The Yankees were on the brink of one of those wins that mean more than a shift in the standings. They had gone head to head with the best pitcher in the league, and it was time to clean the table. Then, all hell broke loose.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi has been around baseball long enough to know just when you think you’ve put a problem to bed giving you time to focus on another issue, the same problem rears its ugly head again from an unexpected source, forcing you to take a step backward.
As of August 1, Brian Cashman had delivered what was regarded as the best bullpen in the league to the Yankees. It was so good Girardi had to take a few days to figure out how he was going to use the newly arrived talent.
Finally, he settled on a mix and match approach between Tommy Kahnle, Dellin Betances, David Robertson, and Adam Warren, with Chad Green thrown in there if he needed him. Each would pitch anywhere and anytime from the fifth inning on.
The one reliever he omitted from this group was Aroldis Chapman, who would always be his save master in the ninth inning.
If Something Can Go Wrong, It Will
Last night, as most Yankees fans painfully know, the team had gone up against Chris Sale, who is on his way to striking out 300 or more hitters for the first time since Pedro Martinez, holding their own in a 1-1 game after seven innings, despite striking out twelve times.
Following the script, the Yankees turned to their closer to send the team to within 3.5 games of the Red Sox. Only then did all hell break loose. Surrendering a home run to Rafael Devers to tie the game in the ninth, Girardi sent Chapman out to pitch the tenth inning.
Following a walk and a hit batter, Girardi had finally seen enough of his closer, who left the game to a well-deserved chorus of boos from the faithful fans, who were left only hoping that the traffic on the Major Deegan would be manageable and they could get the kids to bed at a decent hour.
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Kahnle came on, and he couldn’t slam the door either allowing the winning run to score on a well-hit single by the new Yankees nemesis, Andrew Benintendi. For Chapman, he won the perfecta with a blown save (4) and the loss (4-2).
No one needs to mention, so I will, the standings take on a much different light without those six blown saves and losses in there.
"“He made one mistake. That was just too good a pitch to hit. I thought his stuff was really good. I know the last inning he walked a guy and hit a guy, but if you look at his stuff in the ninth, it was pretty darned good.”"
Pretty darn good? Joe, what planet were you on watching the game? We understand that Girardi is not going to rip one of his players publicly unless his name is Gary Sanchez. But this goes far beyond spin to the point that approaches delusion. “He made one bad pitch”?
Responding to the inevitable question about the future of Chapman, Girardi tersely replied, “He’s my closer.”
Rationalizing Not The Answer
Any pitcher, and especially a closer, can have a bad day. But we’re talking about days in the plural now. And Girardi was feeling the loss as deeply as the entire team when he spoke.
But with some reflection today and tomorrow, there has to be some give by Girardi in, at least temporarily figuring out another role for Chapman in the bullpen script. Or better yet, maybe he has a “sore arm,” like Masahiro Tanaka, and the Yankees can manipulate the 10-day DL rule, forcing Chapman out of the picture for a few days.
When all is said and done, the team’s loss in this game might very well be the one that hurt the most. And if not for the fact that Chapman is being paid $86 million to do his job, the sting might not feel so bad.
And just when the Yankees thought they could put their bullpen issues to bed, it’s reared its ugly head again. Blindly defending your players is not the answer. Putting your players in the best places for them to succeed is the answer.
For Chapman, whatever his problem is, closing out games in the middle of a pennant race is not the best place for him to succeed. At least, not now.