At its core, the reason for the New York Yankees' failure Thursday night to advance to the American League Championship Series was a dismal performance by the offense. Failing to score twice in bases-loaded, one-out situations. Going just two-for-nine with runners in scoring position. The total inability of several high-priced stars to deliver when their team was in need.
I have another reason -- Yankee manager Joe Girardi's bullpen management. Looking at the box score, what Girardi did is hard to argue with. Forced to go to the bullpen to begin the third inning due to starter Ivan Nova suffering forearm tightness, Girardi coaxed seven one-run innings out of six different Yankee pitchers.
My issue isn't with the pitching results, it is with the way Girardi went about it. There simply was no reason for him to start the parade of pitchers that began when Girardi unnecessarily yanked Phil Hughes from the game with one out in the fourth inning, bringing on Boone Logan.
In my mind, this was the worst of Girardi rising up at a critical time. No doubt, Girardi is an excellent manager. He can be wound pretty tight at times, though, and he does have a tendency to over-manage. I believe that was the case Thursday night.
Hughes was pitching well after coming on for Nova, with his fastball consistently registering 94-95 mph and his sometimes rolling curveball looking sharp. No telling what might have happened but he looked like he could have pitched four or five effective innings, settling the game down for the Yankees and allowing their offense to relax and go to work against Detroit starter Doug Fister and whatever relievers would follow.
Instead, Girardi got an itchy trigger-finger. He couldn't wait to start "managing" the game. As soon as Hughes gave up a hit to Magglio Ordonez, Girardi yanked him so that the lefty Logan could pitch to the lefty hitting Alex Avila -- despite the fact that Logan isn't very good against lefties and Avila isn't a very good hitter to begin with. Of course, Logan gave up a hit to Avila -- though he did wiggle out of trouble without giving up a run.
My problem with this move, and the parade that followed? Rather than allow the game to settle down Girardi made it obvious that he felt like his team was in trouble. That moves needed to be made. That things needed to start happening. NOW! Despite the fact that his pitcher was throwing well and the Yankees had six more at-bats.
What Girardi managed to do, rather than relax his team, was turn up the tension-meter at Yankee Stadium about a thousand degrees. You could sense the 'Oh my God, what is he doing?' reaction from the Yankee Stadium crowd when Girardi strode purposefully to the mound to relieve Hughes. There was a sudden realization that the Yankees were losing, that the manager was already getting desperate.
One doesn't necessarily impact the other, but I have to believe that the tension Girardi displayed turned up the heat on the Yankee offense and did not help in either of those bases-loaded situations. After all, the manager made it obvious that the team was in trouble.
I think it is also instructive to look at the mindset of Detroit manager Jim Leyland, who was loose enough before Game 5 to play a pre-game prank on his star pitcher Justin Verlander. After Verlander had thrown a planned side session Leyland reportedly told him he was supposed to be available to pitch in the game, that he was not supposed to have thrown beforehand. This was not true, but the manager being loose enough to do something like that has to help his team.
Part of a manager's job is to relax his players, and that's where I think Girardi fell short last night. His obvious sense of distress turned up the heat on his team, making their jobs harder. In the end, the Yankees went down in flames.