Joe Girardi’s Devastating Decision

I might be creating an all-new All-Animosity Team in the very near future, or at least adding a new member. Kevin Youkilis has held down first base on the team for a while now, but a new form of evil has developed on the West Coast in the form of Kendry Morales.

The Yankees lost their first series of the season over the weekend because of Kendry Morales’ bat. The implosions of A.J. Burnett and Javier Vazquez changed the momentum in both losses, but it was Morales who put the finishing touch on the Yankees twice in the late innings.

Maybe the Angels were going to win those games anyways. It’s likely if it wasn’t Morales on Friday night, it would have been someone else, and who’s to say the Yankees would have even scored a fifth run on Sunday if they were able to hold the deficit to 5-4? I’m not saying that the Yankees were going to win either of those games, all I’m saying is Joe Girardi left the door open for second-guessing and gave any sports talk shows in need of material a week’s worth of ammunition.

I can let Friday slide because Joba Chamberlain was on the mound and if you can’t trust him, then there is going to be a serious problem with the pecking order in the bullpen this summer. Sure, Girardi could have turned Morales around in that game and made him hit from the right side – his weaker side. We’ll chalk that one up as Joba Chamberlain just not getting the job done.

But after watching Sunday’s events unfold, I thought it was Groundhog’s Day.

Joe Girardi is a matchup machine and I’m surprised he doesn’t change pitchers in the middle of at-bats depending on certain hitters’ numbers in certain counts against certain pitchers. He has a matchup or answer (not always the right answer) for every situation, and no matter what a unique situation calls for, he will always resort to the numbers. So when he decided that on April 25, 2010 he was going to go against his trusty notebook for the first time in his managerial career, it didn’t make any sense.

Why did Joe Girardi put aside the pure numbers for the first time, and why did it end with “Damaso Marte” trending higher than “Justin Bieber” on Twitter? (That actually happened). Let’s pick it up in the sixth inning on Sunday…

With the Angels leading 5-3 in the sixth, the sweet stroke of Robinson Cano found Scott Kazmir again for a solo shot to cut the lead to 5-4. In the seventh, Alfredo Aceves retires Maicer Izturis on a line out to Cano. Aceves is pitching for the first time in 8 days and has retired all five batters he has faced on just 15 pitches. But with one out in the inning and Bobby Abreu due up, Joe Girardi calls on the lefty Damaso Marte to go after the lefty.

There are two Damaso Martes. There is the Damaso Marte that is lights out and makes you wonder how anyone ever gets a hit off of him, and there is the Damaso Marte that could stand on the mound all day and not throw a strike once. There is no middle ground for Marte. He can’t enter a game without his best stuff and battle through to get the job done. Whoever created the old cliché “you either have it or you don’t” was certainly talking about Damaso Marte. When he has it, it’s a thing of beauty. And when he doesn’t, I’d rather watch YouTube videos of the old Stadium getting demolished. We saw Marte No. 2 on Sunday.

When Marte is on, you can land a plane in center field or have the stadium PA system start playing Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption” in the middle of Marte’s windup and it won’t faze him. But when things don’t go according to plan, he gets the look of a lost child in a department store. The key to handling Marte, or at least what I believe to be the key, is to quickly identify which Marte you have on a given day, and then make a decision off that. Don’t leave him out there and hope he finds a rhythm because that isn’t Damaso Marte.

Marte gets behind Abreu 2-0 before walking him on five pitches (all fastballs), as Abreu never takes the bat off his shoulder. Then, after getting ahead of Torii Hunter 0-1, he drills him to put two on with one out and Hideki Matsui due up. At this point, it’s evident that Marte No. 2 is in the game. He has thrown just two strikes in seven pitches and has walked a batter and hit a batter.

The age-old rule that says you have a lefty face a lefty doesn’t apply to Hideki Matsui. Matsui is 4-for-12 (.333) against Marte, but Girardi sticks with him anyways. Marte gets Matsui to hit a grounder to A-Rod and A-Rod steps on third to force Abreu out. Now, Hunter is on second and Matsui is on first with two outs and Kendry Morales due up.

Here are two things we know about the potential matchup of Kendry Morales vs. Damaso Marte at the time:

1. Kendry Morales is hotter than the sun. He is already 2-for-2 with a walk in the game, and in the previous five games he is 10-for-19 (.526) with two home runs and seven RBIs, including the bomb he hit off Joba on Saturday. Girardi’s notes on him should say: DO NOT LET THIS MAN SWING THE BAT. DO NOT GIVE HIM A PITCH TO HIT. WALK HIM. WALK HIM. WALK HIM.

2. Damaso Marte is pitching like Sean Henn. He has walked a batter, hit a batter and was fortunate Matsui wasn’t able to pull back his half-hearted swing and instead induced a ground out. He has thrown nine pitches and six of them have been out of the zone, and one of them nearly put Torii Hunter on the DL. Marte is doing his best to tell Girardi he doesn’t have it, and Girardi seems to finally realize it.

Or so we all thought.

Girardi calls for an intentional walk of Morales with David Robertson warming up to face Juan Rivera. So, Marte throws an intentional ball to Francisco Cervelli. 1-0. Then, for reasons unknown, Girardi changes his mind and decides to have Marte pitch to Morales. Girardi goes against the unwritten rule (maybe Dallas Braden can fill him in on what an unwritten rule is) of going against your first instinct. Girardi had picked “A” and now he had erased it for “B” even though he had his notes right in front of him telling him to choose “A.” The same notes he has based every other decision of his managerial career on.

On the 1-0, pitch Marte misses way outside and Hunter steals third base creating a recipe for disaster given the man on the mound. There are now runners on the corners, Marte has thrown eight of 11 pitches for balls and is behind the Angels’ hottest and arguably best hitter 2-0 with runners on the corners. Hunter just stole third base with Marte not paying attention to him. The “lost child in the department store” look has now taken over his face, and the entire setup of the at-bat and the inning has completely changed on one pitch. Having lost all control of the situation and visibly rattled, Marte misses the outside corner on the 2-0, and is now just one pitch from loading the bases for Rivera, which was the original plan anyways.

At this point, Girardi might as well have intentionally walked Morales. If the idea was to pitch around Morales in the first place, Marte had already done that, getting behind Morales 3-0. If Girardi was originally worried about moving a runner to third base with an intentional walk, he doesn’t have to worry anymore since Hunter stole his way there.

So on the 3-0, Cervelli calls for a pitch to be just outside the zone, but with Marte No. 2 on the mound, he misses his spot completely. When Marte is going like this, he can’t even throw a ball when he needs to and instead throws an 89 mph meatball down the heart of the plate. Morales, sitting patiently and given the green light, unloads on the present from Marte and hammers it over the wall for a three-run bomb to blow the doors open on the Yankees.

Friday night wasn’t as bad since it’s hard to say Girardi shouldn’t have used Joba there, and even if it was statistically wrong to let Morales hit from the left side on Friday, he proved on Sunday that he has no problem dropping bombs from either side. Sunday, however, wasn’t so simple since Girardi telegraphed his initial instinct to intentionally walk Morales and let Robertson face Rivera with two outs. By displaying his original thought to the world, he had already created an alternate ending for a potential disaster. If Plan B failed, Girardi had unlocked the door for second-guessing and criticism. And once it did fail, the media and fans just had to open the door he had unlocked.

So the Yankees lost their first series of the season, and two games in which they led. But the team is 12-6 (statistically have won each series sine the sweep of the Rangers and loss to Angels cancel out), and have the 3-16 Orioles next with Phil Hughes, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett lined up. It’s hard to complain.

I’m just happy the Yankees don’t face the Angels again this season, unless they meet in October, and no games against the Angels means no more Kendry Morales. No more Kendry Morales means less times Joe Girardi has to make a tough decision, and that’s a good thing.