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Second-guessing Joe Girardi ... after two-thirds of an inning
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Well, that didn’t take long.
First game. First inning. First jam. First visit to the mound. First intentional walk. First grand slam. First second-guess of Joe Girardi.
The early season, early game intrigue surrounded Carlos Pena’s first-inning grand slam off CC Sabathia in the Yankees’ season opener against Tampa Bay on Friday.
Here are the details:
Two batters before Pena, the Rays had runners on first and second with one out and cleanup hitter Jeff Keppinger at the plate in a scoreless game. That’s right, cleanup hitter Jeff Keppinger. The former Met middle infielder who had six home runs last season, or one less than Yankees No. 9 hitter Brett Gardner.
Rays manager Joe Maddon made the unusual lineup choice in the absence of centerfielder B.J. Upton, who started the season on the disabled list with lower back soreness. Without Upton, the Rays have a lack of quality righthanded hitters, so Maddon moved things around against the lefthanded Sabathia and somehow ended up with Keppinger at cleanup.
Anyway, Maddon put his runners on the move and Keppinger grounded out to short. With men on second and third, Girardi popped out of the third-base dugout to chat with Sabathia.
The intentional walk was ordered to No. 5 hitter Sean Rodriguez, the Rays’ shortstop. That’s Sean Rodriguez, not Alex Rodriguez. Sean Rodriguez hit .223 last season with eight home runs. He was 6-for-21 (.286) lifetime with one home run vs. Sabathia.
Pena was next. The low-average, high-OBP slugger had a lifetime mark of .114 (4-for-35) against Sabathia. He’s a lefthanded hitter. When he connects, the balls goes far. He had 28 home runs last season for the Cubs and has 258 in his career. Make that 259.
Sabathia, who had walked Desmond Jennings on a 3-and-2 pitch to open the inning, fell behind 2-and-0 and then 3-and-1. Pena grounded a ball foul to bring the count to 3-and-2 and bring the sellout crowd to its feet.
The next pitch was a 94-mile per hour fastball. Pena crushed it 428 feet into the right-centerfield bleachers. The Rays had a 4-0 lead.
Two innings later, the Yankees were ahead, 6-4. That’s baseball.