That last night’s Yankees-Indians game continued for more than six innings after Lonnie Chisenhall’s phantom hit-by-pitch should not distract you from the fact that this was the moment of the game. It was. Right there, with two strikes and two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning, the Yankees were on the cusp of killing a rally before it started, and heading into the seventh inning with a five-run lead. Then this happened:
Armed with hindsight, we now know what wasn’t totally apparent in the split second when Chad Green’s pitch seemed to change angles on its way into Gary Sanchez’s glove. Now the sequence looks so obvious, the way Chisenhall doesn’t immediately dump the bat and head for first, and the way Sanchez motions to the dugout with a Mutombo finger. But it’s possible, also, to be misled by the broadcasters, who seemed to be taking their cues from Sanchez, and narrowly misinterpreting what they saw. Sanchez was hardly certain of anything, as he confirmed (via a translator) after the game:
“I definitely heard something. I wasn’t sure if it hit the bat. I didn’t think it hit him, because he never reacted to that. You know, he stood still, there. But it’s just stuff that happens in the game, you know?”
The point is, in that moment no one was all that clear on exactly what tiny sliver of matter made contact with Green’s pitch. But this is why there’s replay! I mean this is exactly why baseball introduced replay, for this exact type of high-stakes scenario. Right then, it was Joe Girardi’s job to do whatever had to be done to make sure the play was reviewed, up to and including staging a flea circus on home plate in order to buy enough time for his own review guy to get a look at the play in slow-motion. So what the hell happened?
“There was nothing that told us he was not hit on the pitch. By the time we got the super slo-mo we were a minute, probably beyond a minute, it was way too late. You know, they tell us we have 30 seconds—they will take longer, in replay—and probably, being a catcher, my thought is ‘I never want to break a pitcher’s rhythm.’ You know, that’s how I think about it. So, if it’s not something ... there was nothing that said he was not hit. We did not have the replay that showed he was not hit.
[Question about asking for a replay]
“In hindsight, yes, I could. But as I said earlier, being a catcher, I think about rhythm and never want to take a pitcher out of a rhythm and have them stand over there two minutes to tell me that he wasn’t hit.”
Okay. This is insane. First of all, Joe Girardi, you are not a catcher. You have not been a catcher for some time! You are, in fact, a manager, and as a manager you have a whole different set of responsibilities. In this circumstance, for example, your responsibility was to keep the Indians from benefiting from a phantom call in order to load the bases in the sixth inning of a goddamn playoff game. You are the only person in a Yankees shirt who can call for a replay, because you are the manager. And your own catcher, who presumably is worrying about things like keeping the pitcher in rhythm, called for you to take action!
More over, the rhythm argument fails right there on its face. If, as Girardi says, his pitcher would’ve been standing “over there” for two minutes to be told that Chisenhall was not, in fact, hit by the pitch, that would’ve been the end of the goddamn inning. The ball, having glanced off of the knob of the bat and ricocheted into Sanchez glove, is therefore a foul tip, and therefore a strike. The third strike of the at-bat, which would, of course, end the inning. Yes, Green’s rhythm would’ve been thrown off. Also, THE YANKEES WOULD’VE WON THE GAME.
Those were the stakes of the call, and the upside of getting the replay was so much more significant than the downside—a potentially out-of-rhythm pitcher, something that happens every time there’s any replay in baseball—that this should’ve been an automatic call for Girardi. The timing of it was not a factor—baseball’s challenge process virtually never plays out inside the 30-second window—as Girardi eventually acknowledged. The only thing that stopped this replay from happening was a decision by Girardi to not ask for it.
So, yes, the game continued for six more full innings before ending on a walk-off single in the bottom of the 13th. But if today you gave Girardi a time-traveling DeLorean and an opportunity to go back in time to change one moment of the game, 100 times out of 100 he would choose the phantom hit-by-pitch. If he’d stalled for mere seconds, the Yankees would’ve escaped the inning with a five run lead, and coasted to victory. Instead they’re down 2-0 in the series, a loss away from elimination. Remember your job, Joe!