Alex Rodriguez putting himself above the team? Check.
Nick Swisher having a miserable postseason? Check.
A lack of leadership without Derek Jeter? Check.
With every issue the Yankees had heading into Game 3 of the ALCS last night in Detroit, an opportunity presented itself in the 9th inning. The sensational Justin Verlander showed signs of mortality by allowing a solo homer to Eduardo Nunez to begin the frame. After educing a weak ground ball from Brett Gardner -- owner of one hit since April -- the reigning MVP and Cy Young Award winner was lifted from the game. 132 pitches of gut and grit gave way to...Phil Coke.
Yes, the same Phil Coke that Joe Girardi managed early in his Yankee tenure. The Phil Coke that has morphed into a pseudo closer for this Tigers team in October due to the struggles of Jose Valverde.
Let's reset the scene, batter-by-batter to give you a glimpse into Joe Girardi's thinking last night. At the moment, there was one out in the 9th inning. The score was 2-1 in favor of Detroit. As you may have heard by now, New York was on the brink of going down 0-3 in the series, likely ending their season and any championship aspirations.
If you didn't know, those batters hit L-S-L-L, respectively. Obviously, there's no way that Teixeira or Cano would be pinch hit for under any circumstances, postseason struggles aside. On the other hand, there was Ichiro -- who has hit well for a month, but was horrendous vs. LHP all season -- and Ibanez.
As most Yankee fans will now say, "THERE'S NO ONE YOU WOULD RATHER HAVE UP IN THE BIG SPOT THAN IBANEZ!!" There's merit to that, of course. Ibanez has had one of the most amazing runs of clutch hitting in the history of baseball. He's morphed into a monster in the big spot, rewarding Joe Girardi almost every time he put him up in the big spot. It's also worth noting that aside from his walk-off homer vs. Brian Matusz last week, he was literally one of the worst hitters in organized baseball vs. LHP this season.
If you've followed Joe Girardi's career path, perhaps no manager attempts to secure favorable match-ups for his players than him, specifically when it comes to platoons; lefty vs. lefty or righty vs. righty for his pitchers. Obviously, he seeks the opposite for his batters.
Due to a pregame lineup shuffle, Girardi was staring at a bench that included Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher. Despite their postseason struggles, they probably represented the most accomplished potential pinch hitters in the last decade of postseason baseball.
As Coke stepped onto the mound, those that live and die on every pitch began to play the inning out further. It was clear that Girardi was going to allow Ichiro -- owner of two hits on the evening prior to the 9th inning -- to hit for himself. The only decision left, if it got there, was what to do with Ibanez.
Now that the scene is set and we know the result -- Ibanez struck out on one of the best pitches we've ever seen Coke throw -- here's why Girardi was wrong: He relied on results over process.
Some Yankee fans have chided Girardi since '08 for his binder and always using numbers to back every decision. The funny thing about that? It usually worked. His numbers are pristine. His thought process always makes sense, even if it doesn't work.
Then last week happened.
Girardi used his gut, taking Alex Rodriguez out of the game for Raul Ibanez.
Since then? It seems like every decision Girardi makes with his lineup is based on "gut" and "feel" while the binder is staring him in the face.
The numbers don't lie here, folks. Phil Coke has made right-handed batters -- all of them, combined -- hit like George Brett this year.
Alex Rodriguez -- as diminished as he is -- has still hit LHP this year. Same for switch-hitter Nick Swisher.
Sure, Girardi mentioned the fact that Jim Leyland would have lifted Coke for a right-handed pitcher at that point, but there's nothing in that binder that could have possibly said that Ibanez vs. Coke was a better play than either A-Rod or Swisher vs. Benoit.
Mention the small sample size of postseason baseball, the NY Post report about flirting, or Nick Swisher's clownish attitude all you want. That's all fine. But don't pretend that the 9th inning last night was the Joe Girardi we've seen since 2008.
He's used numbers to put his players in the best place to succeed every single game since he took over in the Yankee dugout.
Gut, feel, and results from last week won out in the Yankee dugout over process last night. If you have listened to any Joe Girardi press conference from 2008-last week, process always trumps results. Do smart things and good things will follow.
With his team on the brink of elimination, the manager lost sight of his own mantra.