Second-guessing game popular in ALCS

October 25, 2009

By David Borges, New Haven Register

NEW YORK, N.Y. -- With scheduled off days and Saturday's unscheduled off day courtesy of heavy rain the second guessing game has been at least as prevalent as the actual games on the field so far in the American League championship series.

Both Yankees manager Joe Girardi and Angels skipper Mike Scioscia have been heavily criticized for some of their maneuvers. Scioscia was lambasted for taking out ace John Lackey in the midst of a shutout performance in Game 5. Girardi has gotten pilloried for replacing David Robertson with Alfredo Aceves in Game 3, and for pinch-running for Alex Rodriguez in Game 5, among other moves. Without question, there will be plenty who disagree with his decision to start Andy Pettitte in tonight's slated Game 6, rather than ace CC Sabathia on full rest.

Is it fair?

"This game's not fair," Yankees pitcher A.J. Burnett said, with a shrug. "This game is (about) failure. But, if the tables get turned and (the manager's decision) works out, then nothing's said."

Case in point: Despite Scioscia's apparent quick hook of Lackey on Thursday, the Angels still won the game, sparing the manager of even more scorn. On the flip side, Aceves immediately served up the go-ahead runs in Game 3, and Girardi was completely blamed for the loss in many quarters.

"As I've said all along, every move is not going to work out. That's the bottom line," Girardi said. "That's the human element of it. You prepare yourself for moves to work out. We've had a lot of moves work out this year, but we've had moves that haven't worked out. And that's why we haven't won every game."

Girardi understands the drill in New York. He played here for four seasons (1996-99), on three World Series champions, served as Joe Torre's bench coach in 2005 and is now in his second season at the Yankees' helm.

"You're under a microscope, and you understand that being here," Girardi said. "You understand it, to a certain degree, as a player. You understand it, to a certain degree, when you watch as a coach as you're working under Joe Torre. And you understand a lot better when you're actually sitting in that chair."

Scioscia can relate, even if the media scrutiny is hardly as intense in Anaheim as it is in Gotham. In 2002, Scioscia went to lefty reliever Scot Schoenweis -- rather than ace closer Troy Percival -- against the Yankees in the eighth inning of Game 1 of the ALDS, his first postseason game as a manager.

The move backfired, and Scioscia took the brunt. To this day, he says he's at peace with the decision, and figures Girardi is likely equally at peace with his moves.

"There's not a guy in this room, there's not a guy around that knows the Yankee team better than Joe Girardi," Scioscia said. "I think ... there can't be anybody around that knows the team better than I do or our staff does. So you make decisions along those lines and you have to live with them."

It all makes for great fodder on sports talk radio, the Internet, barroom conversations and the like.

"I think it's great baseball discussion," Scioscia said. "I'll talk baseball all day long. We've had a season where, I think, a lot of our decisions are just the fruits of great baseball talk."

Burnett was the subject of yet another Girardi move that's been heavily second-guessed. After sitting for 25 minutes while the Yankees scored six runs to take the lead in the top of the seventh inning Thursday night, Burnett was sent back out to start the bottom of the inning. He couldn't get the first two batters out and ... well, here we are for Game 6.

"Man, all I know is you've got two wellrespected managers going at it right here," Burnett said. "At any time in the game, they're going to go with their gut feeling. If it works out, everybody's happy. If it doesn't, everybody questions it."

Welcome to the postseason in New York, A.J. And you too, Nick Swisher, who's hitting all of .103 (3-for-29) in his first foray into the playoffs with the Yankees. Girardi had him back in the starting lineup Saturday and, presumably, will have him there again tonight -- a move that's sure to irk plenty of Yankees fans and be questioned by the media.

"I'm not a guy that watches the news," the always-effervescent Swisher said. "There's just so much negativity. People want to stir things up a little bit. But you know what? The great thing about this is, once everybody gets out (of the clubhouse), it's just us as a team, and no one can get in on that. That's the great thing about this team."