Manager Joe Maddon waited until he was asked about it near the end of Monday’s post-game media session, but then made it very clear the miscommunication with pitching coach Jim Hickey over the sixth-inning pitching change was his fault – he said it eight times in his 46-second answer, and threw in two “I screwed ups” for good measure.
But how can that happen?
Typically Maddon plots before the game what relievers he’ll use in different situations – often based on “slots” in the opposing lineup that particular relievers do best against – and shares those with Hickey.
Then at the time, he’ll discuss and decide what to do and tell Hickey, who will then call down to the bullpen and tell coach Bobby Ramos what relievers to get up and what situations they’ll be used in.
Monday’s mixup – which resulted in righty Grant Balfour coming into the game when Maddon wanted lefty Randy Choate - occurred on the front end, between Maddon and Hickey.
With starter Matt Garza struggling, they surely were considering several options with the heart of the Yankees order coming up: lefty Curtis Granderson, switch-hitter Mark Teixeira, righty Alex Rodriguez, lefty Robinson Cano, switch-hitter Nick Swisher.
Choate was an option against Granderson, though Granderson was 5-for-6 against him. He also was an option later for Cano, who was 1-for-4 against him. Balfour, with his hard fastball, is good against A-Rod (1-for-9). Teixiera was 0-for-3 against Chad Qualls.
The point is there were a number of options and scenarios, so it’s certainly possible that there was basic confusion between Hickey and Maddon over when they were going to use Choate, their only experienced lefty.
It also was loud in the dugout, which could have factored in to Hickey not hearing what Maddon thought he’d said.
And kind of a key moment in the game, as they also had to have some other thoughts flying around over what was wrong with Garza.
“Everything was going pretty quickly and I did not express myself properly,’’ Maddon said.
But he thought he had, and that both Choate and Balfour were warming up, which explains his surprise after signaling for a lefty as he walked to the mound and seeing Balfour come out of the bullpen.
The odd thing is that statistically, Balfour wasn’t a bad choice – he’d walked Granderson twice and had a sac bunt in three previous plate appearances. (And Balfour was required to stay in to face one batter, so the only other option was to have him walk Granderson to load the bases and bring Teixeira to the plate.)
“He’s actually a pretty good matchup on Granderson according to our stuff,’’ Maddon said. “It wasn’t God-awful. It was just that I messed up.’’
That became clear four pitches later, when Granderson hit a three-run homer off the foul pole that extended the Yankees lead to 8-4. And more clear as the night went on and the Rays couldn’t make up the deficit, losing 8-6.
Maddon took all the blame, and only he and Hickey – who has already had controversy this year when pre-game horseplay with Balfour on July 30 resulted in a month-long injury absence – know whether some should have been shared.
But by taking all the blame, Maddon made the moment into a lesson, making it clear to all his players – including those that have issues with the mirror after a bad performance – that there should be no confusion about the importance of accountability.