By Bob Klapisch
The Record (Hackensack N.J.) (McClatchy News Service)
NEW YORK — This is what the abyss looks like — one Yankee after another muttering their excuses, apologies, desperate wishes directed at CC Sabathia, the last line of defense before a long, cold winter of regret.
The Bombers are down to their last nine innings in the ALCS, on the verge of being ousted by a Rangers team that’s out-played and out-managed them since Game 1 in Arlington, Texas. The Game 4 final was 10-3, and, yes, it was just as ugly and pock-marked as the score suggested.
Of course, Sabathia has all the necessary credentials to keep the Yankees alive and force a return trip to Texas. Yet, there was unmistakable sense of shock in the clubhouse. Mark Teixeira is lost for the rest of the postseason with a grade two strain of his right hamstring. A.J. Burnett, who pitched for five innings, self-destructed yet again in the sixth, and Joe Girardi — who prides himself on being smarter, harder-working and better-prepared than his opponents — was rocked by a series of mistakes that sent the Yankees to their worst defeat of the postseason.
It was Girardi, after all, who got greedy with Burnett, refusing to see that a 3-2 lead after five innings would’ve been a moral victory for his right-hander. Instead of re-working the battled plan after Vladimir Guerrero led off the sixth with a single, Girardi stubbornly kept Burnett in the game.
That was his first error in judgment, failing to anticipate the coming collapse.
“I thought A.J. was throwing well at that point,” Girardi said. “It was hard to argue with the way he was throwing the ball.”
That was the rationale for plowing through the inning, which soon reached its crossroads with a runner on second and two out. With an open base, Girardi again refused to listen to his inner voice, ignoring common sense to intentionally put the go-ahead run on base.
Why? Because of his maddening attachment to numbers. Girardi was uncomfortable with David Murphy’s career 5-for-18 against Burnett, so he called for an intentional walk. Never once did Girardi consider what an extra base runner would do to Burnett’s fragile psyche.
Why? Because time and again, Girardi has proven he has no feel for his players, no sense of the flow of the game. The stats are his haven; they act as an after-the-fact defense when it’s time to be accountable.
Anyone who’s watched Burnett’s acts of sabotage all summer knew what was coming. It didn’t matter that the right-hander had a brilliant fastball, charged by 11 days’ rest. In the first inning, Burnett’s four-seamer didn’t come in under 95-mph. He kept the heat through the fifth inning, and even into the sixth, Girardi said, “he was still throwing great.”
But Burnett wasn’t the same pitcher with runners on first and second. Tiny fibers of his confidence started to fray the first-pitch fastball that he’d wanted to throw to Bengie Molina over the outside corner was gripped just a little tighter, thus failing to explode like the others.
Instead, the pitch ran over the middle of the plate. Molina reacted instantly, nailing it on the sweet spot. Burnett said, “I knew right away” he’d just signed his death warrant. Molina sent a home run over the left-field wall, finishing the Yankees for the night, and maybe the season, too.
Down, 5-3, the last three innings were a horror show for the fans who bothered to stick around. Boone Logan had arrived in the seventh to face Josh Hamilton and left exactly one batter later after Hamilton hit his second HR of the night.
Girardi emerged from the dugout to rescue Logan and that’s when the crowd finally unloaded on him. The booing that cascaded down from the upper deck was the worst Girardi has heard since he replaced Joe Torre after the 2007 season. His reputation for being smart, efficient, perfectly stream-lined has been replaced by stubbornness and a lack of imagination.
If the fans were ready to turn against Girardi, where does that leave him in the eyes of the front office? It depends on how (and when) the Yankees’ season ends. Again, it’s not impossible for the Bombers to resurrect not with Sabathia, Phil Hughes and Andy Pettitte all lined up on full rest. But it’s no coincidence Girardi’s Yankees have been out-performed since the moment they stepped on the field against Texas in Game 1.
The assumption that the Bombers were smarter than the Rangers is now just a myth. The intellectual gap has been closed, it’s time for the Yankees to realize there’s more to managing than just software that’s just so 2007. Girardi’s mistakes have proven there’s another plane out there.
Whether or not he returns in 2011 remains to be seen. Now that the Cubs have eliminated Girardi’s Plan B means he’ll almost certainly re-focus on the Yankees. Girardi probably never wanted to leave, anyway. But unless Sabathia can save the Bombers on Wednesday, it’s the Bombers who’ll begin the off-season by taking a hard look at their manager and wonder just what’s inside: instinct or gray data? Which is it?
Start spreading the news: New York papers in a panic
Wondering how they’re feeling in New York this morning? Here’s a roundup from the New York papers on Wednesday morning:
— New York Post: Yankees trail ALCS 3-1; Game 5 today
— New York Daily News: Benjie Molina and Rangers put Yankees in 3-1 ALCS hole
— New York Times: Night of body blows leaves the Yankees teetering
Read more: http://sportsblogs.star-telegram.com/foul_territory/2010/10/start-spreading-the-news-new-york-papers-in-a-panic.html#ixzz12vGyJevL