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Girardi pushes panic button, costs Yanks

8/14/2014

BALTIMORE -- Joe Girardi seemed more upset about losing the argument than losing the game.

That, my friends, pretty much says it all about Wednesday night's crushing loss to the Baltimore Orioles and about the true state of the manager of the New York Yankees' confidence in his team's postseason chances.

And it says an awful lot about the way he managed this game, which went a long way toward insuring his team would lose it.

Let me start by saying I think Girardi has done a masterful job this season of winning more than losing with an offense that thinks four runs in one game is a slugfest, with a starting rotation cobbled out of retreads and cast-offs, and a bullpen running on fumes with more than a quarter of the season left to play.

But Girardi, who has managed so well for so much of this injury-depleted and performance-challenged season, didn't just manage poorly Wednesday night.

He managed scared.

There's really no other way to explain pulling Michael Pineda after five strong innings, 18 pitches shy of what Girardi said would be Pineda's expected pitch limit.

There's really no other way to explain his decision to use Dellin Betances, who's in his first full season as a reliever and lately starting to show signs of wear, for three innings in relief of Pineda.

And there's really no other way to explain his overreaction to the seventh-inning play in which Stephen Drew was called out for running out of the baseline. Girardi argued with home plate umpire Gerry Davis, went back to the dugout, and then came out and argued again, clearly looking to get himself thrown out of the game (which he did).

After the game, Girardi said he had looked at the replay, knew he was right, and came out to inform Davis of that fact.

But a look at the replay will tell you Girardi was not telling the truth. It is readily available online. Drew was clearly running on the infield grass for the last 10 yards of the play, which is a no-no. Surely Girardi knew this after watching it himself.

So there are only two possible explanations. Either the manager wanted to get tossed in order to (he hoped) put a charge into his lifeless offense. Or he couldn't bear to see what he knew was coming.

In fairness to Girardi, it has got to be driving him nuts that, night after night, his highly-paid, big-name offense struggles to score as many as three runs. If the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different result, the definition of frustration has to be knowing you really have no other choice.

Girardi is stuck with this offense, and he knows it. He just has no idea what to do with it.

He's also stuck with this bullpen, which is immensely talented but beginning to fray around the edges because of the relentless pressure of walking the high wire without a net on a nightly basis.

And he doesn't fully trust his starting staff, with good reason. The Arizona Diamondbacks gave up on Brandon McCarthy. The Boston Red Sox threw in the towel on Chris Capuano. Hiroki Kuroda's 39-year-old body gave out at precisely this time last season. Shane Greene has made all of a half-dozen big league starts.

But these are the pitchers Girardi must depend on to keep his team in the playoff hunt. Clearly he was waiting for Pineda's return, and he is still holding out hope that Masahiro Tanaka will ride to the rescue to provide some September heroics.

And Wednesday night, when he finally got Pineda back, he didn't even trust him to go six innings, despite the fact he had pitched brilliantly for four innings and slightly shakily for one.

"We thought he started to get the ball up a little bit," Girardi said, less than convincingly, after Pineda allowed his only run on two hits and a sacrifice fly in the fifth. "He got a ball up to [Nelson] Cruz and I thought he got a ball up to [Ryan] Flaherty. He got a ball up to [Jonathan] Schoop. We just thought he was done."

So he said he went to Betances, who had worked more than two innings just once all season, because Betances had not worked in five days. Never mind that Betances has told the media he feels less sharp after a few days off, or that just about every one of his less-effective outings this season has come when he has worked more than one inning. He is perhaps the best one-inning setup man in all of baseball. But despite knowing -- and mentioning in the pregame media session -- that his entire bullpen was fully rested following Tuesday's rainout, Girardi seemed determined to use Betances for not just one, or even two, innings. He wanted to get three out of him and then go to his closer, David Robertson, in the ninth.

That shows you how little confidence he has in his other relievers and in his offense's ability to get even one more insurance run -- and truthfully, he is justified in both those beliefs.

But for a manager who loves to say, "I believe in my guys, I do," it was pretty clear that he only really believes in a couple of them.

He stayed too long with Betances and got burned when Schoop tied the game with a home run in the eighth. He went to Shawn Kelley, who has looked fried lately, and watched the game slip away when Adam Jones belted a three-run homer later in the same inning. He never did get to use Robertson, because the Orioles did not need to bat in the bottom of the ninth.

And when it was all over, and his team -- which had taken leads in both of these "must-win games" only to see them slip away both times -- limped out of Camden Yards eight games back and 3 1/2 out of the second wild-card spot, he was more agitated about losing an argument to an umpire than losing a pivotal game to a division rival.

That, my friends, is the definition of a manager who needs to get a grip. Because for one night at least, Joe Girardi, normally among the most rational of men, was solidly in the grip of panic.