For two days, Yankees manager Joe Girardi deflected questions about moving third baseman Alex Rodriguez down in the batting order for last night’s Game 3 of the ALDS vs. Baltimore due to A-Rod’s recent struggles.
Girardi explained his decision to keep A-Rod near the top of the lineup by saying trust was a major piece of the Yankees’ success. He reiterated how important it is for him to trust his players and that his players trust him. And after Wednesday night, his players have multiple reasons to trust their skipper.
Two moves the manager made in the Yankees’ 12-inning comeback win over the Orioles give fans, media, and most importantly, his players plenty of reasons to trust the fifth-year manager.
The most notable move was pinch-hitting for Rodriguez with the game on the line in bottom of the ninth inning as the Yankees trailed, 3-2. Girardi called on 40-year-old Raul Ibanez to pinch-hit for Rodriguez. The two players’ history together goes back to Appleton Foxes of the Midwest League in 1994. Ibanez, a 36th-round draft pick of Seattle out of Miami, spent much of his time in the minors behind the plate. His was a slow climb through the minors to the big leagues. Rodriguez, a No. 1 overall selection by Seattle out of Miami in 1993, was on a fast track to the bigs, making his debut in 1994.
But on October 10, 2012, Girardi had more faith in the lefty Ibanez against the Orioles’ premier closer Jim Johnson. And Ibanez rewarded his manager, not once, but twice. His solo home run in the ninth inning sent the game into extra frames. Ibanez, making just $1.1 million this season with no 2013 contract, came up again leading off the 12th inning off tough young lefthander Brian Matusz. Ibanez sent another pitch into the right field seats for a walk-off winner.
The other decision Girardi made? It may be meaningless, but Derek Jeter was not on the field for the final 12 outs. After fouling a pitch off his foot early in the game, Jeter was noticeably limping after singling in the sixth. Girardi called on Jayson Nix to play shortstop in the ninth inning. Last night, the defensive replacement was most likely due to an ailing Jeter. But the door is open for Girardi to replace the future Hall of Famer on defense late in games. Will a healthy Jeter be replaced later this postseason? Maybe not, but Girardi has earned some trust among all his players should he pull the trigger and pull Jeter late in games.
Has Posada earned the right to decide when to play?
Jorge Posada is batting .165. He’s a DH. Of the 13 DHs in the American League with enough plate appearances to qualify, he’s 13th in average and on-base, 10th in slugging and 12th in OPS. Has he earned the respect of fans and teammates? Absolutely. Has he earned the right to be given the benefit of a doubt by his manager? I think so. Does Posada deserve for his manager to come and talk to him about his role? Yes. But should Posada expect to determine his own place in the batting order? No way.
Judging by his reception when announced as a pinch hitter the other night, Yankee fans are obviously proud of what Posada has done for the past 15 years. And they should be. He’s earned that.
But Joe Girardi is paid to give his team the best opportunity to win the American League East division. It’s a tough division, and the Yankees can’t afford to give away games. This team needs more from its DH than a .165 batting average.
I understand that Girardi has few options right now. With Eric Chavez injured and Andruw Jones hitting a whopping .220, it’s not like he has a clear decision. But the point is that the Yankees lineup is Girardi’s decision.
About this time last season, there was an aging DH in the American League whose average had dropped to .200. He was benched, and over the last 20 days of May, he had just 21 plate appearances. That was future Hall of Famer Ken Griffey, who recognized his role, didn’t complain and soon retired.
Now I’m not suggesting that it’s time for Posada to retire. He seems to have a fire that Griffey had lost by the time he returned to Seattle, not to mention better skills at this point. Clearly, what Posada has accomplished for the Yankees since 1997 has earned him a special place in the game. But it has not earned him the right to decide when and where he plays.