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Why Did Joe Girardi Play for One Run in a Two-Run Game?

In the bottom of the ninth inning of Tuesday night’s game against the A’s at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees trailed 6-3 entering the frame. Jorge Posada led off with a solo home run off of A’s closer Andrew Bailey, closing the deficit to 6-4. Russell Martin followed with a double, and Brett Gardner reached on third baseman Scott Sizemore’s error, putting runners on first and second with no outs and bringing Derek Jeter to the plate.

Jeter is tremendously hot right now. He came into the game hitting .339 since returning from the disabled list and he went 3-for-3 with a walk prior to the ninth-inning plate appearance. Again, the Yankees needed not one run, but two. In baseball this year, teams that have put runners on first and second with no outs have scored an average of 1.4 runs, which is to say the Yankees stood a very good chance of scoring one run there and a solid chance at scoring another. Teams that have runners on second and third with one out see their expected runs go down to 1.3, a fractionally smaller number, but it’s still less of a chance to score. I leave it to you whether eliminating the double play was worth trading that fraction of a run as well as the possibility of having three chances to score those two runs instead of two. Again, we’re talking about old school Derek Jeter here, not April-June Jeter. The formerly ground-ball obsessed GDP expert has hit into just three twin killings in 40 games, the last one coming about two weeks ago. What do you do?

Girardi chose to take the bat out of Jeter’s hands. The Captain gave himself up, successfully executing the sacrifice to put runners on second and third with one out and bringing up Curtis Granderson. Granderson isn’t quite an all or nothing hitter, but he’s one of the most strikeout-prone batters in the league this year, swishing in 24 percent of his plate appearances heading into the game. Bailey is a strikeout pitcher. Granderson succeeding in that spot was in no way automatic, and even had he made contact for an out, a sacrifice fly wouldn’t help.

Bailey couldn’t throw enough strikes to exploit the holes in Granderson’s swing or give him something to hit, and the MVP candidate walked. Mark Teixeira then popped out on the infield. Two outs. Now someone has to get a hit. Robinson Cano walked on a highly borderline call to force in a run to make it 6-5, but alas there were still two outs. Nick Swisher hit the ball a mile, but just missed the range and the game was over.

I don’t know what would have happened had Jeter hit away; none of us do. I just know that Girardi acted defensively, so fearful of staying out of the double play that he actually helped the A’s by giving them one-third of what they needed to record a win. You can’t win playing for one run when you need two, and Girardi ought to know that.