This Could Be the Last Day of the Yankee Season

Managerial blunders and anemic hitting push Yankees to the brink

By Josh Alper
|  Thursday, Oct 21, 2010  |  Updated 3:54 PM EDT
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This Could Be the Last Day of the Yankee Season

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There were a lot of people at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night who were very upset to learn that the Chicago Cubs decided to keep Mike Quade as their manager.

That decision meant there wasn't much chance Joe Girardi would jump from his seat in the Yankee dugout willingly, and, without much sign that the Yankees are going to push him, that means he'll be back there in 2011 and beyond. There are more thrilling thoughts on a Wednesday morning that finds the Yankees on the brink of elimination from the playoffs, mostly because Girardi managed Tuesday night's game like it was a random night in May.

It sounds crazy to say that, but the decisions he made showed none of the urgency appropriate to the situation. The big one is leaving A.J. Burnett in the game in the sixth inning, obviously.

When Girardi made the choice to intentionally walk David Murphy with two outs and a runner on second, Burnett should have come out. If he really trusted Burnett still had enough gas in the tank, then Girardi would have sent him after Murphy, a good hitter but not a guy who you need to fear any more than Bengie Molina. It's a move that's acceptable in the regular season, trying for a particular matchup to get your starter through one more inning, but you need to attack in the playoffs. 

It got worse. With the bases loaded and two out in the eighth, Girardi left Lance Berkman in to hit against lefty Darren Oliver. Berkman had a 517 OPS against lefties this season and Austin Kearns, acquired because the Yankees wanted a bat to use against southpaws, was sitting on the bench. Kearns is no great shakes, to be sure, but he's better against lefties than Berkman. Again, in May you give a guy a chance to take that at-bat. In October, you have to do everything you can to win. 

And, finally, there was the choice of Sergio Mitre in the ninth inning over Mariano Rivera. Rivera has not pitched since Friday and the Yankees could not afford to fall any further behind than 7-3, but Girardi turned to Mitre because he said he might need to use Rivera for two innings on Wednesday. And he might, but you can't manage for tomorrow when today matters so much. In May you can let a game get away from you to get your worst reliever some work, but in October you go to Mo, or at least Kerry Wood.

But, try as we might, we can't put all the blame on Girardi. We're starting to wonder if the entire Yankee lineup, save Robinson Cano, witnessed a gangland rubout because they're playing like they're in witness protection. Tommy Hunter, the kind of mediocre back-end starter that the Yankees are supposed to use to wipe the floor, struggled all night but never got rung up for the big inning that would have kept the game from being close enough for Girardi to ruin.

The team is now 6-for-39 with runners in scoring position against Texas, a number that boggles the mind when you take a look at the names that fill the lineup card. If things go wrong again on Wednesday afternoon and the Yankee season comes to an end far more premature than anyone wanted, that will be the giant honking reason why. You don't waste chances like that and live to tell the tale. 

If that's all enough to make you want to run and hide until it is all over, you've got good company. It was distressing to see Yankee Stadium so empty in the seventh inning of last night's game. Four run leads have fallen victim to Yankee lightning more than once and, as mentioned, the team had a chance to tie the game in the eighth inning. Once Mitre tossed his dirt on the grave, the mass exodus made sense but Girardi wasn't the only one treating this game like it was just another night in May.

Everyone gets a chance to do a better job on Wednesday, because time hasn't quite run out on this Yankee team yet.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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