Does it feel somewhat strange for Yankee fans that they should be pondering the kind of managerial mishap that usually happened to the other guys? How uncharted for the Yankees is the uncharted territory into which Joe Girardi wandered Friday night, when he failed to ask a review on whether a Chad Green pitch hit the Indians’ Lonnie Chisenhall or Chisenhall’s bat?
Girardi went from excusing himself preposterously Friday night—saying he doesn’t like to disrupt his pitcher’s rhythm, when he called for reviews often enough during the regular seasons while his pitchers were pitching—to owning the non-call Saturday. “I screwed up,” the skipper said. “It’s hard. It’s a hard day for me. But I’ve got to move forward, and we’ll be ready to go [Sunday].”
It won’t be simple to move on from failing to demand a review, letting Chisenhall’s hit-by-pitch call stand, and loading the bases for Francisco Lindor to rip a game-changing grand slam off the right field foul pole at a spot even with the second deck in Progressive Field.
But if the Yankees want to survive and Girardi wants to stay employed by them, it may well depend on whether he and they can pick up, dust off, and dust the Indians before the Tribe can bring the set back to Cleveland. Whether Girardi’s comes to count as the worst managerial blunder in Yankee history depends on your point of view.
And even Yankee managers have been known to screw the pooch, though not quite as surrealistically as have past managers for far more star-crossed teams. That’s what forty pennants and twenty-seven World Series titles does for you. That and tending to erode the moments in which Yankee managers proved only too human. Here is a rundown of some of those moments:
* Ford Theater. Casey Stengel didn’t start Whitey Ford in Game One of the 1960 Series. Stengel didn’t start Ford in Game Two, either. Ford got the starts in Games Three and Six. He threw shutouts both times. We’re willing to bet Ford still meets fans to this day who say he should have started One and Four, the better for Stengel to have him available for Game Seven.
* Pistoled Pete With the 1964 Series tied at two each, Game Five went to extra innings and rookie Yankee manager Yogi Berra let rookie reliever Pete Mikkelsen—a sinkerball specialist whom Berra nurtured during the season—go out to start the tenth despite Mikkelsen working two hard innings already. Two on, one out, top of the tenth, Tim McCarver hit a three-run homer for the 5-2 Cardinal lead that held in the bottom of the inning. The Cardinals went on to win in seven.
* Hook, Line, and Tommy John Taking over midyear for the second time as manager, Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Lemon relieved with Tommy John over Goose Gossage in Game Four of the 1981 Series, then started John but hooked him early for a pinch hitter in Game Six. The Dodgers won Six and the Series at once.
* Conehead Game Five, 1995 American League division series. Buck Showalter doesn’t see David Cone’s tank on empty. Cone walked the tying run home in the ninth. Then, Showalter watched Edgar Martinez double home the winning run in the tenth. And, he watched Joe Torre succeed him as the Yankee manager.
* No Mo His detractors can point to a fistful of postseason mishaps by Torre, but electing to bring in Jeff Weaver (2003 ERA: 5.99) over The Mariano (2003 ERA: 1.66) for the bottom of the eleventh in Game Four of the ’03 Series might have been the creamed of the crop. One one-two-three-inning later, Marlins feather bat Alex Gonzalez ended it with a home run. The Yankees didn’t win another game in that Series.
Torre at least had a small margin of error. So did Yogi and maybe even Casey. (You might be fool enough to hold your undisputed ace until Game Three, but nobody said those Yankees lacked for chances otherwise.) Girardi has zero now.
And these Indians are no pushovers. Yankee Stadium? Fuggedabout it. These Indians were a better team on the road this year than the Yankees were at home, and they swept the Yankees in their three meetings in the South Bronx this year. Did I mention that sweep meant seven en route that staggering 22-game Indians winning streak?
Hal Steinbrenner may have the patience of Job compared to his late and often infamously impatient father, but even Patient Hal must surely have his limits. It’s entirely possible that to save his job Girardi and his Yankees, starting Sunday, must do the impossible.