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Sunday, April 25, 2010
Seventh-inning gaffe dooms Yanks

By Wallace Matthews

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- To the reams of statistics, pages of matchups, columns of numbers and books of algorithms he no doubt pores over on a daily basis, Joe Girardi can now add one more number: the number of times a manager can kick himself on a cross-country flight.

Girardi himself put the estimate at "about 50," but even if he boots himself from here to the White House, the Yankees' next destination, it will not change the essential truth about his team's 8-4 loss to the Angels on Sunday afternoon.

And that is, it was Javier Vazquez who put the Yankees into the hole in the first place, and Damaso Marte who insured it was too deep for them to crawl out of.

Still, Girardi, a man so sure of his judgments he never once wavered on his decision to pull CC Sabathia in the middle of a no-hitter, was sure to be spending his five hours aboard the team plane tonight wondering how he could second-guess himself at such an unlikely spot.

"I just screwed up, in a sense," Girardi said, practically choking on the admission. "I probably should have gone with my first instinct. As a manager, there are things you're going to think about long and hard. And this is one of them."

At the time, the Yankees were still very much in the game, trailing only 5-4 despite another bad outing by Vazquez. The Angels were batting with one out in the seventh and Marte, who Girardi had brought into the game to face left-handed hitting Bobby Abreu, had not only walked Abreu but hit Torii Hunter.

Now, after getting Hideki Matsui to harmlessly ground out to third, the Yankees needed just one more out to survive the inning.

And Kendry Morales was at the plate.

By any yardstick Girardi could have chosen, pitching to Morales was likely to be a bad call. Two nights earlier, he had crushed a Joba Chamberlain fastball for a two-run homer that turned out to be the game winner.

And if his career stats against the Yankees weren't convincing enough -- a .373 batting average, five homers and 12 RBIs in 59 at-bats -- just his performance this weekend alone should have been. Including the home run against Joba, Morales had gotten hits in seven of his eight at-bats over the three games.

So when Girardi showed four fingers to catcher Francisco Cervelli before a pitch was thrown, he was not only acting in concert with the numbers, but in accordance with common sense.

Javier Vasquez
Javier Vazquez gave up five runs in 3 2/3 innings of work against the Angels on Sunday.

And Marte dutifully threw the first pitch way outside, as requested.

It was at this point that something went awry in the manager's thought processes. The circuits in his normally carefully ordered brain began to crackle and pop. His normally Mr. Spock-like demeanor evaporated, and in the space of a few seconds he became Dr. Frankenstein, obsessed with the power of his creation and determined to see it put to good use.

First, he thought it might be better to have David Robertson, a righty, come in and finish the intentional walk, and then pitch to the less dangerous Juan Rivera. He rose from his chair and started toward the mound to make the change. Then, suddenly, he reversed field, headed back to the dugout and decided the best course of action would be to have Marte pitch to Morales.

In the interim, first Cervelli, then Alex Rodriguez, and finally Cervelli again paid calls on Marte, who by now must not have had the slightest idea of what was going on, or what was expected of him.

But the bottom line was this: "We told him, at 3-0, don't give in."

In other words, we're pitching to Kendry Morales, which suited Morales just fine. After throwing two more unintentional balls, Marte chose the 3-0 pitch as time to groove an 89 mph fastball, which wound up in the faux mountain waterfall behind the left-center field fence.

Just like that, a one-run squeaker became a four-run blowout. There was no longer any point in bringing in Robertson. And while the loss goes on Vazquez's record, a big assist should go to the manager.

"I probably should have put up four again when he got to 3-0," Girardi said. "Not everything I do is going to turn out to be right. The bottom line is, none of us are perfect."

The bizarre seventh inning nearly, but not completely, overshadowed the fact that it was Marte, not Girardi, who delivered the room service fastball on 3-0, and the greater reality was that Vazquez blew a 3-0 lead and couldn't complete four innings.

For the fourth straight start, one of which he actually won, Vazquez complained about the poor location of his fastball. "It's kinda embarrassing right now the way I'm throwing the ball," he said.

And if he thinks his location was bad Sunday, wait until he relocates to the mound at Yankee Stadium on Friday night against the White Sox, where the crowd might more closely resemble a mob of angry villagers.

Once again, Vazquez (1-3, 9.00 ERA) began well but quickly unraveled. The beneficiary of a 3-0 second-inning lead, he allowed a solo home run to Abreu in the third and four runs -- on a hit batter, a single, a walk and a two-run double to Brandon Wood, a .100 hitter who hadn't knocked in a run since July 2009. Vazquez was not helped by his left fielder, Marcus Thames, who could not come up with the catch on Wood's sinking liner; but in fairness, the ball was hit like a rocket and would have been a tough play even for a good outfielder.

"My fastball is not where I want it to be," said Vazquez, who once again could not break 91 on the gun. "It's my most important pitch and if I can't locate it, the hitters can sit on my off-speed pitches. It's not mechanics right now, but if I knew what it was, I would have fixed it by now."

The possibility that Vazquez's problems now reside largely between his ears was raised to Girardi, who said, "I don't want to believe that. This is a guy who's had success, who's performed at a very high level. So I don't want to believe that."

Clearly, he doesn't know what to believe about Vazquez, or for one game at least, about himself. In losing two of three games to the Angels, the Yankees dropped their first series of the year. The record, which had reached its high point of 11-3 after Thursday's win in Oakland, now sits at a still formidable 12-6, with three games against the hapless Orioles immediately ahead.

But the Tampa Rays continue to win, and if this race comes down to a single game, this is the one that is going to keep Joe Girardi up at night.

"The season's 162 games and you're not always going to make the right moves," he said. "But this is one I'm going to have to live with."

Or die with.


Jorge Posada gave the Yankees an early lead when he clouted Scott Kazmir's first pitch after a plunking of Robinson Cano over the right-field fence in the second inning. But Kazmir (2-1) settled down after that, limiting the damage to four runs -- Cano hit a home run in the sixth, his fifth of the season and third off Kazmir -- in 5 1/3 innings. The Yankees did not manage another hit off four Angels relievers. … Nick Johnson was unavailable again but proclaimed himself "much better" after taking muscle relaxers Saturday night and is hoping to return to the lineup Tuesday in Baltimore. … The Yankees will spend Monday meeting President Barack Obama at the White House.

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for Follow him on Twitter.