Again facing rapid-fire questions about his decision the night before to not challenge a critical hit-by-pitch call that preceded a tide-turning grand slam, Joe Girardi said Saturday afternoon what many Yankees fans had concluded in real time Friday night.
Said the besieged Yankees manager: “I screwed up.”
The Yankees blew an 8-3 lead in Game 2 of the American League Division Series in Cleveland, eventually falling to the Indians, 9-8, in 13 innings. Girardi’s decision not to challenge a call that, if overturned, would have ended the sixth inning at 8-3 immediately preceded a drive by Francisco Lindor that made it 8-7.
Instead of seizing momentum by tying the best-of-five series at one game apiece and putting the defending AL champions on their heels a bit, the Yankees trail two games to none heading into Game 3 Sunday night at the Stadium. They’ll send Masahiro Tanaka (13-12, 4.74) to the mound against Cleveland righthander Carlos Carrasco (18-6, 3.29).
After Friday’s loss, Girardi was peppered with questions regarding his call to pull CC Sabathia when he did, and perhaps sticking too long with Chad Green and David Robertson, both of whom gave up critical home runs. But most of the cross-examination was about a hit batsman that wasn’t.
With two outs in the sixth, a runner on first and the Yankees leading 8-3, Green allowed a double off the leftfield wall by Yan Gomes that put runners at second and third.
On an 0-and-2 pitch, pinch hitter Lonnie Chisenhall appeared to strike out on a foul tip that was held by Gary Sanchez — replays showed the ball hit the nob of the bat — but plate umpire Dan Iassogna ruled the pitch hit Chisenhall.
Sanchez immediately yelled to the dugout that he thought the ball hit the bat and not Chisenhall, but Girardi, with both of his challenges left, chose not to use one. He said Yankees replay coordinator Brett Weber, whom Girardi entrusts with such decisions, had not yet seen a conclusive replay in the allotted 30 seconds showing what Sanchez said had happened.
Two pitches later, Lindor crushed a grand slam off the rightfield foul pole to make it 8-7. Jay Bruce’s opposite-field homer off Robertson tied it at 8 in the eighth.
“Brett Weber has been so good at what he does that when he tells me that something’s not conclusive, I believe him, because he’s been so good,” said Girardi, whose team leads MLB in successful replay challenges — 74 percent overall — since the system was introduced in 2014.
Still . . .
“I take full responsibility,” Girardi said. “It’s not Brett’s fault. It’s my fault.”
Girardi said Sanchez’s reaction was not relevant, correctly pointing out that players almost always want to challenge close plays.
“There’s a lot of players that tell you to challenge things a lot of times,” he said. “That’s the one thing we don’t get caught up, when a player tells you to challenge something, because it’s not always the case [that they’re right].”
He later added: “I mean, how many times have you seen a player, say check, check, check, and it ends up being the call that they called? Again, I screwed up. And it’s hard. It’s a hard day for me.”
Girardi stressed that his decision had nothing to do with Sanchez. “It would have been the same [with any player],” Girardi said. “Any time a player tells me to check something, I don’t automatically check it . . . It has nothing to do with me trusting a player. It’s having video evidence to make sure the call will be overturned before you use it.”
Of course, Sanchez turned out to be right.
“Knowing that I had two challenges, in hindsight, yeah, I wish I would have challenged it,” Girardi said.
In the quiet of the clubhouse afterward, players spoke optimistically of having a chance, of still being in the series. But the task is a tall one.
To advance to the ALCS, the Yankees will have to win three straight against an Indians team that ended the season with 33 victories in its last 37 games, at one point winning an AL-record 22 straight games.
“We know they’re really good. We knew that going in, they’re really good,” Girardi said. “The way I look at it, you have to win one in a row.”
Girardi, in the final year of his contract, said it remains to be seen how long Friday’s mistake will stick with him.
“Let’s just see what happens tomorrow and as we move forward,” he said. “That will probably determine the severity of it.”