendrick hit a single up the middle, and Mathis ended the game with a double to left.
In the press conference after, Joe was asked why he made the move. "Well, we liked the match-up better," he said. The report asked him to elaborate. "It's just...different stuff to show those guys," he mumbled.
Which is all bullshit. Here's what happened: he looked at his book of match-ups, and saw that Kendrick was 1-2 lifetime against Robertson. Meanwhile, he'd never faced Aceves. To call this a small sample size would be a gigantic understatement. But Girardi, who's never seen a move he wouldn't make, pulled the trigger.
Here's the thing: I think Girardi's a decent manager. I think he's done a nice job with this team. He built a great bullpen and he shows a lot of faith in his players, which has paid huge dividends. But right now? He needs to settle the fuck down. There was no reason to pull Robertson, a better pitcher with better stuff and better success in these playoffs, for the weaker Aceves because of a freakin' 2 at-bat history. CALM DOWN, JOE. Just because there's a move out there to be made doesn't mean you have to make it. This has been the ongoing complaint with Girardi; over-management of the bullpen. We finally paid the price, and hopefully he's learned his lesson.
One more point about managing, courtesy of my friend Spike. He introduced me to a new term on g-chat last night, and that term is "dome." It's a verb. If you 'dome' someone, you've crawled inside their head an outmaneuvered them. Last night, Scioscia domed Girardi big-time in the top of the 8th. Matsui walked, and Girardi sent in Gardner as a pinch runner. On the second pitch, Scioscia called a pitch-out, and Gardner was caught stealing at second.
On its surface, this is a minor dome. But behold, the implications: because of the caught stealing, A-Rod lost the protection of Matsui behind him in the lineup. That allowed Scioscia to walk A-Rod in the 9th with two down, and get an easy out when Hairston pinch hit for Gardner, essentially taking the bat out of A-Rod's hands. So you have to wonder: did Scioscia walk Matsui intentionally, knowing he'd not only get a free out when he minor-domed Girardi on the pitch-out, but that he'd also be rid of a good DH bat and nullify A-Rod later on in the game? Was this the ultimate dome?
As Spike himself said, "that's some pretty high level stuff."
This loss is trouble, believe me. The Angels are a proud, strong team, but they wouldn't have come back from 3-0. The last thing you wanted to do was give them life, especially the exciting, momentous variety derived from a walk-off win. CC throws on short rest tonight against Kazmir, and if we lose this one, all the sudden we're counting on AJ Burnett, on the road and facing John Lackey, to give us an edge going back to the Bronx. I don't like it one bit. Tonight is a must-win.
Let me take a brief detour into positive territory to recognize Mariano Rivera's unbelievable escape act in the 10th. After inheriting a double and committing an error to make it first and third, no out, he somehow navigated the heart of the Angel order without conceding the game-winning run. Breathtaking stuff, classic Rivera. The legend continues.
Tonight, our fate is in the hands of CC. There's no reason to anticipate an offensive explosion against Kazmir. He's pitched 19.2 innings against the Yanks this year, allowing only 7 ER and accumulating 2 wins. We can hope for a few solo shots and not much more. It's all about Carsten Charles. Not only do we need a win, but we need a long performance to save this poor bullpen. It's not an exaggeration to say that the season is on the line.
(For a good laugh, take a close peek at this SI pre-season cover; look beyond the big man.)