Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
This was supposed to be the Yankees' house-money year. But a terrific, if unanticipated, regular season ballooned Bronx expectations, and now the breezy ride with blooming young stars has morphed into another pressure-filled Bronx October.
At least that's the way it seems watching Joe Girardi and his club shrivel in this postseason heat, one loss away from elimination, down 0-2 in their best-of-five AL Division Series against Cleveland.
Girardi managed perhaps his worst game as Yankee skipper in Game 2 Friday night, bungling a replay challenge he should've demanded, among other miscues. It continued what's already been a stressful postseason, starting with the Wild Card Game on Tuesday, when Luis Severino crumbled.
The Yanks rallied to advance then, thanks in part to some brilliant, daring managing by Girardi, who coaxed 26 outs from his bullpen. Then the Yankees' swaggering offense couldn't hit Cleveland pitching in Game 1 of the AL Division Series.
And three days after one of his best games, Girardi botched the 9-8 loss in 13 innings Friday, a game that stings all the more because the Yankees once led by five runs and knocked out Cleveland ace Corey Kluber in the third inning.
Girardi should have challenged in the sixth inning when plate umpire Dan Iassogna ruled that Lonnie Chisenhall was clipped on the hand by a Chad Green pitch. Television replays indicated the ball actually struck the knob of Chisenhall's bat. Gary Sanchez caught the ball, so if it had been a foul tip, it would've been strike three. Since there were two outs, the inning would've been over.
What happened next never would have happened - Francisco Lindor hit a grand slam that took a huge bite out of the Yankee lead. The Indians are too good to give even a glimmer of hope, much less a hit-batsman that didn't happen.
Later, Girardi offered a puzzling explanation for his inaction: Without certainty on the play, he did not want to challenge, for Green's sake. "I never want to break a pitcher's rhythm," he said.
Um, Green immediately gave up a grand slam, the most damage one swing can inflict in this game. So much for Green's rhythm.
But there were enough clues for Girardi to at least risk a review, even if, as Girardi said, the Yanks didn't get the definitive super-slo-mo replay quickly enough. Sanchez, closer to the moment than anyone but Chisenhall, gestured as Iassogna pointed Chisenhall to first, indicating the ball did not hit the batter.
And, Chisenhall did not react like a man who had been struck on the hand by a hard sphere moving 98 miles per hour. He seemed unruffled. No agony.
There's more: Girardi could've let starter CC Sabathia - 9-0 in 10 starts following a Yankee loss this season - pitch longer. The Yankees' bullpen is taxed, but Sabathia came out after 5.1 innings and 77 pitches and the Yanks ahead, 8-3.
To be fair, that's in line with how the Yankees have handled Sabathia, especially recently. Sabathia only threw more than 100 pitches once in the second half.
And it's not like Sabathia was unhittable. But Girardi didn't seem to notice that neither was Green. Later, the manager got greedy with David Robertson, who had already delivered four outs, and left him in. Jay Bruce homered off Robertson in the eighth to tie the score at 8.
The Indians won on Yan Gomes' hit in the 13th off Dellin Betances, the reliever who seems to be an afterthought recently.
Girardi wasn't the only Yankee who made mistakes. Ronald Torreyes got picked off second when it seemed the Yanks had something percolating; the lauded bullpen was handed a five-run lead and blew it.
But the manager made more than anyone, something Girardi is not likely to forget, and the Yanks are one loss away heading back to their hometowns, wondering what might have been.
This may be the most interesting Yankee team in years - those fogey-led squads of recent vintage were getting dull, truth be told.
But now that they've gotten to the postseason, these new Yankees want the same thing the old ones did. They'll have to do much better to get it, though, starting with the manager.