Midway through yesterday’s third game of the ALCS, veteran starting pitcher Andy Pettitte was sailing along, and then New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi decided that the game could not progress a moment longer without visual evidence of his masterful influence over the proceedings. He exited the dugout and jogged out to the mound to give the four-time champ Pettitte some advice on how to pitch to Vladimir Guerrerro, who to that point in the series had been a glaring failure. With Girardi’s voice now lodged in his head, Pettitte promptly surrendered a two-run bomb to Guerrerro. Later, in the eleventh inning, Girardi’s heavy hand on the action proved the Yankees’ final undoing yesterday, as he removed one completely effective reliever for another reliever who then yielded two quick hits and the game.
I’m no expert on Anaheim Stadium or Angel Stadium or whatever it’s called, but I am guessing that it was the most questionable pitching change on the site since the one that occurred twenty-three years earlier and involved another renowned over-manager, Gene Mauch, and the fellow shown here in a 1987 card. The autumn before this card came out, the Angels were on the brink of a first trip to the World Series. Their ace, Mike Witt, had been gliding through what looked more and more like a thoroughly dispirited Red Sox lineup. In the ninth, with a 5-2 lead, Witt gave up a leadoff single to Bill Buckner (a hit that describes Buckner much more accurately than a more infamous event involving the gutty first baseman that occurred a couple weeks later), recovered to fan Jim Rice, allowed a two-run homer to Don Baylor, and then put the Angels one out away by inducing a Dwight Evans popup.
In 2009, when starting pitchers get standing ovations if they are able to get through six innings without getting bludgeoned, no one would complain if a manager gave his starter the hook after he surrendered two runs in the ninth inning. But in 1986 pitchers still turned in complete games, and aces especially such as Witt were generally given the opportunity to finish what they started. Thus, Gene Mauch has been vilified for removing Witt one out from what could have been the pennant, because the hurler he brought in, Gary Lucas, put Rich Gedman on first by hitting him with a pitch, and the next batter, Dave Henderson, facing doomed Donnie Moore, homered to give the Red Sox a grip on the series that they’d never relinquish.
I highly doubt Joe Girardi will end up in the same boat, historically speaking, as Gene Mauch. The Yankees are so loaded with talent that they could win it all this year with a tranquilized lemur at the helm. But I am a small man, a spiteful man, a man reduced to rooting against, now that his own team has been unceremoniously jettisoned, and I am hoping that Girardi’s heavy hand on the controls proves somehow to be the team’s undoing. Maybe when you treat players like puppets, they start to get a little rigid, a little wooden. Gary Lucas, as Angels catcher Bob Boone pointed out after the crushing Angels loss in 1986, “hadn’t hit a guy with a pitch in 100 years.” Maybe, if we rooter-againsters are lucky, the Yankees will start feeling the tightness of puppet-strings in their shoulders.