Given a night of restless sleep — and after perhaps letting an excoriation from the news media (including from commentators on the YES Network, which is partly owned by the Yankees) sink in — Girardi ventured to the Bronx on Saturday, disassembled his standard defensive armor and offered up something unusual: a mea culpa.
“I screwed up,” he said.
“In hindsight, yeah,” he added. “I wish I would have challenged it.”
“Again, I screwed up,” he went on. “And it’s hard. It’s a hard day for me.”
In his decade as manager of the Yankees, Girardi has probably offered fewer such apologies than the number of pitching changes he made on Friday night. Typically, questions to him that call for self-reflection are dealt with dismissively. On Saturday, he responded with something approaching humility.
When he was asked near the end of Saturday’s 12-minute news conference if this mistake would be hard for him to forget, Girardi said: “Let’s just see what happens tomorrow and as we move forward. That will probably determine the severity of it.”
If the replay fiasco indeed becomes the epitaph for this Yankees season, it will be the latest once-a-decade, mistake-by-the-lake moment the team has endured in Cleveland, which happens to be the ancestral home of the Steinbrenners, the team’s owners.
The nonreview would be a fitting accompaniment to Mariano Rivera’s surrendering the only road playoff home run of his career — to Sandy Alomar Jr., with the Yankees four outs from clinching a 1997 division series — and to the swarm of midges that befuddled pitcher Joba Chamberlain and unspooled the Yankees in a 2007 series loss.
That last playoff defeat here a decade ago turned out to seal the end for Manager Joe Torre, whose forced departure after the season paved the way for Girardi’s entrance.
Though the current ownership, led by Hal Steinbrenner, is more deliberate, questions will nevertheless be invited about Girardi, whose contract expires after this season — including, apparently, from inside his own clubhouse. Early Saturday morning, reliever Aroldis Chapman’s Instagram account liked a fan’s post expressing hope that the Yankees would not renew Girardi’s contract, calling the manager “a complete imbecile.”
(A Yankees spokesman, Jason Zillo, said Chapman had accidentally liked the post and had apologized to Girardi.)
Girardi had a number of other moves backfire on Friday night — lifting C. C. Sabathia after only 77 pitches, leaning too heavily on the relievers Chad Green and David Robertson, and using Ronald Torreyes as a pinch-runner and then watching him be picked off second base. But when Girardi walked into a news conference immediately after the loss, he struck a tone far different from the one he used on Saturday.
Instead of acknowledging that he had slipped on a banana peel, he offered explanations.
Girardi ignored that Green — one of baseball’s best at avoiding bats — did not appear typically untouchable after throwing 42 pitches in the Yankees’ wild-card win on Tuesday. He had allowed eight two-strike pitches to be fouled off before Lindor’s home run. Instead, Girardi clung to Green’s “success” against Lindor, who had walked twice and struck out twice previously against Green.
It was his response to questions about the replay, though, that sounded especially hollow.
“My thought is I never want to break a pitcher’s rhythm,” Girardi said. “That’s how I think about it. So if it’s not something — there was nothing that said he was not hit.”
That’s not quite accurate. Catcher Gary Sanchez told Girardi immediately that he heard the ball hit Chisenhall’s bat. Players in the Yankees dugout noticed that Chisenhall never flinched. “When there wasn’t a reaction from the hitter, I was yelling that it didn’t hit him,” designated hitter Chase Headley said.
When it comes to challenging umpire’s calls, managers generally view their players’ pleadings with a skeptic’s eye: Trust but verify.
Weber, the coaching assistant who walked away from a job as a stock analyst, has consistently rewarded Girardi’s faith.
When he sees something on one of the two flat-panel monitors, which can carry as many as 15 different camera angles, Weber picks up a phone and calls the dugout. The bench coach Rob Thomson answers and relays what Weber says to Girardi, who will signal to umpires whether he wants to challenge a call. Teams are allotted 30 seconds to make a decision.
Since replay was instituted for the 2014 season, nobody has been more efficient than Weber. The Yankees have had the highest percentage of calls overturned in three of the four seasons. The exception was in 2016, when they were second. The Yankees won 29 of 41 challenges this season.
“Webby is usually right on,” Girardi said in an interview last year. “I don’t even run back and look, and I could run back and look in our clubhouse. I trust him with anything.”
But on Friday night, Girardi said, Weber was not immediately provided with the same slow-motion replay that TV viewers saw, which showed the ball hitting the knob of Chisenhall’s bat and deflecting into the glove of Sanchez. If the call had been overturned, the pitch would have been a third strike and the final out of the inning, depriving Lindor of his bases-loaded at-bat.
(Weber said after the game that he wanted to comment but had been instructed not to.)
Girardi said he was told that Weber had found the replays available to him inconclusive. The manager had to decide whether to make a challenge anyway. It was unclear whether Girardi understood that, unlike in the regular season, he had two challenges instead of one. And beginning in the eighth inning, managers can always ask the crew chief to initiate a review.
“Now, knowing that I had two challenges, in hindsight, yeah, I wish I would have challenged it,” Girardi said on Saturday, almost as an aside.
It was a startling admission from a manager who takes great pride in being fastidiously prepared and always in search of an edge. How could a man who gives no quarter give away a golden ticket?