A great strength for Joe Girardi undermines his glaring weakness
I realize that is not a popular sentiment in town, particularly in this moment. I also know short of Bill Belichick, Gregg Popovich and Terry Francona — and maybe not even them in these ungrateful times — pretty much every fan base hates its coach/manager and thinks the always available “Anyone Else” would do better.
The debacle Friday night, however, exposed a Girardi weakness that needs further addressing by his bosses even after 10 years in this job, and particularly if they plan to re-up Girardi for more with his contract expiring in a few weeks.
He is a hardworking, studious man and nothing for which he has prepared will unhinge him. Girardi maps out probable scenarios at 2 p.m. and in many ways already has managed a game yet to begin.
But if the game goes off script, Girardi’s penchant is to tighten up, display every facial tell of a man being swamped by tension. He is not blessed with Second City ad-lib dexterity — nor a poker face.
Girardi reminds me of a guy who will diligently learn a waltz for his wedding day and perform it with workman-like efficiency. But if the electronica breaks out, well, he will be unable to adapt, go with the flow, feel the moment.
Game 2 of this Division Series was a referendum on this. Girardi took out CC Sabathia because that is what the pre-game plan was, damn that he was at 77 pitches, doing well and more likely to be a runway model than be overwhelmed by the moment.
He stuck with Chad Green despite overt signs that it was not the young righty’s night because a season of information about Green’s excellence outweighed what was occurring 100 feet from Girardi’s vantage point. This was the kind of decision you make in June when preservation and stoking confidence are at least as vital as any sequence in a game. But in October different dance steps are needed, only what is occurring right then matters.
Girardi let a clearly struggling Green face Francisco Lindor with the bases loaded because he said he liked the history against the brilliant shortstop. That history was two strikeouts in two at-bats in August, which compared to how Green looked Friday night was as relevant as the color of his socks.
And, of course, before Girardi allowed Green to face Lindor, he made his most fateful choice of the night, one sure to affix his managerial career now with at least as much resonance as the Yanks’ 2009 World Series title.
Girardi did not challenge an 0-2 pitch to Lonnie Chisenhall that grazed something and redirected into Gary Sanchez’s mitt.
The Yanks have, by far, the greatest percentage success of any team in the replay era. That is because Girardi entrusts a strong relay system and doesn’t bother with less than sure things. But this called for a quarterback who could read what was in front of him and audible to a better play.
Thirty seconds came and went without a clear indication yet that the ball had hit the knob of Chisenhall’s bat and, thus, should have been an inning-ending strike three since Sanchez caught it. After a half minute, Girardi informed the umps to play on, explaining, “Being a catcher my thought is I never want to break a pitcher’s rhythm. That’s how I think about it.”
That is drivel. All there are in a 2017 baseball game are delays, including how often the Girardi-tutored catchers slow things down to visit the mound.
But if Girardi wants to play the “being a catcher card,” OK, well his catcher who was the closest Yankee employee to the play — literally inches away — was telling his manager to challenge.
“Being a catcher” Girardi should have listened to his, Sanchez. Imagine how he’d feel in a similar situation 20 years ago if Joe Torre didn’t listen to him.
But there was more here as well: Chisenhall did not react in the familiar way a player does when he gets hit. Plus, Girardi had two challenges left, it was already the sixth inning, the Indians’ best opportunity to collapse an 8-3 deficit was ongoing and beginning in the eighth the umps could review a questionable play even if Girardi had flushed all his challenges.