Monday night’s loss to the Red Sox in a crucial Game Three of the ALDS left Yankees fans seething in anger. It was a similar feeling to the one that occurred almost exactly a year ago, when the Yankees blew a big lead to put themselves on the brink of elimination. The common ground in both of those losses was a questionable decision by the manager which brought out the pitchforks.
Many fans are clamoring for Aaron Boone’s job. Whether that’s severe or not, it makes sense to turn our boiling blood down to a simmer and look back at the worst decisions by Yankee managers in playoff history. That’s a good way to calm the nerves, right?
It should also be noted that Boone’s decision to leave Severino in way too long, and to go to Lance Lynn instead of a more shutdown reliever with the game still within reach, absolutely makes this list. We don’t need to dive into it though, as that wound is still fresh and everyone can remember it.
Buck Showalter, 1995 ALDS Game Five
Our story begins with another blunder in a crucial ALDS game, although this one was for all the marbles. The Yankees’ 2-0 series lead turned into a 2-2 deadlock with the Mariners, but the Yankees found themselves in good shape in Game Five. The Bombers were up 4-2 heading into the bottom of the eighth, thanks to a big time performance from David Cone.
Despite his effectiveness, Showalter stuck with Cone in the eighth, and he responded by getting the first out. Then he immediately gave up a solo home run to Ken Griffey Jr. After recording the second out, Cone allowed a hard-hit single and a pair of walks to load the bases. He clearly had emptied the tank. His 141 pitches and last three batters faced made that clear.
Showalter, however, trusted his tired ace more than his surprisingly shutdown reliever Mariano Rivera, who would finish the series with eight strikeouts over 5.1 scoreless innings. Rivera was left in the bullpen while Cone walked another, this one to force in the tying run. That’s when Showalter finally turned to Rivera after Cone threw his 147th pitch, and Mo promptly recorded a strikeout to stop the bleeding. The game would go to extras, and it wouldn’t end well.
Joe Torre, 2003 World Series Game Four
The Bombers were back in the Fall Classic after capitalizing on a bonehead managerial decision by Grady Little in the ALCS, but they would be denied what would have been their fifth World Series since 1996 thanks to an awful decision by the beloved Torre. The Yankees and Marlins were tied heading into the bottom of the 11th, with New York looking to steal a win on the road to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series. This was one the Yanks needed to seize, and Torre tried to capitalize by turning to...Jeff Weaver?
This should have been another time for Rivera, who now almost a decade after the 1995 ALDS, had firmly cemented himself as the greatest reliever in the game, and maybe ever. The Marlins had four straight righties due up in the 11th, which Rivera would have likely handled. Weaver actually pitched the first three, and then went back out for the 12th, when he dealt a meatball to Alex Gonzalez, who blasted a game-winning home run that would turn the tide of the series. Weaver and his 5.99 regular season ERA trudged off the mound, while Rivera helplessly watched.
Joe Torre, 2007 ALDS Game Two
Look, Torre is a beloved manager in Yankees Universe. He was the leader of some of the most unforgettable and successful years in team history. However, he also had some very painful decisions that cost the Yankees more opportunities to win it all. His management in games 4-7 of the 2004 ALCS were not great (e.g. starting Kevin Brown, and leaving him in during game seven, or going with Tom Gordon instead of Rivera in game five, and so on), and neither was his decision to keep the Yankees on the field in Cleveland when the midges came to attack.
Joba Chamberlain, who had been absolutely dominant during the regular season, surrendered two walks, hit a batter, and threw two wild pitches as Cleveland tied the game in the bottom of the eighth. They eventually would win the game in extras and take a commanding 2-0 series lead. Even with the violent swarm of midges, Torre left Chamberlain and the Yanks out to dry. He would later call it one of his greatest regrets. It was also the last series he would manage in pinstripes.
Joe Girardi, 2017 ALDS Game Two
Here we find a similar situation 10 years later but with a different manager. Chad Green and the Yankees held an 8-3 lead over Cleveland, and they were trying to claim a split on the road before heading back to New York. Green had hit a bit of a snag in the sixth, as he inherited a baserunner and allowed another to reach before throwing an inside pitch to pinch hitter Lonnie Chisenhall. The pitch appeared to graze the hand, or maybe the bat of Chisenhall, and it was ruled a hit by pitch.
Gary Sanchez immediately signaled to Girardi that the ball nicked Chisenhall’s bat before landing in Sanchez’s glove, and video replay clearly confirmed it. Instead of challenging the play and ending the inning, Girardi kept the challenge in his back pocket. As anybody could have predicted, the decision proved costly.
Francisco Lindor followed with a grand slam to pull Cleveland within one, and they eventually won the game. This was one of the rare events where the poor decision didn’t come back to haunt the Yanks after they mounted an epic comeback and won the series, but it still wasn’t enough to bring Girardi back in 2018. After Boone’s blunder on Monday night, many wished Girardi was still in the home dugout.