By Steve Silverman
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It seemed like such an easy decision to make from here.

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Not only was Alex Rodriguez hitting .125, he was not even putting any hard hit balls in play. A loud foul? Not from A-Rod.

So, in a series where the two teams were obviously so even and runs were at a premium, Joe Girardi looked at the struggling superstar and then glanced at the short porch and decided to give Raul Ibanez his shot.

It paid off for him in a big way in Game 3 and again in Game 5.

But while it’s easy to talk about sitting A-Rod on the bench while talking on the radio or writing a column, it’s a historic decision that paid off handsomely for Girardi. You have to be strong to make a decision like that and risk upheaval in the lockerroom.

Girardi’s detractors have to give the manager full marks for making the decision, executing it and doing it in such a manner that didn’t cause angst in the clubhouse.

Of course, none of it would have mattered if CC Sabathia hadn’t risen to the occasion. He wants to be the big dog, the pitcher his team can count on to throw the great game when his team needed him most.

He was just that in Game 5. He went the distance. He got out of a monster bases-loaded jam in the eighth inning by striking out Nate McLouth, the Orioles’ best hitter in the series, and getting a ground ball out for J.J. Hardy, Baltimore’s Game 4 hero.

That’s what pitching is all about.

That’s what Sabathia saw the night before from Justin Verlander of the Tigers. Most baseball observers consider Verlander to be the best and most complete pitcher in baseball. He’s good in the early innings and better in the late going. He shut out the Oakland A’s in Game 5 of the division series to put the Tigers in the American League Championship Series against the Yankees.

Neither Sabathia nor Verlander will get to start in more than two games in this series since they both pitched the closers of their first-round series. But both will be the dominant figures in this series. If the Yankees can nick Verlander and steal Game 3, then the Yankees will almost certainly win the series. On the other hand, if the Tigers can get to Sabathia in Game 4, then Detroit will have the good chance of taking down the Yankees.

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Yesterday was a painful one for Beltway baseball fans. The Washington Nationals channeled their inner Chicago Cubs in blowing a 6-0 lead and giving the St. Louis Cardinals the division series with a 9-7 Redbird win.

There’s plenty of blame to go around, including Gio Gonzalez, Mike Rizzo, Scott Boras and Stephen Strasburg. Gonzalez could not throw enough strikes and he kept giving the Cardinals opportunity after opportunity to get back in the game and they slowly but surely convinced themselves that they could get back in the game and win it.

But do you think the Nats could have used Strasburg against the Cardinals? Would having him on the mound have given them a better chance to knock out the best hitting team in the postseason? Of course it would have.

Rizzo felt he had to submit to Boras, because Boras not only represents Strasburg, he also reps for Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper and Danny Espinosa as well as key Washington minor-league prospects. Boras felt like he had to protect his client’s long-term health.

Strasburg could have gone a lot further than he did if he really wanted to pitch.

He could have told Boras that he was overstepping his bounds. He could have parted company with Boras.

The Nationals have a solid-looking team, but there are no guarantees that they will rule the National League East next year and the year after.

Strasburg may get back to the playoffs next year but he may not make it back for five years or longer. He has a dominating right arm and a brilliant future, but he is letting his agent dictate the course of his career. That’s a mistake and that led to his team’s demise this season.

The Nationals’ demise may or may not help the Yankees.

The Yankees are not a dominant team this season, but they don’t seem to have as many flaws as the Tigers. The prediction here is that the Yankees will find a way to survive this series and get to the World Series once again.

They will either reprise the 1962 Series against the San Francisco Giants or the ’64 Series against the Cards. The National League representative is likely to be favored in the World Series for the first time in many years.

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Would you have mad the call to bench A-Rod? Let us know in the comments section below.