Game 3 of the 2009 American League Championship Series on Monday was, much like Game 2 had been, so closely contested that it couldn't possibly be finished in the regulation nine innings. This one took 11 frames, and at the end, instead of the Yankees taking a semi-insurmountable 3-0 series lead, the Angels had a 5-4 victory. They were alive and reasonably well, trailing in the series, 2-1, and feeling good about their performance for the first time in this ALCS.
Girardi's last managerial move of the day, a pitching change in the 11th, backfired in a large and damaging way. Reliever David Robertson retired the first two batters without incident. But with second baseman Howard Kendrick coming up, Girardi went to reliever Alfredo Aceves. Both Robertson and Aceves are right-handers and Kendrick hits right-handed, so the most conventional reason for making a change did not apply.
Kendrick was in the midst of an impact day. He had already homered and tripled. He was 1-for-2 lifetime against Robertson. He had never faced Aceves. Why make this change?
"We like the matchup with Ace better, the two guys," Girardi said. "And it didn't work.
"It's just different kind of stuff against those hitters. And we have all the matchups and all the scouting reports, and we felt that, you know, it was a better matchup for us."
That answer, when you look at its net effect, is: "I'm the manager, you're not, now beat it." If there was a substantial body in evidence in favor of this move, Girardi certainly made no attempt to reveal it.
Kendrick singled against Aceves. And then catcher Jeff Mathis hit a booming double to left-center. Kendrick scored, and the Angels had their first victory in the ALCS.
We will never know what would have happened had Robertson been allowed to face Kendrick. But we do know that he couldn't have done worse with the remainder of this inning than Aceves did.
2-1 ALCS ADVANTAGE
|Year||Team up 2-1||Opponent||Final|
|1993||Blue Jays||White Sox||4-2|
There was an argument to be made for Mariano Rivera to be pitching in the 11th inning, although that was not in Girardi's game plan.
With the bases loaded and one out in the 10th, Girardi replaced Johnny Damon in left field with Jerry Hairston Jr., who had been batting in the designated-hitter position. Girardi gained a stronger throwing arm in left field, but he lost his DH.
If a team's DH moves to a defensive position, the team's pitcher must take over the empty spot in the batting order. No balls were subsequently hit to left in the 10th, but there was some question whether a better arm was going to make a huge difference. Bobby Abreu was on third base, and even with the outfield playing in, it would have been difficult to throw him out at the plate.
With the DH out, the pitcher was the third scheduled batter for the Yankees in the 11th. And the pitcher at that moment was Rivera. So the trade-off for having Hairston instead of Damon in left was the loss of the game's best closer. Not a particularly impressive trade.
Girardi replaced Rivera at the plate with pinch-hitter Francisco Cervelli. Cervelli came up with two outs and nobody on and struck out. Rivera could have done that as well.
The manager later said that Rivera, who had thrown 2 1/3 innings in Game 2, was only available for one on Monday.
But Rivera had only thrown 25 pitches in the Game 2 outing, a very small number for getting seven outs. And he subsequently had a day off between these two appearances.
This is not an easy decision for a manager, but it was a decision that was brought on because Girardi put himself in a difficult situation.
The manager did not single-handedly lose this game, and the Angels, in any case, are too good to be swept in four games by anybody. But in Game 3, Girardi opened himself up for a festival of second-guessing. He was in an activist managing mode on Monday. When you manage like this and win, you are a shrewd tactician. When you manage like this and lose, you are guilty of overmanaging.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.