Girardi’s gambles don’t pay off in Game 3

Repeat after the Yankees, who remind us they’re still in control of the AL Championship Series and that, no matter how tempting it was to think of sweeping the Angels right out of the playoffs, that fantasy was never going to become a reality.

All true, all perfectly logical. So why did Game 3 on Monday feel like a wasted opportunity for the Bombers? How did Joe Girardi allow himself to be worked into a frenzy, over-managing at every turn?

The otherwise intelligent skipper seems to have gone overboard this month, already making 29 pitching changes in the Yankees’ six postseason games. And while it’s hard to argue with the results so far, Girardi’s obsession with numbers finally cost him in the Yankees’ 5-4 loss to the Angels.

For once, Alex Rodriguez wasn’t able to bail out Girardi, which left the manager open to second-guessing after he pulled David Robertson in the 11th with the bases empty and the score tied, 4-4. Robertson had dominated both Juan Rivera and Kendry Morales for the first two outs, but that didn’t stop Girardi from working the books — his head was literally buried in pages of stats before summoning Alfredo Aceves, the eighth Yankee pitcher of the day.

To say the decision backfired is putting it mildly: Howie Kendrick promptly singled and Jeff Mathis ended the game with a long double to left-center. Girardi later said, “We felt (Aceves-Kendrick and Aceves-Mathis) was a better matchup for us” but in light of how the 11th inning fell apart, the manager was forced to admit, “it didn’t work.”

That set off the kind of party only the Yankees have been throwing in this series. Suddenly, it was the Angels mobbing Mathis, rushing from their dugout to second base — a helmet-pounding, back-slapping way of saying thank you for tightening up this series.

If you were looking for drama between these two AL giants, Tuesday’s Game 4 might just be a fountain of it. CC Sabathia takes the mound on three days’ rest, backed up by a relief corps that, while not depleted, was certainly stressed in Games 2 and 3.

Johnny Damon spoke to the Yankees’ concern over letting the Angels off the mat, saying, “Momentum can definitely swing in the playoffs, and hopefully we can do something about it (tonight).”

Of course, no one in the Angels clubhouse disagreed with the idea of a momentum shift. While it’s true the Yankees still have the upper hand — they know how much the Angels hate playing in New York in late October — Anaheim has a chance to deliver a critical message tonight if Scott Kazmir can out-perform Sabathia.

“I mean, it was huge,” Kendrick said of the come-from-behind victory, which began with a 3-0 deficit in the fifth inning. Until that point, the Yankees were methodically rolling over the Angels, getting home runs from Derek Jeter, A-Rod and Johnny Damon off Jered Weaver.

The venue was different and the weather was certainly more humane, but nothing else had changed between these two teams; the Yankees were sending the Angels to an embarrassing fast exit to the offseason.

But then Kendrick homered off Pettitte in the bottom of the fifth and with one out in the sixth, Bobby Abreu singled to right. Pettitte took a deep breath and got Torii Hunter to fly out. With two down and a two-run lead, it seemed the lefthander was again in control, yet Girardi sprinted to the mound for an impromptu strategy session,.

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Why Girardi would feel the need to interrupt Pettitte, a 14-year veteran, was puzzling, if not inexplicable. “Joe likes to stay on top of things,” is all Pettitte would say about the mound conference.

Whatever advice Girardi offered turned to poison, as Vlad Guerrero hit Pettitte’s next pitch over the left field wall, tying the game at 3-3. While both sides hunkered down into another thrilling, extra-inning game, the Yankees’ invincibility had suddenly vanished.

With the playing field now equal, it became a battle between the managers and how they moved their chess pieces. Mike Scioscia characteristically played to his hunches, breaking with conventional wisdom in the ninth inning when he intentionally walked A-Rod with the bases empty.

The score was tied and Scioscia knew what the purists would say about putting the winning run on base. But with Jerry Hairston next, was there really any choice?

The same went for Scioscia’s decision to run the table with Mathis in the 10th inning, opting not to remove his slow-moving catcher for a pinch-runner after he’d led off with a double. Sure, the Angels might’ve squeezed a run across the plate when a faster runner, replacing Mathis, could’ve scored from third on Torii Hunter’s slow roller to first.

But Scioscia ran the table with Mathis’ bat, banking on a second chance in the 11th. He was rewarded with Mathis’ game-winning double to left-center.

Girardi, by contrast, was forced to seek consolation from his scouting reports, reminding reporters, and perhaps himself, that Aceves was the more logical choice when the game was on the line.

Maybe he was, but Girardi’s rigid adherence to matchups and data speaks to his strengths — and weaknesses — as a manager. He’s obviously hard-working, well-prepared and stable. The Yankees know their manager has a well thought-out reason for his every decision, each one backed by statistics.

But in a close series, the gift of intuition — which is another word for guts — can make a difference. Scioscia is smart enough to know his Angels have a long way to go to pull off an upset. But his hunch is the Angels aren’t dead yet.

We’ll know soon enough how good his ESP really is.

Bob Klapisch can be followed on Twitter.