Of all the decisions Joe Girardi had to make during Game 2 of the Division Series on Friday, stretched over the 13 innings of the Yankees’ soul-crushing 9-8 loss to the Indians, he was doomed by the simplest.
The most basic of calls, a simple yes or no, relying on nothing more complex than a video monitor and the eyes of the team’s replay coordinator, Brett Weber. No complex analytical breakdowns, no pages of statistics. Not even something as deceptive as what a player says to hide fatigue or insecurity.
The moment came with two outs in the sixth inning, the Yankees ahead 8-3 and Indians standing at second and third. Chad Green had pumped six straight fastballs at pinch hitter Lonnie Chisenhall, who somehow fouled back each one — an almost impossible feat against a strikeout specialist like Green.
But it was the seventh that would be the most controversial pitch of the game, because plate umpire Dan Iassogna ruled the fastball nicked Chisenhall on the hand, loading the bases for the rallying Indians.
In reality, the pitch did nothing of the sort. Catcher Gary Sanchez immediately screamed “foul, foul,” believing that he heard a collision with the knob of the bat, and he yelled the same toward the dugout. That got Girardi and Weber involved, but what would have been a game-saving challenge never came from the manager.
Girardi passed, Chisenhall took first without protest, and two pitches later, Francisco Lindor drilled a grand slam that will stick as the turning point in this Division Series, which now has the Yankees in an 0-2 hole.
The frustrating thing? It never should have happened, and Girardi, as smart and as prepared as he is, couldn’t provide a logical reason why he failed to stop that brutal sequence of events with a simple challenge.
“There was nothing that told us that he was not hit on the pitch,” Girardi said afterward. “By the time we got the super slo-mo, we are beyond a minute. It was way too late. They tell us we have the 30 seconds.”
Or what? What are the umpires going to do if Girardi takes more than a minute — in a playoff game, no less? Give him a technical foul? Throw a flag and penalize him 15 yards?
Girardi had to do whatever was necessary to get a better view. And if that wasn’t possible, then challenge it anyway. If wrong, he still would have one of his two challenges left.
Because after we got a look at the replay — like everyone else in the baseball-watching universe — it became painfully obvious that the pitch did indeed strike the bat’s knob before Sanchez caught it for strike three.
And if Girardi had pushed the issue, forcing the umpires to check with MLB’s central office, the Yankees would have gotten the benefit of that call, a sobering fact that many of them didn’t discover until word leaked out later.
The Yankees didn’t make Weber available to the media afterward, and Girardi, for his part, wasn’t very convincing in trying to cover for the whole chain of command. Not only did he use the excuse of the 30-second limit, but he then took it to a place that wasn’t very believable.
“Being a catcher, I think about rhythm, and I never want to take a pitcher out of rhythm,” Girardi said. “To have them stand over there for two minutes to tell me that he wasn’t hit.”
In retrospect, we’re pretty sure Green would have been fine with that. If the choices are the third out or a Lindor grand slam, it’s an easy call.
As for Sanchez, he did what he could, but ultimately Girardi had to intervene.
“I definitely heard something,” Sanchez said through a translator. “I didn’t think it hit him because he never reacted to it.”
Girardi made other questionable decisions Friday. Pulling CC Sabathia at the first twitch of trouble in the sixth when he had retired 12 of the last 13 batters and thrown only 77 pitches. Not going to Aroldis Chapman for a six-out save, but then using him for six outs anyway an inning later.
Those are debatable. But passing on a replay challenge that likely would have preserved a Game 2 victory and altered the course of this series?