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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Joe Girardi surprisingly stays with CC Sabathia, and it nearly backfires

Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius doubles against the Twins

Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius doubles against the Twins during a game at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The way Joe Girardi has been sprinting to the mound to take out his starters lately, it was a bit surprising to see the Yankees manager stay in the dugout in the sixth inning of Tuesday night’s 5-2 victory over the Twins at Yankee Stadium.

Mr. Quick Hook turned into Mr. Patient as Girardi let CC Sabathia pitch through a difficult inning with the Yankees holding a 4-2 lead. It worked out OK, but not until Sabathia nearly gave up a grand slam.

Girardi could exhale after Eddie Rosario hit an inning-ending drive to Brett Gardner at the leftfield wall. The ball seemed to carry more than it looked like it would off the bat. If it had carried any farther, the Yankees would have been trailing and Girardi would have gotten crushed for leaving in his starter too long.

Isn’t that ironic? Don’t you think? On Sept. 11, Girardi yanked Sabathia after 4 1⁄3 innings with a four-run lead. He did the same to Jaime Garcia three days later with a two-run lead after 4 2⁄3 innings, leading to a dugout chat between an animated manager and a perturbed pitcher.

In general, Girardi is more likely to have the quick hook than to stick with his starter. Sabathia’s pitch count was low, but it’s unlike Girardi to nurse a starter through even a middle inning these days when the Yankees have a lead.

“I just liked the way he was still throwing the ball,” Girardi said.

“It never crosses your mind while you’re out there,” Sabathia said of getting yanked. “Not for me, anyway.”

Even with a three-game deficit in the AL East after last night’s results and only 11 games to go, Girardi isn’t satisfied with the Yankees’ comfortable position as the first AL wild card. He wants more.

“Our goal is still to win the division,” Girardi said. “We’ve clinched nothing at this point. We still have a lot of work to do in front of us.”

The Red Sox are making it difficult, winning consecutive extra-inning games against the Orioles in Baltimore. But at least the Yankees are going for it, which is why it was odd that Girardi didn’t have a reliever warming up as the sixth began.

Sabathia’s pitch count was in the high 60s after back-to-back one-out singles put runners on first and third. Girardi didn’t get a reliever up until the second hit, a single by Jorge Polanco, put the tying run on base with righthanded cleanup man Eduardo Escobar due.

As strikeout machine Chad Green began to warm, Sabathia got Escobar on a looping liner to second for the second out.

The next batter was righthanded-swinging Byron Buxton. Green was ready by now, but Girardi left in Sabathia, who pitched carefully to Buxton, falling behind 3-and-0. When Polanco stole second on the third ball, Girardi ordered an intentional walk to load the bases.

That brought up Rosario, a lefthanded hitter with 26 home runs this season. Earlier, Sabathia had given up his first home run of the season to a lefty, a third-inning solo shot by Max Kepler.

Rosario offered at the first pitch — Sabathia’s 77th — and skied it to left. Gardner drifted back and caught the ball in front of the fence to end the inning and Sabathia’s night.

“I thought he made a good pitch,” Girardi said. “That’s a big out. I think I had Greenie up at the time. I was able to start Greenie in the seventh, so that was great.”

Sabathia allowed two runs and six hits before giving way to Green.

“Even with the lefty coming up in that situation, our bullpen’s so good he can go to them any time,” Sabathia said. “Just felt good to be able to get that out and save them one out.”

Girardi’s faith in Sabathia was rewarded. Barely.

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