As I did after Game 1 and Game 2 and I will continue to do after every Yankees postseason game, here are my thoughts from Game 3 of the ALDS. Well, just one thought because really it’s all that matters from Wednesday night.
I didn’t see where Raul Ibanez’s game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth landed. I didn’t see where Raul Ibanez’s walk-off home run in the bottom of the 12th landed. I didn’t see them because I was getting pulled and hugged and crushed and trampled in a shower of Bud Light, Miller Lite, French fries, Skoal, sweat and tears. It didn’t matter where they went because I knew they were gone.
The feeling before Raul Ibanez pinch-hit for Alex Rodriguez in the ninth inning was not a good one. For 8 1/3 innings I watched the Yankees struggle to hit another average starting pitcher in the playoffs. The home runs dried up again in October for the Yankees with just one in 25 1/3 innings (Russell Martin’s Game 1 home run) and I started to think that maybe all the small ball fanatics and home run critics in the regular season shouldn’t have been laughed at for saying the Yankees’ only offense was the home run. I had visions of Paul Byrd and Tommy Hunter coming to the Stadium and winning an October game. I had flashbacks to the Stadium last October when everyone was left on base in Game 5. I sat there thinking about how we got to this point so early into the postseason and wondering if Phil Hughes, of all people, was really going to be relied to extend the season.
And then Joe Girardi pinch-hit for Alex Rodriguez.
The relationship between A-Rod and Yankee fans is a weird one. From the time he walks from the on-deck circle to the batter’s box with “Ni**as In Paris” playing, A-Rod is loved. The Stadium is full of applause and cheers in an attempt to will a home run or an extra-base hit or even just a single or a walk out of him. The fans want A-Rod to succeed. They want to have a reason to feel optimistic about him even if the 2009 playoffs should have bought him a lifetime of immunity. After that walk to the batter’s box, A-Rod has until the end of his plate appearance for the cheers to continue. If his at-bat ends well then he’s loved until his next at-bat. If it ends poorly he’s hated until his next at-bat. The perception of A-Rod as a Yankee is about life between at-bats and about him buying time between boos. In a game where failure is expected, he faces unrealistic expectations.
If I’m not the CEO of the Anti-Joe Girardi Fan Club then I’m at least on the Board of Directors or the VP of one of the departments. I’m against bunting and hitting Robinson Cano fourth and letting Boone Logan face righties and letting Eduardo Nunez play shortstop, so it only makes sense that I don’t understand most of Girardi’s managerial decisions. But you have to give credit where credit is due and to take a page out of A-Rod’s book, “All I can do is tip my cap to Joe Girardi for his Game 3 managing.”
Girardi was willing to give himself up to the New York media and sports radio and the Internet to go with a gut instinct in the ninth inning. He was willing to have the Steinbrenners and Randy Levine and Brian Cashman wondering why their non-injured $275-million cleanup hitter was pinch-hit for in the ninth inning. Girardi showed that maybe, just maybe his binder doesn’t control his life and that he finally understands that “Alex Rodriguez” is just a name at this point and that name doesn’t get you what it did three years ago. Girardi showed he had balls when he hit A-Rod third again in Game 3 when the whole world thought he wouldn’t and he showed just how big those balls are when he took him out of the game in the ninth inning.
In Game 3 with the season on the line, Joe Girardi went against everything believes in and has been as Yankees manager by doing something he had never done before. He pinch-hit for the game’s highest-paid player and asked A-Rod to be someone he has never been before. Then he asked Raul Ibanez to extend the game. Thankfully, he did one better and saved the season.
Two down, nine to go. This train carries Phil Hughes in Game 4.