It may seem strange, but I think the Yankees are in a better position having fallen behind 0-2 in this series then rallied to force a game four than if they had split in Cleveland then lost their home opener last night. In either case they’d be down 1-2, but I believe that, being on the verge of elimination and faced with the task of winning three straight to prolong their season, the team’s approach is different than it would have been otherwise. As I wrote in my pregame post yesterday, the Yankees have to do to the Indians what the Red Sox did to them in 2004: Take the field each day with the goal of winning only that day’s game.
That sentiment was echoed by Joe Torre and several of his players last night, including hitting stars Johnny Damon and Robinson Cano.
With that in mind, Joe Torre has decided to start Chien-Ming Wang tonight on short rest to take advantage of his extreme home/road splits. Wang has never started on three-days’ rest in the majors before, but his ERA at home during the regular season was more than two runs lower than his ERA on the road. Over his three years in the majors, the difference is smaller, but still in excess of a run and a half. Perhaps Wang’s just more comfortable on the Yankee Stadium mound. Perhaps it’s that his fielders, upon whom he’s very reliant, are more familiar with the bounces they’re likely to get, or the speed with which the ball moves through the infield grass in their home park. Maybe Wang doesn’t deal well with air travel or hotel stays. Whatever it is, it’s a meaningful difference, and one that likely cost the Yankees a win in Game One when they had C.C. Sabathia on the ropes only to watch Wang cough up three runs in the first and get bounced in the fifth as the Tribe put up a five spot.
More evidence of the split can be found in Wang’s performance down the stretch. He was actually fantastic, going 6-1 with a 2.67 ERA in eight starts, seven of them quality starts, but the one non-quality start (which was also the one loss) came on the road in Boston. Meanwhile, here’s what he did in his last three home starts combined (against Boston, Seattle, and Toronto):
21 1/3 IP, 12 H, 3 R (2 ER), 1 HR, 8 BB, 10 K, 0.94 WHIP, 0.84 ERA, 2-0
As for the theory that sinkerballers do better on short rest because being too fresh can often cause them to keep the ball up, negating the effects of their sinkers, there’s no evidence of that on Wang because he’s never pitched on three-days’ rest, but here are the splits for Kevin Brown, who despite being abhored by Yankee fans, was a borderline Hall of Fame sinkerballer (he also provides a reasonably large sample size):
3 Days: 2.98 ERA
4 Days: 3.17 ERA
5 Days: 3.20 ERA
6 Days+: 3.98 ERA
It’s a minuscule difference, but it’s there.
The Indians are sticking with their original plan by starting Paul Byrd tonight. Byrd has an interesting home/road split of his own, with an ERA two runs lower on the road. The Yankees beat him badly in August (2 IP, 7 R), but that was in Cleveland. Last year they faced him twice, once in Cleveland (another beating: 3 2/3 IP, 9 R) and once in the Bronx. In the latter he turned in a gem, holding the Yanks to one run over seven innings only to lose a 1-0 game to . . . wait for it . . . Chien-Ming Wang.
There’s one other relevant Paul Byrd start I wanted to mention, that came at Yankee Stadium in Game Three of the 2005 ALDS when Byrd was with the Angels. The Yanks got to Byrd but good then too (3 2/3 IP, 4 R), but Mike Scioscia worked a quick hook and Randy Johnson and Aaron Small gave it all back plus some and the Yankees lost 11-7.
So, really, anything could happen tonight, but, if the Yankees do pull out another win, they’ll have tied the series and will head back to Cleveland to play a double-elimination game with Andy Pettitte pitching on full rest against C.C. Sabathia. That’s Wednesday, though. The Yankees need only concern themselves with today.