On Monday, Joe Girardi got killed for his decision to remove a pitcher from the game. Apparently he took that criticism to heart because he decided to stick with A.J. Burnett entering the seventh inning of Game 5 in Anaheim. Unfortunately for Girardi, that decision worked out just as poorly, and the Angels scored three runs in the frame to earn a 7-6 win and a chance to keep playing baseball this year.
The problem with keeping Burnett in the game is less cut and dry than the mistake Girardi made when he removed David Robertson for Alfredo Aceves in Game 3. The Yankee starter was awful out of the gate, he gave up four runs in the first inning, but had settled down and shut out the Angels over the next five. That kept the Yankees close enough to erupt against John Lackey and the Angels bullpen in the top of the seventh. The Yankees scored six times after Mike Scioscia lifted Lackey with two outs, a move that looked for a brief moment like it would dominate the headlines.
But then came the bottom of the inning. Keeping Burnett in the game, as he'd thrown 80 pitches and been pretty good after the first, may not have been an awful decision on its face, but it's hard to understand why you'd stay with a tiring pitcher prone to wildness over Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera when you're nine outs away from the World Series. Especially when you pulled Andy Pettitte in the midst of a better performance in Game 3 of the ALDS because you were going for the kill, i.e. the same exact situation as Girardi found himself in on Thursday. And even if you do decide to stay with Burnett, he should absolutely have been out of the game when Jeff Mathis, who has looked like Reggie Jackson in this series, singled to lead the inning off.
Because of how badly Hughes pitched when he finally got in the game in the seventh inning, it's easy to write off Girardi's decision. Hughes walked Torii Hunter and then made an epically bad pitch to Vladimir Guerrero when he was ahead in the count to give up the tying and winning runs. Maybe he does the same thing if he starts the seventh, but it was hard to watch the late innings play out and feel that Girardi forced the Angels to beat his team with his best available pitchers on the mound.
The aggravating thing about Girardi is that you can understand the rationale for many of his decisions, even pinch running for Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui in the bottom of the ninth even though it meant that Freddy Guzman and Brett Gardner would be hitting in the middle of your lineup in a tie game during the extra innings, and hate them at the same time. The only common thread seems to be that they serve to insert Girardi into the middle of situations where it would probably suffice to just put his best players on the field and let it go from there. He's not as important as the players doing the playing, especially when Hughes and Burnett screw up the way they did on Thursday, but often seems to want everyone to think that he is.
It's a disturbing trend, and one that will be under its most intense microscope when these two teams renew acquaintances Saturday night.