David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
BALTIMORE - Too much of a good thing hangs a slider. Too much of a good thing gives up a tying home run. Before long, it's not so good anymore.
Joe Girardi got a little greedy Wednesday night. He wanted too much of a good thing, which in this case was Dellin Betances. And really, we can't bury the Yankees manager for that. Relying on a reliever such as Betances, a pitcher who throws fastballs in the triple-digits with a wipeout slider, becomes an addiction this time of year.
We're creeping closer to the danger zone for the Yankees, who basically slipped into AL East oblivion Wednesday night after their 5-3 loss dropped them eight games behind the Orioles. It's getting desperate, and Girardi -- maybe feeling that slippage -- chose to send Betances back out for a third inning of work, a place he'd only been one time previously this season, at Citi Field on May 15.
Then again, what was Girardi's next-best option? With the Yankees clutching a 2-1 lead, and 12 outs to go, he decided to empty the chamber early. But Betances only got him to the eighth, where Jonathan Schoop blasted a one-out homer that tied the score.
Before then, Betances had thrown 26 pitches during his 21/3-inning shift. Not an extraordinary number, but more than he had in all but one of his previous 19 appearances. The most pitches Betances has thrown this season is 45, done on June 24. Does it make a difference that this was Aug. 13, and Betances leads all major-league relievers with 71 innings pitched?
Maybe. But Girardi believed that Betances was well-rested, and so he chose to push the envelope. Plus, it's not a stretch to suggest the Yankees really, really needed to win this game. And they were only four outs away from taking it.
"His pitch count wasn't that high and he was still throwing the ball well," Girardi said afterward. "It's unfortunate he left a breaking ball inside and [Schoop] hit it out."
That doesn't happen often with Betances. Almost never. There was that nightmarish July 29 game in Texas, when he teed up a grand slam to J.P. Arencibia. Otherwise, Betances had been the sport's most intimidating reliever, and his 102 strikeouts entering the night were the most in baseball.
Girardi just wanted one more. Or a broken bat. Something feeble and harmless -- Betances' usual handiwork.
He got the leadoff hitter that inning, Ryan Flaherty, to pop up on a 98-mph fastball, but that took seven pitches. He then started Schoop with 96 for a called strike before leaving the slider in the nitro zone.
"It was a terrible pitch," Betances said.
Two rows deep into the left-centerfield seats. A little less carry, with the short wall, and maybe Brett Gardner is a hero. But the Yankees can't score these days and they haven't been very lucky, either. So when Girardi decides to test the limits of his best reliever -- sorry David Robertson -- he gets crushed.
"That was Dellin's last hitter," Girardi said. "And then I was going to go to Robertson for four outs. I liked the way Dellin was throwing."
Betances has been that fail-safe for Girardi, who has leaned on him repeatedly to prevent the sort of breakdown that followed Wednesday night. The Yankees' bullpen has been among the most effective in the majors, with Betances and Robertson combining to form a lethal weapon at the back end. But they're only human, and we're approaching late August.
If only Girardi felt he had other options. Adam Warren has looked spent, and Shawn Kelley -- who immediately showed why Girardi stuck with Betances -- is burning oil. After Betances was removed, Kelley retired Nick Hundley, but then gave up a single, a walk and the deciding three-run bomb to Adam Jones.
Girardi's a smart manager. He probably could sense that coming. Which is why he wanted to squeeze one more out from Betances. It didn't work out.
"He's done it all year for us," Girardi said of Betances.
Too much? Let's see what happens in the next 43 games.