Girardi didn't exactly distinguish himself

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New York Yankees' manager Joe Girardi and his New York Yankees' manager Joe Girardi and his staff looking on in the bottom of the second inning during Game 2 of the ALDS at Yankee Stadium. (Oct. 2, 2011) Photo Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

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Anthony Rieber Newsday columnist Anthony Rieber

Anthony Rieber has been at Newsday since Aug. 31, 1998 and in his current position since 2004.

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Derek Jeter went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts and a key error yesterday. Alex Rodriguez looked feeble at the plate for the second straight game and heard the boos.

But the Yankee who might have had the worst day didn't pick up a bat or a glove.

Joe Girardi made a pair of contradictory moves in the Yankees' 5-3 loss to the Tigers in ALDS Game 2 at Yankee Stadium.

Neither one worked. That happens. But what was most confusing was that the first one reeked of urgency and maybe even a little desperation. The other made it seem as if Girardi was conceding the series-tying game to Detroit before it was truly over.

First, Girardi sent Eric Chavez up to bat for Brett Gardner with the Yankees trailing 4-0 in the seventh inning, one out and two men on against righthanded reliever Joaquin Benoit. Chavez struck out on three pitches -- two change-ups and a fastball. Three swings and misses.

It was such an unprecedented move for Girardi -- pinch hitting for Gardner, a lefthanded hitter, with another lefty -- that it seemed possible that Gardner was hurt.

"Gardner is fine," Girardi said. "Just hoping [Chavez] might pop one."

Did Chavez have some sort of great history against Benoit? No. He was 3-for-14 (.214) with no home runs. Has he been a terrific pinch hitter this season? No. He was 3-for-11 (.273) -- all singles. Has he shown tremendous power? No. He had two home runs in 160 at-bats. You don't have to be a math major to know that's one every 80.

Gardner, on the other hand, had seven home runs in 510 at-bats. That's one per 72.9 at-bats. A virtual wash in the "pop" department.

Gardner had a key two-run single in the Yankees' 9-3 victory in Game 1.

Gardner was 0-for-3 lifetime against Benoit with a walk and a strikeout. He hasn't been swinging the bat particularly well lately. But it still was a surprise to see him called back to the dugout when the Yankees had eight outs to go and the top of the order was coming up after him.

Said Girardi: "If you're winning the game, I'm not going to pinch hit there. But when you're losing the game 4-0, you're looking for a three-run homer."

He didn't get it, and the Yankees didn't score in the inning. But they did in the eighth when Curtis Granderson hit a leadoff home run, giving Girardi plenty of time to decide which reliever he wanted to pitch the ninth with the score 4-1.

Rafael Soriano and David Robertson were rested, neither having pitched since Tuesday. Both warmed up during yesterday's game. But when the bullpen door opened, Luis Ayala popped out. The same Ayala who had given up three runs to Tampa Bay in the regular-season finale and had to be rescued by Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning of Game 1.

Even with games the next two nights, couldn't one of the Yankees' better relievers have given Girardi an inning to keep the game close?

Ayala gave up a run. Then Tigers manager Jim Leyland brought in closer Jose Valverde even though it was 5-1 and no longer was a save situation. (Valverde converted all 49 of his opportunities this season.)

"We still have two more games in a row, in a sense," Girardi said. "And we're down three. If we got it down to two, we were going to make a change. Being down three runs and you know what Valverde has done all year long, we decided to go to Ayala."

Invoking Valverde there made it seem as if Girardi was conceding the game -- just two innings after he made a move filled with unusual urgency.

The Yankees scored twice off Valverde but came up short. They hope to do better starting Monday. And they need their manager to do better, too, if they don't want the offseason to start very soon.

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