Go ahead and run down the possibilities. Had Girardi simply allowed Joba Chamberlain to start the eighth inning, he may not have needed Phil Hughes until the ninth.
Had Girardi allowed Hughes to close out the eighth inning instead of calling on Mariano Rivera, he may have been able to tab Rivera for the 11th. Had Girardi used his bullpen at all differently, in fact, he may have been able to watch something other than Alfredo Aceves walking the leadoff batter in the 11th.
It continues. Had Aceves not walked the leadoff batter that inning, Alex Rodriguez's home run would have won the game instead of tied it. And Girardi would not have had to turn back to Aceves, and to Damaso Marte and the eventual bullpen hero, David Robertson.
Got all that?
Question Girardi's bullpen machinations if you will. It's fair game. But the end result, regardless, was a 4-3 victory over the Angels in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. And there's no changing that.
"In your mind, you can't necessarily say, 'I think this game is going to go 19 innings,'" Girardi said. "We tried to win in nine innings, and then the 10th and then the 11th."
And then the 12th and then the 13th, when the Angels finally handed the Yankees the victory in question. The second-year Yankees manager can't worry about how he used his bullpen, for the simple reason that almost every string Girardi pulled turned out to be the right one.
PENNING THE PERFECT ENDING
|A. J. Burnett||6 1/3||114||3||2||2||4|
|M. Rivera||2 1/3||25||1||0||0||2|
|A. Aceves||1 1/3||24||1||1||2||0|
|D. Robertson||1 1/3||33||1||0||2||1|
Many managers would attempt to stretch out relievers in extra-inning games, knowing that their bullpens might otherwise quickly grow thin. But Girardi, leaning on the safety net of a fully-rested Chad Gaudin at the back of his 'pen, made such unconventional moves as having Chamberlain record only one out, as well as spending Marte for a lone out in the 12th.
Aceves was the only one to allow a run, serving up a Chone Figgins RBI double in the 11th before Rodriguez tied things up again moments later. Everyone else was nearly flawless.
"It's kind of snowballed through the whole season down there," Hughes said. "We've come in a lot of big situations and gotten some big outs."
The one player with whom Girardi did not show a quick hook was Rivera, who relieved Hughes in the eighth and fired 2 1/3 scoreless innings. Needing just 25 pitches to do it, Rivera completed more than two innings for the first time since May 30, 2006, in Detroit. The last time he did so in the postseason was Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, when Rivera threw 48 pitches over three innings, ultimately walking off a winner on Aaron Boone's decisive home run in the 11th inning.
"A win is a win," Rivera said. "But when you win like this, it shows a lot of character. A lot of heart. A lot of determination. And that's what we have."
Girardi's strategies all became relevant in large part because starter A.J. Burnett, for everything he did give the Yankees, did not give them length. Displaying his trademark wildness -- sometimes effective wildness, sometimes not so much -- Burnett walked two batters, hit another two and threw a costly wild pitch in his 6 1/3 innings.
With the bases loaded, one run already in and Vladimir Guerrero batting in the fifth, Burnett sent a pitch skipping past Jose Molina, who started the game at catcher due to his ability to handle Burnett. Instead, Erick Aybar scooted home with the tying run.
Then again, the damage could have -- and perhaps should have -- been worse. Moments before his wild pitch, Burnett sent a low fastball ricocheting off the dirt and into the stands, where umpires ruled it a dead ball. Had it instead flown inches to the left, it would have hit the protective netting behind home plate, likely allowing Aybar to score and Figgins to move to third, where he could have scored on the wild pitch.
When Burnett did throw strikes, he was sensational. As usual. With a fastball that darted in and out of the zone and a curveball that buckled knees, Burnett managed to strike out four, allow just three hits and -- here's the important part -- hold the Angels to two runs in his 6 1/3 innings.
"That's our plan," Burnett said. "Try to keep these guys in the game as long as we can."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less