Using Mariano Rivera in an extra-inning game
Over the weekend, in the second game of their three-game set with the Blue Jays, the Yankees were stuck in an extra-inning affair. Tied in the 14th inning and after already having used Dave Roberton, Joba Chamberlain, Damaso Marte, and Chan Ho Park (for two innings), rather than use Mariano Rivera, the best reliever in their bullpen, Joe Girardi opted to go with the lesser Chad Gaudin, a pitcher that has not had a hitless outing since April 28. Gaudin subsequently gave up the game-winning hit to Aaron Hill, as the Blue Jays walked off with a 3-2 victory. After the game, Girardi was quoted saying that he was saving Rivera for a lead, and would feel uncomfortable using him otherwise. “We told him if we take the lead, he’s in the game. He was definitely available,” said Girardi. So, the Yankees lost an extra-inning game without deploying their best bullpen arm.
Now, I wonder, should Girardi have used Rivera instead of Gaudin in the bottom of the 14th inning? I think it is a difficult question to answer given that baseball has a certain set of norms – you save your closer for saves being one of them – that such a move would buck. However, norms aside, I lean towards the thought that, yes, Girardi should have used Rivera in that particular situation. My reasoning is that, if Rivera comes in and sets down Encarnacion, Lewis, and Hill, then the Yankees would have had Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter, and Nick Swisher up in the top of the 15th. That is as strong a group as any, and they could very well have given the Yankees the lead, had they been given the opportunity. The trio would have likely faced Rommie Lewis, the rookie left-hander who Cito Gaston had warming in the bullpen (I honestly think Gaston probably would have used Lewis to face all three hitters given that there was little else left for him in the Toronto ‘pen). The Yankees would have sent three veteran hitters – the top of their order – to face off against a rookie southpaw. If Rivera had been used in the 14th, it might have been a different ballgame. Instead, he was never used because Girardi was saving him for a save that never came.
In view of the situation, I think it would have been wise to use Rivera there. No one would have argued with the move, and if Rivera set down the side in the 14th, allowing for the Yankees to take the lead in the 15th, Girardi could have worried about the save then (Gaudin could have tried for the save if Girardi didn’t want to go to Rivera for two innings, as it is harder to give up the game-winning run when you actually hold the lead). It just seems strange to lose a 14-inning marathon without having used your best reliever for at least one inning.
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