We are all entitled to our bad days, days when things we normally handle without a sweat become incredibly difficult and the stresses of the moment prove to be overwhelming.
Joe Girardi had just such an experience against the White Sox on Thursday night. Girardi's bullpen management has been brilliant this season with his ability to survive while Mariano Rivera and David Robertson were both out was his finest hour as Yankee manager, but that doesn't change the fact that he drove the plane directly into the mountain in the ninth inning of the 4-3 loss.
Ivan Nova got into the eighth, striking out five and allowing one run despite getting hit hard and the Yankees held a 3-1 lead after Cody Eppley finished the eighth. The Yankees weren't going to use Rafael Soriano to close things out because he had pitched in four of the previous five games so it seemed safe to assume David Robertson would close things out.
There's an old saying about why assuming is a bad idea and it was proved true on Thursday when Girardi stuck with Eppley to start the ninth even though Robertson was warming up in the pen. Robertson had pitched on Wednesday, so perhaps Girardi was just trying to steal a night off for both of his top closers by riding the surprisingly effective Eppley as far as possible.
A hit off Eppley brought Girardi out, but he again chose to leave Robertson in the bullpen. It was Clay Rapada this time and Rapada did his job by getting A.J. Pierzynski to bounce back to the mound.
Unfortunately for Girardi's best-laid plans, Rapada threw the ball into center field and there were runners on the corners with no one out instead of no one on base with two outs. Girardi finally turned to Robertson, who allowed a home run to Dayan Viciedo and the Yankees had weaved a basket of defeat from the raw materials of victory.
Truly roasting Girardi over the fire is tough because Rapada did exactly what Girardi asked him to do right up until he reminded us that pitchers have a really limited skill set. If Rapada gets that double play, plenty of people are hailing Girardi's strategic acumen.
It still would have been the wrong way to handle the inning. The problem isn't going with the other relievers because it is okay to try something else on a night when you might not feel your top guys are as rested as you'd like them to be.
The problem is doing that while simultaneously having Robertson warm up and eventually enter the game where he winds up throwing 15 pitches that probably rule him out for Friday night. Robertson was warming up at the start of the ninth, so he should have been in the game to start the inning and finish the game.
Trying to limit his pitches by going with lesser pitchers is getting way too cute with something that doesn't have to be all that complicated. Girardi wound up losing the game and using Robertson, which is surely the worst outcome of any of the ones on the table when the ninth inning got underway.
You can be cute or you can play it straight, but, as Girardi learned on Wednesday night, you can't be both.
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