After the Yankees scored six runs in the top of the seventh inning on Thursday to take a 6-4 lead over the Angels in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, Girardi asked his starter, A.J. Burnett, to return to the mound to pitch another inning. Burnett had thrown 80 pitches heading into the bottom of the seventh and had retired seven of the previous eight batters he faced.
But hindsight has a way of coloring these situations. Every one of Girardi's pitching moves has seemed to raise questions since Game 3, when he took heat for a curious bullpen sequence that led to the first Yankees loss of the series. And so keeping Burnett in Thursday's game, which seemed like the right choice at the time to Girardi, created more questions for him to answer when Burnett allowed a hit to the first batter he faced and walked the second, before Girardi appeared on the field to remove him.
"A.J. was throwing great," Girardi said. "You know, if he's around 105 pitches, it's probably a different story. But because his pitch count was low, he felt great, we stuck with him."
Yes, Burnett was at merely 80 pitches, but he had also sat through a lengthy rally in which the Angels made two pitching changes and the Yankees sent 10 batters to the plate. Few could have blamed Girardi for turning to his bullpen then, perhaps using Joba Chamberlain in the seventh, Hughes in the eighth and Mariano Rivera in the ninth -- as he has done all postseason to date.
"We talked about it, but he was throwing the ball so well," Girardi said. "He put up five shutout innings. He had only thrown 80 pitches. We just liked what we saw from him, and we stuck with him."
The result was a three-run rally, as Vladimir Guerrero tied it and Kendry Morales put the Angels ahead on singles off Phil Hughes. By that point, with the Angels leading again and eventually winning 7-6 to avoid elimination and force a Game 6 on Saturday, all Burnett could do was watch.
"I gave all I had until the skip took me out, so the seventh hurts a little more," Burnett said, comparing that inning to the four-run first. "The fact that these guys never gave up behind me, it hurts a little more."
The hurt was reflected in New York's morning newspapers. The Post, for example, featured a backpage headline that read "MONKEY BUSINESS," and a column headline read "Girardi gaffes let Angels rally back into ALCS."
It wasn't only the Burnett decision that put Girardi in the spotlight again. There was also the summoning of the 23-year-old Hughes with two on and two out, despite the fact that Joba Chamberlain had been warming up.
|ALDS, Game 1||2/3||1||0||0||2||0.00|
|ALDS, Game 2||2/3||2||2||1||1||13.50|
|ALDS, Game 3||2/3||2||0||0||0||9.00|
|ALCS, Game 2||2/3||1||0||0||1||6.75|
|ALCS, Game 3||1 2/3||1||0||1||1||4.15|
|ALCS, Game 5||1/3||2||1||1||1||5.79|
Nevertheless, with a 1-and-2 count, Hughes said there was no debating about what to do against Guerrero. He had found success in the past pounding Guerrero with fastballs, so once he put two strikes on him with nothing short of a World Series berth on the line, Hughes knew exactly what he wanted to throw.
Fastball, up. Way up.
The result, however, was not quite what Hughes or Girardi envisioned. The fastball darted straight into the middle of the zone. Guerrero smacked it up the middle for the critical game-tying single.
"I've had success busting him with fastballs in the past," Hughes said, well aware of Guerrero's almost legendary free-swinging nature. "Obviously, a breaking ball down in the dirt would have been a good option as well. But right there, I wanted to go with my fastball, and he was able to get the bat on it."
It was a physical error, not a mental one. Hughes had confidence in his mid-90s fastball, and for good reason -- it's been kind to him all year. And had Hughes thrown a good one, up and out of the strike zone, he likely would have achieved his intended result.
"It was supposed to be up and in," Hughes said. "And it was basically belt high over the middle of the plate."
It was Hughes' call to throw the fastball, his hand that released the ball, his eyes that watched it zoom toward the middle of the plate and then right back in the opposite direction.
It was his name also on the stat sheet, directly next to this unflattering note: In six postseason games to date, Hughes has allowed nine hits over 4 2/3 innings, posting a 5.79 ERA.
"It's very disappointing," Hughes said. "We did a great job tonight fighting back and getting back into the game. I just had one out to get, and I couldn't do it."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.