The baseball gods did not answer the Yankees’ last prayer Friday night at Comerica Park in the Motor City, which basically was a plead for plate umpire Vic Carapazza to call a strike a strike and let last-man-in-from-the-bullpen Justin Wilson take a bow for saving what should have been a 10-inning win over the Tigers.
Wilson had Robbie Grossman struck out on a 2-2 pitch in the 10th with a runner on third, two down and the Yankees up a run. The elevated 92-mph fastball definitely nicked the outside corner. The pitch probably looked like a strike to everyone except to the fellow leaning in behind Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez, then YES Network’s virtual strike zone confirmed it was a strike.
“I thought I made a pitch, it didn’t get called,” Wilson said. “It’s part of the game. You move on and throw the next pitch.”
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The next pitch was a belt-high fastball that split the strike zone, Grossman hit it out to left for a two-run walk-off homer and the Yanks wound up 3-2 losers.
You can blame the plate umpire if you wish. Carapazza had a brutal night. In the third inning, he awarded Gio Urshela a walk on ball three that the Tigers and the other umps amazingly didn’t catch.
You also can fault Wilson for the gopher-ball pitch that blew the game, which added another miserable chapter to what’s been a terrible return season to the Yankees. The man has had a nice career, but his 2021 from spring training on has been a living nightmare. His ERA after 15 outings is 6.08.
But here’s the deal, Wilson should not have been in that game. Actually, anyone other than the Yankees’ most-hittable reliever should have been on the mound closing out the Tigers, whose lineup isn’t much better than a lot of the ones in Triple-A.
Boone did have other options in the Yankees’ nine-man bullpen, better options even with bullpen pieces Wandy Peralta, Chad Green and Aroldis Chapman already used.
You wanted Chapman to come back out for the 10th after his labor-free, 14-pitch ninth?
“No, no, not today,” Boone said. “I don’t know if I’m ready to go two innings with him yet.”
Boone isn’t at fault there. Chapman was just sick for two days and unavailable for Thursday’s doubleheader, so this definitely was not the time for two innings, which would have been a regular-season first for the lefty with Boone managing.
You wanted Jonathan Loaisiga?
“He was down today,” Boone said. That meant the Yankees committed to not using the standout righty, and we’ll give Boone a pass there, too. Loaisiga threw 27 pitches working 1 1/3 innings in Thursday’s Game 1.
Whether or not you understand or agree with this strategy, the Yankees are going to do what they think is the best way to protect the health of their pitchers. They definitely will not extend Chapman in late May, and they definitely won’t push it with Loaisiga, who had a history of arm problems before emerging last season as a multi-inning relief horse who keeps getting better and better.
The Yankees also probably wanted to stay away from lefty Lucas Luetge, who threw 24 pitches working 1 1/3 innings in Thursday’s Game 2. Old-school relievers like Goose Gossage probably would fall over laughing that a healthy big-league pitcher gets a blow after making a 24-pitch relief appearance the night after a rainout, but that’s Major League Baseball for every team in 2021. So it is what it is.
And so, Boone had to choose between Michael King, who probably will start Sunday in Detroit, erratic-but-effective rookie Albert Abreu, middle reliever Luis Cessa or the struggling Wilson.
Of those choices, all of them make sense except for Wilson, whose all-important fastball life has been AWOL during most of his outings because his delivery needs fixing. The guy was a mess in spring training even before his shoulder tightness, and he’s rarely looked good after starting the year on the IL.
King should have been an option. You hear managers say all the time, “Win today and worry about tomorrow tomorrow,” or in this case “Win today and worry about Sunday on Sunday.”
Abreu? He’s been better than Wilson.
Cessa? That was the right choice. His 3.32 ERA is about half of Wilson’s.
Here’s another reason Boone should have gone to King, Abreu or Cessa over Wilson. They’re all righties. If Boone looked at the Grossman’s hitting splits, he’d have seen that the switch-hitter went into the game batting .304 against lefties and .227 against righties.
Maybe Grossman getting two knocks batting left-handed against Gerrit Cole earlier in the game made Boone think Wilson was a better matchup on this particular night. And, Wilson did have Grossman struck out.
“Sometimes they’re called, sometimes they’re not,” Wilson said.
And sometimes the right manager decision is avoiding at all costs giving your worst pitcher an opportunity to blow the game.
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