DETROIT — In baseball’s postseason, big wins often come down to small decisions. At the end of the night, a manager might lean back in his office and bask in a victory — or three of them, in the case of Detroit Manager Jim Leyland — but no decision is simple.
“I always got a kick out of when I go home at the end of a baseball season,” Leyland said, “somebody says, ‘Boy, you look bad.’ And I always tell them, ‘Well, show me a manager that looks like Paul Newman after 162 games, and I will show you a guy that didn’t do a very good job.’ ”
In the American League Championship Series, the managers have had to make gutsy roster decisions and benched prominent players. Leyland and New York’s Joe Girardi have seen mixed results.
After rain postponed Wednesday night’s Game 4, the series will resume Thursday afternoon. Detroit starter Max Scherzer will try to lead his team to a series sweep over the Yankees and their ace, CC Sabathia. Though rain didn’t start falling until more than 90 minutes after the scheduled first pitch Wednesday, baseball officials said they postponed the game to preserve the “integrity of an uninterrupted nine-inning game.”
Game 5, if necessary, has also been pushed back a day and would now be played on Friday in Detroit.
While the Tigers have found some degree of calm since Leyland shook up his bullpen following Game 1 and stopped using Jose Valverde to close games, the Yankees are suddenly just a couple of elephants and a clown car shy of a circus.
Before Game 4 was postponed, the night’s lineup card again excluded slumping third baseman Alex Rodriguez. Center fielder Curtis Granderson was also slated for a night off, one day after Girardi benched right fielder Nick Swisher. Along with second baseman Robinson Cano, the four impact players are only 4 for 39 in the ALCS.
“We do believe we have legitimate alternatives that we have been forced to look at," Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman said.
Rodriguez is just 3 for 23 in the playoffs and hitless against right-handed pitching.
“I really feel that in my heart, any time I’m in that lineup, the team is a better team,” he said Wednesday, “without any question.”
While Rodriguez said he’s “not doing somersaults” about his diminished role, Yankees management is surely not embarking on any acrobatics either, not after reports that Rodriguez was flirting with female fans at Yankee Stadium during a game — an allegation the slugger called “laughable.”
“Look, there’s blood in the water,” Rodriguez said. “And when you don’t play well — I haven’t played well, and like I said, some of the criticism I’ve received — and I’ve been here nine years — I can take that. Well deserved. That other stuff, gossip or Page Six, I don’t give a [obscenity] about that.”
Cashman denied a report that the Yankees have engaged in trade talks about Rodriguez, and Girardi was unable to say what Rodriguez’s role might be for the remainder of the series.
“As a manager and as a team at this time, you have got to think about today, and you think about today only,” he said.
Some of Girardi’s decisions have been forced on him. After Derek Jeter broke his ankle in Game 1, Eduardo Nunez took over at shortstop. Nunez’s ninth-inning home run in Game 3 accounted for the Yankees’ only run since Game 1. Jeter, meanwhile, will have surgery Saturday in Charlotte and will need four to five months to recover.
Leyland hasn’t had to tinker much with his lineup, but he stopped using Valverde, who’s tallied 84 saves the past two seasons, after his closer gave up four runs in Game 1. He then turned to Phil Coke, who picked up saves in Games 2 and 3, allowing three hits and striking out four in 22 / 3 scoreless innings.
Leyland still won’t rule out turning to Valverde when he feels the time is right.
“You trust your players,” Leyland said. “You trust their ability. You trust they will have themselves ready to play.”
As the Tigers go for a sweep Thursday and the Yankees try to prolong the series, the two managers will again fill out lineup cards, knowing that the season could hinge on a few flicks of the wrist. One unintended consequence of Wednesday’s rainout is the fact that, should the Yankees somehow extend the series to a seventh game, Sabathia likely will now be unavailable with a rest day lost.
The way Girardi sees it, even though the Yankees have been outscored, 11-5, in the three games, not much has separated the two squads.
“We could very easily be 1-2, 2-1, or even 3-0,” he said. “That’s how close it’s been. And it’s been — you get one break or one other thing that happens, you got two wins. But it hasn’t happened yet.”