The Yankees 6-5 loss to the Rangers was both a parade of pitchers and a comedy of errors, and often both at the same time.
Ron Washington got an early start on his record setting chess match with Joe Girardi when he was forced to pull CJ Wilson after three difficult innings in which the lefty threw 76 pitches. Determined to make up for his delayed start, Girardi prematurely lifted his starter when he inexplicably called to the bullpen after Javier Vazquez surrendered an infield single to lead off the sixth inning. Vazquez, who had only thrown 88 pitches to that point, was visibly upset in the dugout after the quick hook, and expressed those feelings during his post game interview.
Considering how strong the Yankees bullpen has been, you can’t blame Girardi for being quick with his hook, but in this case, Vazquez didn’t warrant removal from the game. Making matters worse, Girardi then proceeded to rip through his bullpen, burning one pitcher after another until eventually a tie game was placed in the hands of Chad Gaudin. Only Joba Chamberlain, who was a curious choice to pitch the eighth inning, needed more 13 pitches to get through an inning, but for some reason, Girardi felt the need to shuffle through the entire pitching staff. Ironically, the only pitcher that Girardi decided to extend was Mariano Rivera, a decision that directly contradicted his stated desire to avoid using his 40-year old closer for more than one inning.
The most curious pitching decision was the use of Phil Hughes for only one inning. On what was essentially the fifth day after and before his last and next start, respectively, Hughes was set up perfectly to give the Yankees two or three innings. Had Girardi leveraged this opportunity, it could have both limited the strain on Rivera and avoided the need to use Gaudin. Furthermore, the longer stint could have helped ensure that Hughes would not be rusty in his next start against the Rays.
Of course, the bullpen’s over exposure was made possible by the hanging slider that Chamberlain threw to Nelson Cruz. Despite pitching better of late, Chamberlain has still struggled in the “eighth inning”, posting a 5.50 ERA in the all important frame.
Then again, maybe it is unfair to look for a scapegoat from amid a bullpen that surrendered only two runs over seven innings. After all, had the Yankees been able to score just one more of the 18 runners left on base, there wouldn’t have been such a small margin for error.
Sometimes a team leaves a lot of men on base by misfortune, and sometimes they do so for good reason. Last night, leaned more toward the latter, and once again, Girardi’s maneuvering played a role. In particular, replacing Nick Swisher and Marcus Thames for pinch runners, both of whom remained anchored at the base they came on to occupy, were short sighted moves that resulted in a depleted lineup. Then, when the team did get an unexpected contribution, like Chad Moeller’s leadoff double in the 12th, Girardi had Gardner give away an out with a bunt. Even though Gardner left eight men on base in the game, he had been hitting well over the last week, so setting the inning up for the epically struggling Derek Jeter and rookie Colin Curtis was head scratching to say the least.
The final snapshot from the game was a Chad Gaudin fastball that lit up the eyes of Cruz before lighting up the scoreboard, but the game was lost in so many ways beforehand. Another awful night of umpiring also played a role, but it almost seems like whining to bring that up on a night in which the Yankees, players and manager alike, performed so poorly.
After watching a game like last night’s, it doesn’t seem likely that the Yankees will be able to hold on to the division, especially considering the relative strength of their schedule compared to the Rays’ . As a result, the Yankees could find themselves back in Texas opening up the ALDS, the tone for which could very well be established by the final two games of this series.
Most Runners Left On Base by Yankees in a Loss, Since 1920