Tuesday night in Detroit, with the game on the line, with the series on the line, with the season on the line, New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi allowed Raul Ibanez to hit against a lefty when Alex Rodriguez was on the bench.
Could you imagine those words being written even three weeks ago, much less six months or a year or two years ago?
That's how far this crazy postseason has come. Let's throw a few numbers out there:
How lefties have hit Phil Coke over his career: .233/.287/.336.
How Raul Ibanez hit lefties this regular season: .197/.246/.246 with zero homers.
Now, you could point out that the last time Ibanez faced a lefty reliever in a huge situation, he homered off Baltimore's Brian Matusz. Thing is, you could take two things from that. One, you could take that Ibanez is some kind of hot and that, lefty or righty on the mound, doesn't matter, not with this version of Raul, so you can throw the past into the dustbin because this is a whole new deal. Or two -- and this is coming from the world's biggest Raul Ibanez fan -- you could take away that Raul got his one homer off a lefty already, and that to hope for that to happen again its to hope for winning the lottery twice.
The larger point is that A-Rod was on the bench. It's hard to imagine what is left for Joe Girardi to do to A-Rod. Make him clean the latrines? Girardi pinch-hit for him in the ninth inning, got the Ibanez homer, and felt empowered by the move (and, perhaps, the good press that came with it) and then pinch-hit for him again the next night. Then he benched A-Rod for a Game 5. Then he pinch-hit for A-Rod down four runs. Then he benched A-Rod again. And finally, in the crescendo, he decided Tuesday night that he would rather take his chances on the remarkable unlikelihood of Ibanez hitting a tough lefty than put A-Rod out there.
Here's what happens if Girardi pinch-hits A-Rod: Jim Leyland pulls Coke. There's no way he allows Coke to face A-Rod there -- heck, as down a year as A-Rod had, he still hit .308/.410/.514 against lefties this year. In the immediate narrative of "A-Rod is done," it's easy to lose sight of the fact that A-Rod has hit a lot of home runs in his life, and Leyland's respect for A-Rod would unquestionably have sparked a bullpen move.
So, he pulls Coke and brings in … who? Joaquin Benoit? Octavio Dotel? Heck, we KNOW the closer, Jose Valverde, wasn't coming in. The Tigers' bullpen is scary bad, this is one of the biggest stories of the postseason, this is something that Joe Girardi must have in his binders* somewhere. The wonderful ol' left-hander, Joe Nuxhall, used to always say on his radio broadcasts: "If you swing the bat, you're dangerous." Well, if you can force Tigers' manager Jim Leyland to open that bullpen gate, you are seriously dangerous.
*No. No binders jokes here.
But … no. Girardi went with his gut or his grudge or something. Hey, I know A-Rod is struggling. I get it. He looks terrible. He's apparently trying to make up for his struggles by trying to pick up women during the game -- and reportedly he's striking out there, too. He's hitting .130 for the postseason with 12 strikeouts in 23 at-bats. He's got Donald Trump beating him up on Twitter. He's got the media and the fans all over him. I get it. And he looks thoroughly beaten, thoroughly embarrassed, his last at-bat on Monday night was like a performance art piece titled: "Man Flailing." I understand.
But, he's hit 647 home runs in his career, 18 of them this year. He has been one of the greatest players who ever lived. He may have ticked off a lot of people because of his bank-bouncing contract, but he didn't get that contract because of his personality, he got it because of his sheer and utter awesomeness.
He's not as awesome now. He's older, his bat's slower, his body's more beaten up and I suspect his mental health at the moment isn't too great. So, when Girardi pinch-hits for A-Rod, people nod (especially when Ibanez hits the homer). When Girardi benches A-Rod people nod. When Girardi benches A-Rod again -- this time for Eric Chavez, who is now 0-for-14 in the series, by the way -- many people continue to nod. Seriously: Who is going to stand up for Alex Rodriguez?
But this … having Raul Ibanez hit against a lefty instead of sending A-Rod up there in the ninth with the hope that he might find his strength and do something he has done 660 times in his career (including postseason play)? This, it seems to me, is putting your own rancor or bizarre intuition or point-proving gene ahead of trying to give your wounded team its best chance of winning.
The Yankees will have to figure out what to do with A-Rod and his $114 million contract when this season ends, and I suspect that will not be an easy thing to figure out. For now, it seems obvious to me, they should have at least tried to squeeze another big home run out of him.