In one night, Yankees manager Joe Girardi lost his poise and undid the masterful work he had done overseeing his ball club this season.
Joe Girardi has spent a decade being manager of the New York Yankees, never once having a losing record. There was, of course, his pinnacle managerial year of 2009, when the Yankees won the American League Pennant and World Series.
The accomplishments of the ’17 Yankees have been incredible, with Girardi at the helm. It began as a transition year devoted to player development. Back in spring training, no baseball pundit had the Yankees ticketed for October in their predictions.
But, like the players, any manager can have a bad game. And Girardi’s came at the absolute worst time — in the final days of his contract, now one loss away from becoming a free-agent skipper with a newly tarnished legacy.
The sixth inning was the defining moment of Game 2 of the American League Division Series. Yankees reliever Chad Green lacked control and did not have his strike-’em-out stuff. With Lonnie Chisenhall at the plate, two outs, and runners on second and third, Green hurled a high-and-tight, 0-2 fastball.
At first glance, the ball appeared to clip Chisenhall in the hand. But Yankees catcher Gary Sánchez sprung up, yelling, “Foul!” toward New York’s dugout. He was alerting his manager that the ball had hit the knob of the bat, not Chisenhall.
Girardi put his finger up at the home-plate umpire to signal his crew was looking at the play. An anxious 30 seconds passed before no confident word came the call would be overturned; thus, Girardi opted not to challenge.
Not listening to his catcher ended up being a fatal mistake, especially considering teams get two challenges in the postseason — one more than the regular season — plus a reviewable play after the seventh inning.
Instead, what would have been a foul-tip strike three to end the inning played out as a bases-loaded situation for Francisco Lindor, who jacked a grand slam to turn the Yankees’ comfortable 8-3 lead into a nervous one-run contest.
The Indians eventually walked off winners of Game 2 in 13 innings. The Yankees were shutout Thursday, then lost Friday in heartbreak fashion.
Now, a failed opportunity to challenge has left the Yankees with the tall task of needing to win the next three games to advance to the ALCS.
But it was not just the game-changing blunder that left many irate with Girardi, it was the excuses that followed. The skipper first said he ran out of time to challenge, then added he was hesitant to do so because it would have interfered with Green’s rhythm.
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Rhythm? Pass up a chance to escape a bases-loaded rally because of rhythm? It made no sense.
A distressed Yankees fan base and industry reporters alike were critical of Girardi’s deflection of blame and challenge passivity.
From a player’s standpoint, they have to hold themselves accountable all year. Aaron Judge never made defensive comments during the record-breaking 33 consecutive games in which he struck out. He could have blamed umpires’ strike zones, for example, saying, “Well, that one at-bat, the ball was sort of low.”
No, he swallowed his pride and answered the tough questions that come with such an extended slump.
Girardi’s lineup gave him eight runs — a whopping six against Cleveland’s ace Corey Kluber — and his starter worked around a pair of errors to keep a five-run lead through 5 ⅓ innings. While fans blame managers far too often for a team’s losses, the theory that “the players lose, not the manager” is not universal to every game.
It was Girardi who ultimately put the Yankees behind the eight ball. At first, he made himself devoid of blame. Saturday, however, the Yankees skipper back pedaled in a press conference.
“I take responsibility for everything, and I feel horrible about it,” said Girardi.
“I screwed up. It is a hard day for me. But I have to move forward and we will be ready to go tomorrow.”
Step one of the recovery process: Admit your wrongdoing. *Check. The asterisk notes that step happened late.
The next step is, how are you going to fix it? Girardi has already lost favor in the clubhouse with at least one player: Aroldis Chapman.
After Friday’s loss, the Yanks’ closer liked an Instagram comment written by @millsjr33 that said, “Let’s hope Joe’s contract is not renewed after the season. He’s a complete imbecile.”
Let it not be forgotten, Girardi angered CC Sabathia and mid-season acquisition Jaime García throughout the season with his quick trigger finger to the bullpen. Sabathia was pulled after 77 pitches with an 8-3 lead Friday.
That is why, though, Girardi’s public apology to fans was deserved, his true sympathy should be directed toward the men in his clubhouse. If the players do not want him back, he has very little hope of returning for another season as Yankees manager.