Sixteen hours after his maddening non-confession for his baffling non-challenge in Cleveland, Joe Girardi showed up Saturday at Yankee Stadium wearing a striped oxford shirt and a look of exhaustion. He didn’t admit to a sleepless night, but there’s reason to believe that one actually had occurred since his last conversation with reporters.
And after a few minutes of mental gymnastics with the manager, we finally pried loose the money quote, the three words that were supposed to liberate Girardi from the howling cries of a furious Yankees Universe and the media that ravaged him, from the back pages to every broadcast outpost.
Said Girardi, “I screwed up.”
He repeated that sentence three times, a rare mea culpa from a prideful man who isn’t big on personal reflection when a live mic is present. This time he didn’t have much choice, though. To ride or die with the 30-second excuse and the “pitcher’s rhythm” alibi for a second day would’ve been foolish.
But where the Yankees sit now, in an 0-2 hole in a best-of-five series against the virtually invincible Indians, does it really make any difference how Girardi chooses to spin the whole non-challenge debacle?
Count us among those who ripped him for Friday’s sixth-inning crime of replay negligence, followed by the flimsy postgame explanations that bordered on insulting.
In the final analysis, however, do you feel any better that Girardi copped to the blunder, whether it happened immediately after the 13-inning loss at Progressive Field or a day later in the Bronx? Of course not.
Maybe he angered everyone by initially ducking responsibility, but his decision to come clean, reluctantly, is not going to alter the Yankees’ playoff fate one iota.
There’s no do-over here. The singular route to redemption for Girardi is to shock the baseball world by beating the Indians in three straight to advance to the ALCS. If the Yankees were able to pull that off, his mistake would vanish from the public consciousness quicker than Alex Rodriguez’s PED sins.
Girardi realizes this, and he indicated as much when asked Saturday if the non-challenge will stick to him more than any of his other baseball missteps.
“Let’s just see what happens tomorrow and as we move forward,” he said. “That will probably determine the severity of it.”
Unfortunately, the Indians aren’t going to let him off the hook that easy. Cleveland hasn’t lost three consecutive games since July 30 to Aug. 1, and Friday’s comeback from a five-run deficit shows how dangerous the defending AL champs are.
Not only did Girardi’s usually sharp bullpen management implode — the “formula,” as he called it Saturday — but the Yankees failed in a replay-challenge scenario, something that no team in the majors is better at.
During the regular season, the Yankees had a 75 percent success rate — 40 challenges, 30 overturned — which was a huge credit to the team’s replay coordinator, Brett Weber. The process itself obviously works well. Weber reviews the video, then tells Girardi yes or no. But at the worst possible moment, for the biggest play of the year, Weber couldn’t get the necessary slo-mo footage to see Chad Green’s 0-and-2 fastball clearly nick the knob of Lonnie Chisenhall’s bat — not his hand, as plate umpire Dan Iassogna ruled.
Despite Gary Sanchez yelling “foul, foul!” on the two-strike tip that he caught off Chisenhall’s bat, Girardi chose to side with Weber’s inconclusive evidence and passed on using one of his two remaining challenges, even though the risk-reward factor seemed to be a worthwhile gamble. And instead of the inning ending with the Yankees up 8-3, Francisco Lindor lined a grand slam off the rightfield foul pole.
As usual, Girardi stayed true to the binder and refused to veer from his playbook when the circumstances screamed for it.
“Very seldom have I ever wasted a challenge when it wasn’t conclusive,” he said. “That’s just what I’ve done. Maybe that’s the wrong way. But that’s the way I’ve been. And we’ve been very successful with our challenge system.”
The numbers, as we mentioned, back that. But there were ways to further game that system Friday night, as every other manager does. When Girardi said the 30-second window wasn’t enough to see the necessary replay, he should have stalled for more time. Indians manager Terry Francona joked Saturday about the MLB-imposed restriction, understanding why it is important to keep the game moving but also believing it’s his job to push those boundaries if a questionable play calls for it.
“I’ve tried to hold umpires up,” Francona said. “They start coming over at 30 and the last thing they want to do is start a confrontation. They’ve been real clear with us about that.”
Francona’s ploy? Holler at his bench coach, who then yells at his video crew, and that usually buys a few more crucial seconds. Maybe that’s something for Girardi to keep in mind for next time — when he’s not worrying about his pitcher’s rhythm.
He probably is going to get an idea of just how badly he screwed up when he’s introduced before Game 3. Nothing about those boos will be inconclusive.