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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Here's a pitch to Girardi: Joe, you should have left Andy Pettitte in

Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte leaves the game against

Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte leaves the game against the Baltimore Orioles. (Sept. 1, 2013) Credit: Errol Anderson

If you're a Yankees fan and you first-guessed Joe Girardi on taking out Andy Pettitte in the seventh inning Sunday, congratulations: You were right.

That's cold comfort, though, if you are still dreaming of a miracle playoff run. Sunday's 7-3 loss to the Orioles made that less likely.

Girardi took out Pettitte with a 3-0 lead after the first two batters singled to open the seventh. Pettitte had thrown 93 pitches.

Due up was Matt Wieters, who had struck out twice against Pettitte.

Shawn Kelley came in and allowed an RBI single to Wieters and a three-run home run to right to J.J. Hardy just over the glove of a leaping Curtis Granderson.

Just like that: 4-3, Baltimore.

The Orioles scored three more times in the inning against Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain. Adam Jones hit a three-run homer to center off Chamberlain to complete the seven-run onslaught.

"The inning didn't work out the way we wanted," Girardi said, demonstrating that he has mastered the art of understatement.

To repeat: Entering the inning, the Yankees led 3-0. Girardi took out a big-game pitcher with 255 career wins who has been on a roll, was pitching a shutout and had thrown only 93 pitches.

Sounds indefensible, no?

Even if you factor in that Kelley has been mostly outstanding this season and had allowed only two of 37 inherited runners to score (5.4 percent, the lowest in the majors).

But that's a numbers argument. Girardi has long been criticized for going with numbers over feel. This seemed as if he had an itchy trigger finger when it comes to what has been a superb bullpen.

"It's not even an issue with me," Pettitte said in defense of his former catcher. "You can't second-guess going to our bullpen."

Oh, but you can, and you probably did. Not because the bullpen hasn't been solid, but because Pettitte had been pitching so well.

Girardi probably had it all planned out: Kelley to Logan to David Robertson and finally Mariano Rivera. Most of the time, it works. But the Yankees have so little time to make up ground in the wild-card race that most of the time isn't good enough. The manager and the players almost have to be perfect.

And if you leave Pettitte in, the worst that is going to happen is a game-tying three-run homer. The best is a double play, a Pettitte specialty that just happened to end the previous inning.

"He was up in pitches,'' Girardi said. "They had just squared two balls up in a row. We just felt it was time to make a change.''

Girardi spent the entire weekend making pitching decisions that smacked of playoff-like urgency.

He removed CC Sabathia after 86 pitches on Friday. He brought in Robertson in the seventh inning in that game instead of waiting until the eighth. Both worked.

But if you want to hammer Girardi for the "numbers" decisions, what to make of his leaving in Ivan Nova for the ninth inning on Saturday? There's no safer call for a manager to make than to bring in Rivera, no matter how the pitcher before him has fared.

But Girardi let Rivera stand in the bullpen so Nova could finish a 2-0 shutout -- even after the first man reached on an infield single off the pitcher's glove. That decision had to be based on how well Nova was pitching, and that's a "feel'' decision.

By our count, Girardi went 3-for-4 this weekend on the big pitching-change calls. The Yankees won two of the three games. That's good enough for the long haul of the regular season, but not for the short sprint of September when you're on the outside looking in.

Still steamed?

As we said: You were right. Hope that makes you feel better today when you check the standings.

Bet it doesn't.

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