Cumberland Times-News

Mike Burke - Sports

April 11, 2014

Then again, he’s manager of the Yankees, and I’m not

I went to bed confused Wednesday night, which in itself is nothing new. But having

watched most of the Orioles-Yankees game, including the final three innings, earlier

in the evening, then watching the late Baseball Tonight before I turned in, I was under the impression that the Yankees had won the game when I was pretty sure before watching the show that the Orioles had won.

Masahiro Tanaka, the Japanese right-hander who signed a $155 million contract

with the Yankees in the offseason, made his Yankee Stadium debut and, based on the ESPN coverage, one could have easily been under the impression that Babe Ruth had come back to the twiceremoved house that he built to pitch a few innings himself. Frankly, I’d have been more impressed if Professor Toru Tanaka had shown up to Yankee Stadium to pitch.

After a good five minutes of swooning over the masterful pitching of Tanaka, the highlights guy and the anchor finally did get around to, “Oh, yeah, here’s Jonathan Schoop hitting one to Parsippany Township, New Jersey. Orioles win, 5-4.”

But how about that Tanaka?

It’s moments like this when even I root for Fox Sports 1, a division of Fox News no less, to be successful.

Truthfully, it does look as though Tanaka could be a first-rate pitcher for the  Yankees, as for the second straight start his stuff seemed to get better the longer he pitched. So good for him and good for Baseball Tonight, which remains the only nondocumentary show on ESPN worth watching.

Having said that, given said solid performance by Tanaka and given the comeback the Yankees made to tie the score after Tanaka put them in a 3-0 hole, I really felt the Orioles got a break when Yankees manager Joe Girardi took the bat out of  Derek Jeter’s hands in the bottom of the eighth inning.

With the score tied, the Yankees’ Brett Gardner led off the bottom of the eighth with a double to bring up Jeter, a first-ballot Hall of Famer and one of the best  opposite-field hitters in the past 20 years.

With nobody out, Jeter put down the sacrifice and successfully moved Gardner over

to third with one out. Orioles reliever Brian Matusz then got Jacoby Ellsbury to pop out to third and, after intentionally walking Carlos Beltran, got Brian McCann to fly out to center to end the inning and the threat.

The Orioles, in turn, rallied for two runs in the ninth, then held off a Yankees rally in the bottom half to win it.

This is not to second-guess Girardi, a man who has played on and managed a  combined four World Series champions. But with a runner on second with nobody out I can’t think of anything in the world that would induce me to take the bat out of Derek Jeter’s hands. Granted, I am a disciple of Earl Weaver, who lived by the words, “They only give me 27 outs, I’ll be damned if I’m going to give any back,”

but I do believe there are certain circumstances and certain players made for the sacrifice bunt. Derek Jeter with a runner on second and nobody out in the bottom of the eighth of a tie game is not one of them.

Jeter still gets his hands through the hitting zone as well as anybody does. Why not

have him shoot the ball to the right side of the infield? If the ball doesn’t get through, you still move the runner to third. But if the ball does get through you’ve got, at the very least, a single and possibly a run, and, still with nobody out, the makings of a big inning. Who knows?

You might even have a double in the corner, or maybe Jeffrey Maier is prowling the right-field stands again, although with replay now in effect that miserable dog won’t ever hunt again.

Oddly enough, the Orioles came through the following half-inning with their two runs after Schoop, for the second day in a row, couldn’t get a bunt down in the very

same circumstance.

It’s all subjective, of course, which is what makes baseball the greatest game of them all. And, frankly, the only questioning of Girardi’s tactics that I’ve heard is the  one we’re hearing here now. But as Weaver always said of the small-ball tactics employed by his managerial rival Gene Mauch, “Play for one (bleeping) run, lose by one (bleeping) run.”

On Wednesday, after their rookie infielder couldn’t get a bunt down, the Orioles scored two runs in the top of the ninth. The Yankees, whose sure-thing Hall of Famer did get the bunt down, lost by one (bleeping) run.

Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at mburke@times-news.com

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