By Neil Keefe
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"It's a long season." "It's just three games." "It's just 1.8518 percent of the season." "It's not that big of a deal." These are the things I have been telling myself since Sunday afternoon as I try to make sense out of the Tragedy at the Trop.
I don't know what that was this weekend in Tampa Bay. The Yankees' vaunted offense failed to do anything with runners in scoring position. The Best Bullpen in Baseball blew a save (though I will never get upset with No. 42 about blowing a save), as the weakest members of the Best Bullpen in Baseball showed why they are the weakest members. And the stacked, new-look starting rotation put together this Chien-Ming Wang 2007 ALDS-like line: 16.1 IP, 21 H, 13 R, 11 ER, 9 BB, 14 K, 4 HR, 6.15 ERA, 1.840 WHIP.
I'm going to overreact to the three losses to open the season because that's what I do. And when you're baseball starved for six months and your most recent memory of Yankees baseball is Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher failing to get clutch hits in October, and it becomes your most recent Yankees baseball memory again in April, well I think you have a right to get upset.
I understand all the things I opened this column with about it just being three games, but I need to get my frustration out. I know the 1998 Yankees started their season 0-3 (and 1-4), but I'm pretty sure this team isn't the '98 Yankees. And I'm well aware of the Yankees-Kentucky basketball relationship and what it means to have the Wildcats as national champions. Right now none of that matters. The only thing that matters right now is that Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia can't put out this forest fire their manager started with the fifth hitter in the first inning of the 2012 season.
Starting in 2010, I did my own version of the The Joe Girardi Show whenever I felt there were questions for Joe Girardi that needed answers because I couldn't fathom how someone could make such odd decisions, and the show continued for a second season in 2011. In the back of my mind I was secretly hoping my version of the show would be canceled for 2012, but I knew it wouldn't be. Last season it took just five games (a disastrous loss in April against the Twins at the Stadium) for the first episode of the Show. This season it took just five Tampa Bay hitters for the Season 3 premiere.
Why did you intentionally walk Sean Rodriguez?
Mariano Rivera didn't blow Opening Day. Joe Girardi did. Even though it was Rivera who blew the save in the bottom of the ninth in one of his annual April brain farts, it was Girardi who, in the first inning of the game, made a decision that might be the ultimate Joe Girardi Over-Managing Decision of 2012, and it happened about 15 minutes into the season.
CC Sabathia is the Yankees' ace. He is in the top tier of starting pitchers in the majors, and Hal Steinbrenner is paying him $23 million in 2012 and essentially $646,470.88 per start (based on 34 starts) to be that ace. But apparently Sabathia, one of the game's top lefties, can't face Sean Rodriguez (career .229 hitter with 22 home runs in 908 at-bats) with runners on second and third and two outs in the first inning of the first game of the season. I'm well aware of Carlos Pena's atrocious numbers against Sabathia (and lefties in general) and Rodriguez's decent numbers against Sabathia and lefties, but there's more to the situation on the field than what Joe Girardi's trusty notebook tells him.
Sabathia hasn't pitched like Midseason CC in any of his four season openers, including Friday. He usually struggles early in the season before going on an incredible run, and it was evident that his April struggles were with him early on Friday. Prior to Rodriguez, Sabathia had walked Desmond Jennings to open the inning, got Ben Zobrist to line out to center, gave up a single to Evan Longoria and got Jeff Keppinger to ground out to short. However, out of the 13 pitches he threw to these four hitters, seven of them were balls as his command appeared off. So, now instead of going after a weak No. 5 hitter, Girardi decides to put Rodriguez on base intentionally, giving Sabathia no wiggle room with a lack of command and a power-hitting lefty with a career average of 34 home runs per season at the plate. Once he got behind Pena 2-0 and then 3-1 and wasn't locating pitches or getting a guy who will get himself out to swing, you just knew things weren't going to end well with either the first run of the game being walked in or the worst possible thing, which ended up happening: the slam.
A lot of the outrage over the move was that Girardi shouldn't be over-managing in the first inning of the first game of the season. I don't like that argument because that means you're saying it's OK to over-mange later in the season, but just not right now. I hate that argument because Game 1 of the season is as important as Game 57 and Game 89 and Game 123 and Game 162. A game against the Rays on Opening Day is equally as important as a game against the Red Sox the middle of the summer. I never understood the idea that "It's only April" or that "It's early." Sure a three-game losing streak in June sucks, but isn't as publicized as one to open the season, but every game counts the same. Do you get additional wins or a better win percentage for winning games after the All-Star break than you do for winning games before it? And with the new wild-card system every game is that much more important unless you feel comfortable trusting Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher in a big spot in a single game because I don't, and I don't even trust them in a series.
Girardi should have never been at the mound talking to his ace in the first inning on Friday, and it's not because of the inning of the game or because of which game it is in the season. It's because it's CC Sabathia, and CC Sabathia can get Sean Rodriguez out. And if he didn't, it would have most likely been 2-0 instead of 4-0.
Why is Eduardo Nunez starting at shortstop in the second game of the season?
Yes, Derek Jeter is 37 and will be 38 in June. Yes, he will probably need more rest than usual and more time as the designated hitter this season than season's past. But Jeter also just had the last SIX MONTHS off. THE LAST SIX MONTHS!
Nunez might be the worst infielder I have ever seen with the Yankees and they let Jason Giambi play first base in the 2000s as well as Johnny Damon. And Gary Sheffield even took over at third base and first base at times (after years in the outfield). It's not like it's July and he hasn't played shortstop regularly for a few weeks and he can use the "not an everyday player" excuses for his blunder. Nunez is fresh off spring training and won't be any more prepared to play the infield for the rest of the season than he is right now.
Sure, it's only one error that cost the Yankees only one game, but how can the backup middle infielder on the team not be trustworthy on defense? If you can make an excuse for Nunez's error that extended the inning, led to two Tampa Bay runs, forced Hiroki Kuroda to throw more pitches and caused fatigue for Kuroda then you would have to admit that fielding and throwing is clearly in Nunez's head. No Yankees fan feels even remotely confident when the ball is hit to him (whether a routine play or not), and when it is, I get the same feeling I get when someone hands me a Jameson shot at the end of the night. There's no telling what the result might be.
To top it off, Kuroda, a GROUNDBALL PITCHER, started the game, which was played on turf. So why would you elect to not have your best defensive infield on the field for a groundball pitcher?
If I ever find out the truth behind the Yankees/Mariners deal for Cliff Lee and find out that Nunez is indeed the player that held up the deal (this has been a rumor), I think I will go off the grid, move to the woods of Wyoming and live in solitude for the rest of my life.
Why did you leave Clay Rapada in to face Evan Longoria?
Let's start with the simple fact that Clay Rapada shouldn't be a Yankee. I don't care if he's the 25th man on the roster who made the team in the final hours of spring training. The team has the highest payroll in the league, and a minor league system. There's no reason for Rapada to be on the team other than that he's a lefty. The only good Rapada has done in three games as a Yankee and remind me that if I have a son, I will be tying his right arm behind his back until he is at least 16 to ensure that he throws lefty because if Rapada has taught us anything (other than that he doesn't belong in MLB) is that if you can throw lefty there will always be a job for you in baseball.
Here's Clay Rapada's 2012 debut:
Picked off Reid Brignac to end the sixth.
Walked Carlos Pena (L).
Gave up double to Evan Longoria (R).
Gave up single to Matt Joyce (L).
Walked Ben Zobrist (L).
Got Luke Scott (L) to fly out.
Rapada faced four lefties and retired one and ends up getting touched up for two runs in 2/3 innings. What happens in the ninth? The Yankees score four runs thanks to a Nick Swisher "David Price is out of the game so it's time to get to business" three-run home run. The Yankees lose 8-6. The difference? Rapada's two earned runs. (I didn't mean to pull Michael Kay's "fallacy of the predetermined outcome" on you, but I did.)
Why did you let Boone Logan face Jeff Keppinger?
Cory Wade was warmed up, and the YES broadcast team told us this. So, if your right-handed non-"A" reliever is prepared to go in and face a righty then why is Logan still in the game? Did Girardi try to get through the inning with only Logan and it backfired? Yup. Does it seem like most of the time when Girardi pushes the wrong button, he doesn't get bailed out? Yup.
If you're going to micro-manage and over-manage every situation of every game during the season (which you are clearly going to do since you did it in the bottom of the first of Game 1 with your ACE) then why are changing your thought process now? If you're going to stay with 16 in blackjack with the dealer showing a face card (even though it's the wrong play) then you need to stay every time you are presented with that situation. Don't stay one time because you have a feeling or a hunch that the dealer is going to bust, and don't not do it another time because you have a feeling or hunch that you are going to hit for a 5 or lower. If Girardi is going to micro-manage the way CC Sabathia faces hitters then he better be prepared to do it with the two left-handed (and worst) relievers on the team.
In one of his answers to a postgame press conference question over the weekend, Joe Girardi answered with the phrase, "That's baseball." And yes, thing are always going to happen that you can't control and can't explain, but it doesn't help when there isn't a good explanation for the things you can control.
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