Decision to sit Ellsbury agonized Girardi

Facing Keuchel, manager opted for Gardner in center field

Decision to sit Ellsbury agonized Girardi

NEW YORK -- It was the decision that Joe Girardi may have agonized over most in the hours prior to Tuesday's do-or-die contest with the Astros, keeping the Yankees manager from pressing ink to his lineup card until just after 3 p.m. ET.

Once Girardi did fill out his lineup and the involved parties were all informed of their fates, Jacoby Ellsbury -- the Yanks' $153 million center fielder, and a player around whom the organization planned on winning future championships -- was benched in favor of Brett Gardner for the team's most important game in three seasons, a 3-0 loss to the Astros in the American League Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser.

Date Result
Oct. 6 HOU 3, NYY 0

"Like I said before, it was a tough decision," Girardi said after the season-ending loss. "Gardy's body of work against lefties this year was better than Jake's. And if it doesn't work, obviously I'm going to be questioned about it."

The reasoning was that the Yankees needed to figure out a way to get Chris Young's bat in the lineup against Dallas Keuchel, and Gardner had performed better against left-handed pitching -- .276/.361/.400, to Ellsbury's .253/.327/.325.

Gardner struck out all three times he faced Keuchel, while Young went 0-for-2 with a walk before being pinch-hit for. Could the outcome have been different if Ellsbury had started? Something to ponder as the Hot Stove season approaches, perhaps.

"Does Jake hit three home runs and it's 3-3?" Girardi said. "I don't know, but we didn't solve Keuchel the whole year."

That much is true. The Yanks' lineup was never the same without the switch-hitting power of Mark Teixeira, leading to a great deal of their late-season struggles against left-handed pitching, but Keuchel mastered them on two occasions when Teixeira's services were still available.

"Look, we missed a lot of guys," Alex Rodriguez said. "Tex, I felt when he got hurt ... he was going to have a monster season. It was a great team effort. We just came up short."

Ellsbury, whose second season in New York was derailed by a right knee strain in late May, entered as an eighth-inning pinch-hitter and popped out to end the inning. Ellsbury went hitless in his last eight at-bats of the regular season, and general manager Brian Cashman said it will be crucial to make sure both Ellsbury and Gardner are firing on all cylinders when 2016 begins.

"We've got to get the dynamic duo at the front end of our lineup with Ells and Gardy going again," Cashman said. "Those guys are huge tablesetters for us."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.