The Loss That Was Meant to Be

Following Friday night’s loss, Joe Girardi received a great deal of criticism for choosing not to review a Lonnie Chisenhall hit-by-pitch (chronicled in-depth here by Andrew Gargano), which led to a Francisco Lindor grand slam, which led to a Jay Bruce game-tying homer, which led to extra innings, which led to a Yan Gomes walk-off hit in the 13th. On Saturday, Girardi admitted that not reviewing the Chisenhall call was a mistake, and many critics have claimed that this mistake cost the Yankees the game, and potentially the series. This idea that the Yankees would have won Game 2 if Girardi had challenged the call in the 6th inning has emerged as the predominant narrative surrounding the series. But what if the real mistake is believing the Yankees were supposed to win the game? What if the Yankees should have lost, were always going to lose, and the Chisenhall at-bat was just the form that this immanent loss took?

As Sam Miller covered earlier this year, Baseball Prospectus runs thousands of simulations of each baseball season in order to come up with preseason projections. Similarly, I ran my own special, top-secret simulations of Friday night’s game, and in each one, the Yankees blew the seemingly comfortable lead. Here are just a few of those alternate outcomes, which can perhaps give disappointed Yankee fans (and guilt-ridden Yankee managers) some comfort in knowing that not only was there nothing they could do to prevent losing but that the loss could have in fact been much worse.

The CC Timeline:

In this simulation, instead of pulling his starter after 77 pitches, Joe Girardi chooses to leave CC Sabathia in to face Austin Jackson. Jackson lines out, Yan Gomes doubles, then, with runners on second and third, Terry Francona makes the gutsy decision to pinch hit Lonnie Chisenhall against the lefty. With two strikes, Sabathia plunks Chisenhall. No question about it, the ball hits him square in the backside. Chisenhall takes his base, Girardi brings in Chad Green, Chad Green surrenders a grand slam to Francisco Lindor.

Yankees lose in 13 innings.

The Review Timeline:

Here, Joe Girardi does exactly what fans were calling for him to do on Friday and asks the umpiring crew to review the Chisenhall hit-by-pitch. Replay officials find that the ball did, in fact, hit the bat rather than the hand and Chisenhall is called out on strikes, ending the threat in the bottom of the 6th inning.

With a five-run lead, Jordan Montgomery enters the game in the 7th and strikes out Jose Ramirez before issuing walks to Michael Brantley and Carlos Santana. Losing patience, Joe Girardi brings in David Robertson, who promptly gives up a three-run home run to Jay Bruce. Robertson retires the next two batters to end the inning. Chad Green enters in the 8th, allows a leadoff single to Erik Gonzalez before Francisco Lindor belts a game-tying two-run homer off the right-field foul pole.

Yankees lose in 13 innings.

The Heartbreaker Timeline:

This simulation finds Chad Green cleanly striking out Lonnie Chisenhall to end the 6th. Jay Bruce’s homer off David Robertson only brings Cleveland within four runs before Aroldis Chapman enters the game in the 9th. Chapman retires Yan Gomes and Erik Gonzalez before Francisco Lindor comes up and hits a solo home run. He is then followed by Jason Kipnis, who hits a solo home run, followed by Jose Ramirez who hits a solo home run, followed by Michael Brantley, who hits – you guessed it – a double. But after review, the double is ruled a solo home run to tie the game.

Yankees lose in 13 innings.

The Perfect Game Timeline:

In perhaps the least probable simulation, Corey Kluber and CC Sabathia each put together the most dominant outings of their respective careers, retiring batters early and often so that they both take perfect games into the 13th inning, where Francisco Lindor hits a walk-off homer off the right-field foul pole.

Yankees lose in 13 innings.

The Cavs Timeline:

In a move that surprises everyone, Lebron James covers the length of Progressive Field for a chase-down block of a Gary Sanchez home run. Kyrie Irving then hits a last-second (metaphorically speaking) home run to pull off the improbable comeback.

Yankees lose in 13 innings.

The Tom Brady Timeline:

The Yankees open up a 28-3 lead before Tom Brady begins methodically picking apart their defense.

Julian Edelman makes an amazing catch and the Yankees lose in 13 innings.

The Blah Timeline:

Here, Yankees fans are robbed even of the joy of the 8-3 lead, as Corey Kluber pitches seven innings of one-run ball, striking out 11. Sabathia turns in a solid performance but the Yankees roll over in a 4-1 loss. No controversy, but no fun.

Yankees lose in 9 innings.

The Other Review Timeline:

Girardi asks for a review of the Chisenhall hit-by-pitch. Replay officials do not find enough evidence to overturn the call. You know the rest.

Yankees lose in 13 innings.

Through this highly scientific exercise we can see that perhaps not all of the blame rests on Joe Girardi’s shoulders, and that if one thinks of this loss as just a loss (and acknowledges that at least Chapman didn’t give up four straight homers in the 9th), the pain does not cut quite so deep. Yes, the Yankees’ manager made a mistake, and that mistake had major repercussions for the team, but it is entirely possible that the top-seeded team in the American League would have clawed their way back into the game had events played out differently – especially if Tom Brady had taken the field as these simulations show he could have.

In the end, the Yankees are a talented young team who showed a lot of life on Friday night despite suffering a difficult defeat. And as the old saying goes, it is better to have led and lost, than never to have led at all. Or something like that.

Photo Credit: Ken Blaze / USA TODAY Sports

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