October 17, 2012
Joe Girardi Has Faith
The postseason has so far provided a useful corrective to what I thought of Joe Girardi after reading (and writing about) Gay Talese’s recent profile of the Yankee manager in the New Yorker. One thing I didn’t say, but probably should have, in trying to puzzle out why Talese made Girardi seem so bland, was that perhaps Girardi himself is bland, just not interesting enough for a long profile. I blamed Talese, but Girardi might actually have been the culprit.
Yet I’m glad I didn’t make that speculation. These playoffs have put Girardi into numerous tough positions where his binder was going to get him only so far, and his character and instinct were going to have to take over.
First thing first: Girardi has a reputation as a bullpen tinkerer. I don’t know whether the numbers really bear that out, but I was prepared for long slogs through the late innings of the Yankee postseason as Coffee Joe did his Joba-Rapada two-steps, drove his Buffalo Bill Cody Eppley to Dan’l Boone Logan wagon train, all to get to the shining sea of Robertson and Soriano. (No, I did not expect David Phelps to pitch high-leverage innings; but then, neither did David Phelps, probably.)
So it was a delight to see Girardi stick with his starters longer than the Orioles’ Buck Showalter did. After two games of the ALDS, Yankee relievers had thrown only 17 of 235 total team pitches, all by David Robertson. For the series, Yankee starters threw 78 percent of the team’s pitches; Orioles starters, 63. The capper, of course, was CC Sabathia’s complete-game closeout in Game Five, during which he looked so unflappable, so much like a man simply going to work, that it was easy to fail to marvel at the canny way he mixed and located his pitches—and all of this in a game that was far from a blowout. It was as if he made Coffee Joe calm; Girardi just let him go.
Now as Ben Lindbergh noted after Game Two of the ALCS, “some questionable calls by Girardi… exacerbated” what was already a bad night for New York. Some of those calls were the ones he made to the bullpen in rapid sequence in the eighth inning, which resulted in five straight Tigers facing five different pitchers, with basically game-ending results.
But at that point, desperation had set in, the instantly infamous blown call at second base having torn a hole in the painted scenery flats of the Yankees’ postseason theater. I found myself thinking that the main reason we need umpires to get calls right is, more (and more simply) than any other, so that ballplayers and managers can do their jobs the way they’re supposed to be done. Omar Infante made a bad mistake there, Nick Swisher and the Yankees made him pay for it, and Nelson took away what they had earned, forcing them to do more and harder work. That work, which included the domino-fall of relievers, essentially guaranteed failure, I thought, including Girardi’s failure to get Robertson or Soriano ready in case of meltdown.