Talk about a heartbreaker. In a must-win game for the Angels that saw the Yankees jump out to a 3-0 lead, the Angels stormed back to win Game 3 of the ALCS 5-4 in the bottom of the 12th on a walk-off double by backup catcher Jeff Mathis.
Not that I ever expected the Yankees to sweep a team as talented as the Angels, but they had a great chance at taking a commanding 3-0 lead, and Joe Girardi flat-out managed the Yankees right out of the game.
Despite four solo home runs, the Yankees' offense mostly continued to slumber, extending their hitless streak with runners in scoring position to 0-19. The Yankees had numerous chances to break the game open in the early going against a shaky Jered Weaver, but the bottom of the order -- Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher and Melky Cabrera -- could not get anything going, batting a collective 2-14 with four strikeouts. Joe Buck actually noted on the broadcast that Cano is apparently batting under .100 from the 7th inning on in his postseason career, which, I don't even know what to say about that. Mark Teixeira also continued to look terrible at the plate, going 0-3 although he did pick up two walks.
It looked like it was going to be all Yankees from the get-go, with Derek Jeter leading the game off with a solo home run, Alex Rodriguez adding a monster blast in the 4th and Johnny Damon pumping a bomb out in the 5th. Andy Pettitte -- who started out the game looking quite good, and whose final stat line was actually pretty much exactly what you'd hope for from your third starter (6 1/3, 7H, 1BB, 2K, 3R) -- unfortunately gave the lead back on a Howie Kendrick solo home run and a Vladimir Guerrero two-run blast an inning later.
Given that the Yankees outside of Jeter and A-Rod seem to have completely forgotten how to hit, as well as the fact that Girardi's once-solid bullpen management went completely out the window, once the Angels tied it up the Yankees were basically done for. The Angels took the lead off Joba Chamberlain, who wasn't fooling anyone, as he gave up a booming double to Kendrick and a long sacrifice fly to Maicer Izturis.
The Yankees incredibly tied it up on a Jorge Posada solo shot, but not before Girardi unfortunately decided to lift Hideki Matsui after a leadoff walk for pinch runner Brett Gardner, who was promptly thrown out at second base on a pitchout. This was the second time in as many games that Girardi's decision to remove Matsui's bat proved costly, and the decision was underscored one-thousand-fold as A-Rod came to the plate in the top of the 10th inning and was intentionally walked despite their being two outs and no runners on. If you're the Angels, why wouldn't you walk A-Rod there, especially when Jerry Hairston (who Girardi questionably pinch-hit for Gardner) is up next? Additionally, in the middle of the crazy 10th inning, Girardi lifted Damon for Hairston in left field, ceding the DH spot and ensuring another weak hitter would come to bat in the two-hole.
So even if the Yankees had managed to stave the Angels off for one more inning, they basically had almost no chance to score any more runs, between a near-teamwide offensive malaise and the fact that the Angels had no reason to ever pitch to A-Rod, who is as locked in as I've ever seen him.
Returning to Girardi's horrendous mismanagement, he correctly pulled Joba in favor of Damaso Marte when it became clear Chamberlain had nothing. Marte actually managed to escape without any damage. Girardi then brought Phil Coke in to face Bobby Abreu who promptly greeted Coke with a booming double, only to bail the Yankees out after abruptly deciding to go back to second while a heads-up Jeter made a nice play to nail him off the bag, despite looking like he could have made it to third base easily. Girardi went to Hughes at this point, who retired the next two men he faced and also tossed a perfect 9th inning. Hughes came back out for the bottom of the 10th and was greeted by a leadoff double from light-hitting Jeff Mathis (it always seems to be the Jeff Mathises of the world that come back to haunt you in the playoffs), prompting Girardi to go to Mariano Rivera in a tie-game with no outs and a runner on second.
I actually approved of this particular move, as I don't believe I've ever seen a manager go to his closer in a tie game on the road. The move paid off in an incredibly exciting inning that featured a throwing error by Mo (shades of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series), and a bases loaded situation in which Mo induced three straight groundouts to first base, preserving the tie.
After the Yankees predictably failed to do anything in the top of the 11th, Girardi then went to Robertson to start the bottom half of the inning, who quickly dispatched the first two batters he faced. It was at this point that Girardi decided to just completely punt the game, pulling Robertson in favor of Alfredo Aceves with Howie Kendrick coming up. Kendrick -- who has the highest batting average against the Yankees of any active player -- probably would have gotten a hit regardless because that's just how Kendrick rolls against the Yankees, but there was absolutely no conceivable reason for Girardi to remove Robertson from the game at this point, especially in favor of Aceves, who looked rusty in Game 2. Kendrick of course ripped a base hit, followed by a walkoff double by Mr.-.267-regular-season-wOBA-himself, Jeff Mathis. That makes three doubles by Jeff Mathis in extra innings this series.
I realize I sound like a melodramatic and spoiled child throughout much of this recap, and I imagine I'll feel a bit less steamed about this loss in the morning, but it's exceptionally frustrating to lose a game like this, especially when the other team's starter is scuffling and spots you a 3-0 lead. Additionally, when your manager misguidedly removes two of the more productive offensive components of a lineup that all of a sudden can't hit its way out of a paper bag with or without runners in scoring position, and mismanages the living crap out of the bullpen -- an area that for much of the season was his strongsuit -- it's hard not to be upset.
If there's a bright side, the Yankees still lead the best-of-seven series 2-1 with the big man pitching tomorrow evening, and I fully expect CC Sabathia to stifle the Angels once again and restore order to the universe.
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