There are two ways you can manage a game, I suppose. You can manage in a vacuum, simply making moves based on the game in front of you without considering the context of the standings or the number of games left in your season, or you can manage according to the calendar, knowing that games in April or May don’t carry the same importance as those in September or October.
Yankee manager Joe Girardi appears to have chosen the latter method, which is fine, except that he seems to be working from a calendar that says September instead of April. On Friday night he made one of the most curious managerial decisions of all time when he ordered his staff ace to issue an intentional walk in the first inning of a scoreless game (the first game), a move that produced a grand slam off the bat of Carlos Peña.
On Saturday night he confirmed his inability to read the calendar by choosing to give Derek Jeter a half-day off as DH. You know, because he must’ve been so exhausted after playing shortstop for one consecutive game without a single day off. How long did it take for that decision to bite Girardi in the ass? Not long.
Desmond Jennings, the first Tampa Bay hitter in the bottom of the first inning, grounded a ball out to shortstop where Eduardo Núñez was waiting. Núñez booted it, and Jennings reach base safely on the error. It could’ve been a meaningless play in a meaningless game in the first week of April, but it wasn’t. Hiroki Kuroda was on the mound for the Yanks, and he could’ve made the error forgettable by zipping through the next three hitters, but he didn’t. He took about ten minutes to strike out Carlos Peña, but Jennings stole second on strike three, then advanced to third on an Evan Longoria ground ball.
With two outs and a runner on third, Kuroda seemed to feel the moment a bit. He walked Matt Joyce and Ben Zobrist to load the bases, and for the second straight day a Yankee starter found himself facing a game-changing moment with two outs in the first inning. Just as Sabathia had the night before, Kuroda failed here. Scott laced a single up the middle, and the Rays had a 2-0 lead.
The Rays would add a run in the second on an RBI single from Peña, and another in the third courtesy of a large home run from Matt Joyce, and the Yanks were staring down a 4-0 deficit against lefty David Price. A tall order, to be sure, but after they scraped together two runs in the fourth on RBI singles from Andruw Jones and Eduardo Núñez, it looked like they might be able to make a game of it.
By the time the game moved into the ninth inning, the Rays held a comfortable 8-2 lead. Curtis Granderson led off with a triple and came home on a sacrifice fly from pinch-hitter Raúl Ibáñez, but that was only important to those keeping score or playing fantasy baseball. When Russell Martin walked and pinch-hitter Eric Chávez singled, however, there was something close to hope. When Nick Swisher launched a no-doubter into the right field seats to cut the lead to 8-6, there was actual hope. When Robinson Canó followed that with a gritty seven-pitch walk to bring the tying run to the plate in the form of Alex Rodríguez, there was possibility.
Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon had made one quirky defensive decision after another through the first two games, but finally he found himself in a position where there was only one move he could make. He brought in his closer, Fernando Rodney. As the stadium awoke to the drama and Michael Kay’s voice rose to a fever pitch, the Rodney-ARod confrontation lasted all of five seconds. A-Rod pounded a grounder just to the left of second base, the type of hit that rockets into center field against most American League defenses, but the Li’l Professor had his infield positioned perfectly, and second baseman Sean Rodríguez only had to take a couple steps to his left to field the ball easily and throw to first for the final out. Rays 8, Yankees 6.
Let’s get one thing straight here. It’s not time to panic. I mean, what are we, Red Sox fans? Even if the worst-case scenario plays out and the Yankees lose on Sunday to drop to 0-3, it will only serve to remind us of 1998, and that season worked out fine. Even so, it would be nice to get a win. No pressure, Mr. Hughes. No pressure at all.
[Photo Credit: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images]