And though they wouldn’t admit it in so many words (and there’s no guarantee you’ll even have to worry about it) I think that, deep down, faced with the prospect of an ALCS match up with Boston, everyone in the organization would much prefer to play the first two games in Yankee Stadium.
So on the whole, I do think the Yankees want to win the division, and they’re going to make every effort within reason to do that. And that’s really the qualifier here, because you want to strike a balance between playing to win now and optimizing your team for the postseason. Nick Swisher‘s elbow is uncomfortable? By all means, keep him out of the lineup until it feels better. Thinking of giving A-Rod a day off to avoid pushing his knee too hard? Not going to get any argument out of me. Rafael Soriano, David Robertson, or Mariano Rivera have pitched two games in a row? Don’t you dare think of even warming them up.
Not everyone agrees with that, of course, and it’s not hard to see why. A lot of fans don’t like the idea that the team isn’t trying to win every game. They don’t want to watch lineups that don’t have A-Rod or Swisher or Curtis Granderson in them. And writers don’t like it either. It makes life exceedingly dull for the beat guys, and coupled with the monotony of September call ups I don’t know how they make it through the month. And the rest of us would certainly much prefer to see an all-out race to the finish line between the two best teams in the American League. But those concerns notwithstanding, given the current structure of the postseason, it would be flat out irresponsible for Joe Girardi and the Yankees’ brain trust to do that.
And that brings me to last night. Now, there’s no two ways around it; it felt like Joe Girardi conceded that game in the bottom of the 9th. Through 8 innings, everything was going pretty well. Bartolo Colon pitched seven strong innings, and then D-Rob came in for the 8th. The offense struggled, to put it mildly, but the A-lineup was on the field (minus the aching Swisher, anyway), and they were facing a locked in Jered Weaver, so what are you going to do? But the wheels fell off the boat in the 9th inning.
It started when Girardi decided to pinch run Eduardo Nunez for A-Rod after Alex worked a walk. That drew a lot of ire, but I can’t say I really mind that sort of decision. Yes, you’re taking a superior bat out of the lineup if the game goes into extra innings, but when you’re on the road I think playing aggressively for the lead is acceptable. After all, A-Rod’s spot in the order never got back to the plate, so it was all immaterial. But allowing Nunez to attempt a steal on an 0-2 count against the Angels? Just dumb. Everyone knew a pitch out was coming in that spot. Well, everyone but Girardi and/or Nunez, anyway.
But the bottom of the ninth is what really irritated me. I mean…Aaron Laffey? Really? Not wanting to overwork Mariano is one thing, but does anyone think Mo wasn’t coming into the game if Nunez had scored? If he was available to pitch, he should have pitched. It’s that simple. If nothing else, he should have come into the game when Laffey was pulled, but instead we got Luis Ayala. Yippee. Hooray for waiting for save situations that never come!
But in any event, I don’t think last night was evidence that the Yankees aren’t trying to win or don’t care if they win or lose, it was just a mix of bad luck and some bad decisions. It’s frustrating, but it happens. And hey, I’d much rather lose that game than the one Boston lost.