"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Tag: ALCS

The Fault Lies Not In Our Stars…

Therapists usually say that there’s some kind of reason for just about any behavior, however seemingly irrational; even if you end up hurting yourself, it probably served a psychological purpose. I’ve been thinking about this recently in light of the Yanks’ ALCS loss, and the accompanying customary wave of blame from fans that fell on various members of the team and front office. I think the  tendency of fans — and certainly not just Yankee fans, but perhaps especially Yankee fans — to instinctively blame their own team after a loss, rather than crediting the opponent, is pretty interesting. Obviously not everyone does this, but as an overall fanbase mood I think it rings true, unless maybe some undisputed whiz like Cliff Lee is directly involved. 

Setting aside for the moment whether or not it’s accurate or fair in a specific instance, what’s the psychological gain here? The outcome of any game depends on the combination of one team’s strength and another’s weakness, of course, and it’s often hard to disentangle a hitter’s success from a pitcher’s failure, or vice versa. How much of Colby Lewis’s kickass performance on Friday night was due to variables he controlled directly, and how much was due to the Yankees’ inadequate approach or execution at the plate? It’s not possible to tell precisely, although a lot of the newer baseball stats our SABR-inclined friends come up with are designed to help sort this out. And my first instinct, like many people in the bar where I was watching, was to yell “C’mon you useless #$&*s, it’s Colby Lewis” at the little pinstriped men on the TV. 

I think in the end, it’s mostly about control: the idea that your team mostly controls its fate (like the idea that you yourself mostly control your fate) is generally preferable to the alternative. No one likes feeling helpless to change their situation. Everyone wants to believe that we’re in charge of how our lives turn out, not larger forces we can’t affect. And hey, if the Yankees lost because they failed, well then, they’re still better. They just didn’t show it. There must be something they could have done differently.

I’m not entirely sure whether the blaming-your-team tendency is more prevalent in New York City, and specifically among Yankee fans, but I suspect as much. It seems clear that fans everywhere do this to a certain extent, but I think that like just about everything else, it’s louder in New York. And while Mets fans do it too — as Alex pointed out yesterday, the moaning about A-Rod and Ryan Howard ending their respective Championship Series with called third strikes brought back vivid memories of the hysteria over Carlos Beltran’s taken curveball in 2006 – I believe you can make an argument that Yankee fans do it most of all: this is part of the wide-ranging legacy of George M. Steinbrenner.

This is the flipside to all that winning, and the result of the idea, now internalized by seemingly the entire Yankee organization even in The Boss’s absence, that any year that doesn’t end in a World Series victory is a failure. Not anybody else’s succes: your team’s failure. We’ve heard this view expressed in different ways by many people for many years now — by George himself, by Brian Cashman, by Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, even by scrubs passing through in August and September. This year, Cashman and Joe Girardi both made a point of saying that Texas had just flat out-played the Yankees, which I personally felt was good to hear; I think many fans share that point of view, too, but outside of our cozy corner of the blogosphere, it hasn’t been the dominant tone.  

Believing that they can and should win the World Series every single year is, from one angle, one of the most admirable things about the Yankees. The organization is never content with a few years of mediocrity; never holds back from a signing or trade that could help, damn the financial consequences; never coasts on a new Stadium or a star signing. And that is great for their fans. But that kind of ambition, by necessity, comes with a big heaping stench of failure. I think George Steinbrenner, in his prime, felt that having his employees live in terror of that failure was an important motivational tool; and the Boss will certainly be missed, but I hope his vision of win-it-all-or-else gets to rest with him. Other teams are gonna get that trophy sometimes, and not just because you messed up or didn’t get it done. Just because they’re better.

Championship Series Jambalaya

Is it 8 o’clock yet? Long and coherent doesn’t seem to be happening today, so instead, here’s some scattered thoughts from a scattered mind.

*You guys been watching the NLCS? Some excellent games, and I’ve gone from rooting for the Giants because they aren’t the Phillies to genuinely liking them. Lincecum, Kung Fu Panda, Buster Posey, even Brian Wilson who is douchey but at least in an entertaining way. The entire series makes me wish the Yankees would ditch their uptight facial hair regulations already, though. Everything is more fun with beards!

*There’s plenty of time to think about this later and it’s not a surprise anyway, but according to Jon Heyman, the Yanks plan to bring back Joe Girardi. I’m okay with this. Girardi has definitely made his share of mistakes this postseason, but so has every manager. I don’t think there’s been anything fireable. He won the World Series last year and made the ALCS this year (…as of this writing), and although the ghost of George Streinbrenner would disagree, to me, you don’t fire a guy coming off that kind of success unless he does something really crazy/egregious/criminal. Despite what I might end up yelling at the TV during the 8th inning tonight, I think Joe’s been solid.

I wish he’d eat something though. Dude looks gaunt.

*Via LoHud, Robbie Cano hopes Melky Cabrera can rejoin the Yanks next year. I… don’t hope that, but I still have warm feelings for the Melkman and I hope he lands on his feet. He was fun to watch for a while, had some big plays and big hits for the Yanks over the years (remember that catch on a would-be Manny Ramirez homer  just over the left field wall? I do, and I bet Manny does), and I think he could still help some team, at least from the bench.

*It’s easy to overlook in the heat of a white-knuckle eighth-inning playoff relief appearance, but Kerry Wood’s got a pretty great story. Tragic, redemptive, all that stuff.

*It is genuinely kinda depressing how many fans left Yankee Stadium early in Games 3 and 4. I mean, in the ninth of a blowout, I get it. But while it’s still close? In the ALCS? I don’t generally go the fan-police route: I stay til the better end because I’m an obsessive and hate the idea of missing anything — but it’s supposed to be fun, and if you need to leave for work or school or sleep or whatever, you do what you have to do. But the streams of people fleeing before the end warlier this week were pretty embarassing. It’s easy enough for most of the country to hate Yankee fans, no need to load the gun for them.

*Nick Swisher, according to ESPN NY: “If one more guy asks me about Cliff Lee, I’m gonna punch him right in the (bleeping) mouth.” Heh.

Here’s hoping the baseball goes well enough tonight to get us baseball tomorrow night, and cause for Swisher to spaz out some more.

Hope Is the Pointless, Annoying Thing With Feathers…

… That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all, no matter how gaddamn sick you get of that stupid tune, and wish it would just go perch somewhere else already.

I hate Emily Dickenson.

I am not much of a fan of optimism. I prefer to expect the worst, thereby avoiding disappointment and allowing for the possibility of a pleasant surprise. As far as I’m concerned Pandora, opening that famous Box of hers a second time to release Hope, as the story goes, showed a truly staggering inability to learn from past mistakes. So when the Yankees lost Game 4, I figured, yeah, they were toast. And I have not changed my mind about that, but I was thrilled to see them win yesterday, anyway – because that means we get one more game.

It’s starting to turn chilly and gray and dark out there. The wind’s getting colder. It’s gonna be a long winter, because every winter is a long winter. But at least we get one more hunk of American League baseball before that happens, and if it turns out to be a four-hour slog that’s just fine with me, because soon there will be a months-long string of zero-hour slogs. So let Charlie Manuel and Ron Washington make a dozen pitching changes apiece; let the batters step out and call time over and over again until the announcers start whining; make these puppies last.

And as much as I strive for negativity… well, of course you never know. I actually felt pretty good about the Yanks’ chances yesterday, because of C.C. Sabathia, who even when he’s off his game can usually hold things together. I feel considerably worse about Phil Hughes’ odds, but it’s not like I haven’t seen stranger things happen. Hell, I saw stranger things happen on the subway this morning.

Damn. Shut up, you feathered nitwit.

Panic on the Streets…

The Manhattan Bridge is the closest, and the Brooklyn Bridge isn’t far, but such a cliche — the Verrazano, now that’s fairly convenient, bit more interesting, less overdone…

Oh, hi! Sorry, I didn’t see you there. Is it recap time?

That was a hell of a game, and not in the good way. Join me on a journey back through the mists of time to the first inning of Game 4… ah, we were all so young then. A.J. Burnett profoundly surprised me by pitching, under the circumstances, pretty well. Certainly as well as anyone could have expected given that the last time he pitched a good game, pterodactyls soared above the ballpark. The crowd was behind him, but to me it wasn’t heartwarming so much as desperate – c’mon, fella, you can make it! It’s just a flesh wound! You’ll be fine! He was okay, though. He allowed two runs in the second, after walking David Murphy (fatefully, not for the last time), hitting Bengie Molina with a pitch (if only he… no, no, mustn’t think like that); Mitch Moreland bunted and Elvis Andrus grounded out, but then came Michael Young, who hit a softish two-RBI single. Burnett may not have been dominant, but he got out of the inning and held the Rangers there through five innings; going into tonight’s game I would’ve taken that and not complained.

Meanwhile, the Yankees scraped together a few runs: a Robinson Cano homer that just ticked over the right field wall, possibly aided by some fans who made it hard for Nelson Cruz to make a catch – that’s what Cruz argued, anyway. I thought it was out anyhow, but the fans didn’t exactly improve anyone’s image of Yankee supporters. (Although I have to admit they cracked me up). The umpires declined to review it, which seems weird since that’s why instant replay exists, but again: it was out, so no damage done. Later in the inning a Lance Berkman fly to deep right was reviewed and correctly found to be foul. It wasn’t the umpiring tonight… it was just, you know, everything else. Anyway, the Yanks tacked on in the third inning when Derek Jeter tripled (!!!) and Curtis Granderson singled him home, and again in the fourth, when A-Rod was hit by a pitch, singled over by Cano and Berkman, and scored by a Brett Gardner ground out. Paralleling Burnett, this was not exactly Murderer’s Row, but they had a 3-2 lead in the fifth inning.

Which is when the baseball gods started pulling at a loose bit of yarn, and before you knew it, but also in a kind of weird slow motion, the whole sweater unraveled.

I don’t think you can say that Mark Teixeira is underrated or underappreciated – he is an extremely well paid star on a popular team; he’s not under any radars. But I was a little unprepared for what a gut-punch it was to watch him cringe while running hard to first, fall into an awkward slide, and stay down until the Yankee trainers could help him off the field. It was a grade 2 hamstring strain, and the last we’ll see of Mark Teixeira until spring. And while he didn’t have his best year at the plate, I’d sure rather see him up there than Marcus Thames; and you know you’d rather see him manning first base than Nick Swisher. He’s not A-Rod, and these days he’s not Cano, and he’s not one of the remaining 90s Yanks, and hell, he’s probably the blandest star athlete in recent memory… but the Yankees are going to miss him quite a bit, even if they only have one game left in which to do so. It sucked all the air out of the Stadium.

That came during an aborted rally in the bottom of the fifth, after a somewhat shaky Burnett got himself through the top of the inning. Many people were surprised to see Joe Girardi turn to Burnett again in the sixth, and although I didn’t think it was such a clear-cut choice, in retrospect it was clearly not wise: Vladimir Guerrero singled, moved to second on a force out, and then — this, I did have a problem with — Burnett intentionally walked David Murphy, in order to face Bengie Molina.

What did I say about Molinas before this series? Huh? WHAT DID I SAY, A.J.?! JOE? Goddammit, no one ever listens to me.

Molina homered, the Rangers took a 5-3 lead, and while that’s hardly insurmountable, this began the “slow-motion unraveling” portion of the evening. Burnett got out of the 6th, but Josh Hamilton homered off Boone Logan in the 7th, and the Rangers tacked on another run off of Joba Chamberlain. Ron Washington’s love of the bullpen shuffle worked out well for him this time around; the Yankees had chances — they even got the tying run to the plate in the 8th inning — but couldn’t break through. In the ninth Sergio Mitre came in and everything went south (HR Hamilton, HR Cruz), but by then it was all over but the crying, anyway. 10-3 Rangers is your final.

Joe Girardi made a number of questionable moves tonight. I can’t get too worked up about them since I think, ultimately, the Rangers have flat out-hit and out-pitched the Yanks, and different managerial moves probably wouldn’t have made a huge difference. But there’s no way to know that for sure, and it’s still plenty frustrating, which may be part of why tonight’s game got under my skin in an unpleasant way. Tomorrow, the Yankees have to win or go home — and if they win, they need to do it twice more. I’m not optimistic, frankly. But every day in late October that you still have a game to watch is a good day, so here’s hoping C.C. Sabathia pitches like C.C. Sabathia tomorrow, and the Yankees live to see Game 6.

Molinas… why’s it always have to be Molinas?

Here Comes Your 19th Nervous Breakdown

I’m a pretty calm baseball watcher these days. That’s what happens when you cover the team for a while, or when you’ star to mentally write up the action while it’s still happening, or take notes… you just get more detached. I’m not in the locker room anymore so I don’t have to smother my inner fan with a pillow, but my inner fan has long since taken to self-censorship. I am usually pretty even-keeled about the Yankees these days.

But not always.

I’m all twitchy about tonight’s game, more than I have been in a long time — years — and I don’t know why. The Yankees won the World Series just last year; if they don’t make it this year I’m okay with that. For whatever reason, though, this game is getting to me. I’m having friends over tonight, to watch with me; I don’t want to be alone with A.J. Burnett.

Longtime readers will recall that I have a Bernie Williams bobblehead doll — my only Yankee bobblehead — which, during big games, I often move around my studio apartment until I find a “lucky spot.” Laugh all you want, but would the Yankees have won the World Series last year if the Bernie bobblehead hadn’t been nestled under my bed (after the freezer lost its luckiness)? I guess we’ll never know. Anyway, I haven’t bothered with the Bernie bobblehead pretty much all year, but I’m pretty sure he’ll be shifting around quite a bit tonight.

Here we go… hold onto something.

Home, Home on the @#&$*%(#!

AP photo of Cliff Lee in the 8th inning

So, I’d say my pre-series prediction of “Yankees 3, Rangers 3, Cliff Lee ascends to a higher inter-dimensional plane midway through the fourth inning of Game 7″ is looking pretty good.

Tonight’s game ended up a 8-0 drubbing, but it was a tight pitchers’ duel most of the way through. Only it didn’t really feel like a pitchers’ duel, because Andy Pettitte was merely excellent, whereas Cliff Lee was, as a friend of mine has put it, the T-1000.

Allow me to sum up the Yankee offense for you:

  • In the 4th, Mark Teixeira walked.
  • In the 5th, Jorge Posada singled (it’s kind of embarrassing how relieved I was, at this point, that New York would at least not get no-hit).
  • In the 6th, Brett Gardner singled and stole second.

That didn’t take long, did it?

Andy Pettitte was very, very good himself: seven innings and just two runs, which you’d sign up for any time. Those two runs came in the first inning, on an almost-accidental Josh Hamilton home run — he stuck his bat out awkwardly, the ball flew off it and into the stands, which is the kind of thing that only happens when your arms look like Josh Hamiltons’ — but given the Cliff Lee situation, that was enough. Pettitte was followed by Kerry Wood, who pitched a drama-free eighth, and since two runs ain’t much for the Yankees, I still held out hope going into the ninth.

At which point: Josh Hamilton doubled off Boone Logan; Vladimir Guerrero and Nelson Cruz singled off David Robertson, making it 3-0; after David Murphy was intentionally walked, Bengie Molina and Mitch Moreland joined the party with singles of their own off of Robertson; Elvis Andrus of all people decided to shake things up by, instead, doubling off of Robertson. Sergio Mitre (!) came in and put out the fire, but seeing as how it was 8-0 at that point, the building had already burned down.

So the Yanks are down 2-1 in the series, which is hardly insurmountable, but they do kinda need a win tomorrow – and A.J. Burnett is the one who’ll be asked to provide it, or at least facilitate it. Joe Girardi has said all week, when asked if he isn’t tempted to just pitch C.C. Sabathia on three days’ rest instead: “I believe in A.J.” Well. I believe in him too… in the sense that I am certain he exists, and indeed is a pitcher with the New York Yankees. Whether he can pitch more than four innings while giving up less than five runs is another question entirely.

Cliff Lee… I don’t know whether to shiver in terror or drool. I’d do both at once but I’ve been told it’s not attractive.

I Can’t Believe I Eighth The Whole Thing

My new screen saver, courtesy @KRADeC

On paper, you have to like the Yankees odds in a C.C. Sabathia – C.J. Wilson matchup. Off paper, well, it didn’t go quite the way you might have expected… but it came out all right in the end.

Sabathia was off tonight, because of the long layoff or who knows why; he got off to an inauspicious start in the first, with a walk, a single, and a prompt three-run home run to Josh Hamilton before I’d even had time to crack a beer. He got out of this inning with a diving play at the plate – and watching C.C. Sabathia dive is a thing to behold – and kept it together after that, more or less, but was never close to his dominant self; as he said after the game, he couldn’t execute a game plan because he couldn’t get the ball over the plate consistently. In the fourth inning he gave up two more – singles to Matt Treanor and Elvis Andrus, and a double to Michael Young. It was 5-0, the Yankees had barely touched C.J. Wilson, Sabathia was out of the game, and it didn’t look good for the Bombers.

Joba Chamberlain took over and threw a solid inning, with just a walk and no further drama. He was was followed by Dustin Moseley, who much to my surprise became one of the night’s heroes: he went two innings, struck out four, and allowed exactly no baserunners. (He was also adorably thrilled after the game, eyes bright and wide and talking about how tonight was a dream come true). New York didn’t get on the scoreboard until the seventh inning, when Robinson Cano hit an arcing home run that landed just on the good side of the right field foul pole. At the time, it seemed like a moral victory – hey, at least they won’t be shut out.

Then came the eighth inning.

Ahhh… the eighth inning.

The Rangers went through five pitchers in the eighth before they recorded a single out — and bafflingly, none of them were Neftali Feliz. A gassed C.J. Wilson started it off, Brett Gardner singled, and the old-school version of Derek Jeter doubled him all the way home (Brett Gardner, incidentally, will henceforth be known as “Zippy” in my household). Ron Washington turned to his bullpen, and came up with Darren Oliver – who although I’ve seen him pitch many times this season, my initial reaction is always “wow, he’s still playing?!” He is, and he proved it by walking the only two batters he faced, Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira. Next up was Darren O’Day, who came into the unenviable situation of bases loaded, zero outs, A-Rod at the plate. The result was a sharp single and two Yankee runs that made it 5-4… and another pitching change. Clay Rapada, come on down! (The Rangers bullpen is just Chock Full O’Lefties, not that it helped them tonight). His luck, or stuff, was no better, and Robinson Cano’s single tied the game. The Yankees had come all the way back, and were rewarded with yet another reliever: Derek Holland, who promptly allowed a single to Marcus Thames. A-Rod scored, clapped and pumped a fist, and the Yankees took the lead, 6-5.

Holland settled in and stopped the arterial bleeding after that, but it was too late – and where was Neftali Feliz? (As The Joker would say: “he’s at home, washing his tights!”) Joe Girardi is a fairly by-the-book guy, but he’s shown time and again that when things get tight in the eighth, he’ll go to Mariano Rivera, at home or on the road. Ron Washington has yet to reach similar conclusions, apparently.

Mariano Rivera came in for the ninth, of course, and outside of a Mitch Moreland single he was just fine. Fittingly, given the way the game started, it was Josh Hamilton who made the final out. It would’ve been a tough loss for the Yankees, but it turned into a tougher on for the Rangers – and it was only the fifth time in all of postseason history that a team came back from a deficit of four or more runs in the eight inning or later. Since it was only Game 1, I don’t know that this ranks at the top of great Yankees October comebacks, but it was still a hell of a win and a great start to the ALCS. Tune in tomorrow for the Phil Hughes Show.

(more…)

Have You Ever Been Experienced?

Like many of my statistically-inclined colleagues, I tend be wary of arguments that put a lot of stress on “experience”. Too often that line of thinking seems to result in managers playing declining veterans instead of more talented young players, something fans of many, many teams gnash their teeth over every year. Experience will only get you so far; the ability to hit a good fastball, or throw a great curve, will get you farther. So I don’t put a lot of stock in automatically favoring a player just because they’ve been there before.

But – did you guess there was a “but” coming? — with that said…

Andy Pettitte.

I can’t help feeling a bit relieved knowing that if the Yankees get to a Game 7 in the ALCS, Andy Pettitte will be on the mound and not Phil Hughes. That’s not only because of the experience factor – I think that when healthy Pettitte pitched a bit better, or at least pitched well more consitently, than Hughes this year; Hughes is absolutely a quality Major League starter now, but he’s still got a few kinks to iron out, as just about anyone does at that age.

But it’s more than that. I mean, there’s experience, and then there’s experience. And Andy Pettitte has experience. Postseason experience, sure, having thrown the equivalent of more than an entire regular season just in the playoffs, but I’m not so worried about that – I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything to suggest that Phil Hughes will suddenly crack under pressure, Game 7 or not. It’s more that Andy Pettitte just plain knows what the hell he’s doing out there. He knows what to throw to who when, and he knows exactly how he can best compensate when his velocity isn’t quite there, or when his cutter isn’t cutting; he knows how to get double plays and hold runners on and the odds of catching him sleeping are slim. He may not win – he may not even pitch well, he’s blown his fair share of postseason starts - but there likely won’t be too many what-ifs about it. If Phil Hughes pitches and loses Game 7, I think you start going over how things might have gone differently, pick over mistakes or questionable choices. If Andy Pettitte loses Game 7… well, what are you gonna do?

So I don’t know, maybe it’s the same old “experience” fallacy tricking me one more time. But one of these years, Andy Pettitte’s going to stop his annual (and by now kind of comic) contemplation of retirement and actually retire; until then, I hope the Yankees squeeze everything they can out of his seasoned veteran brain.

…Okay, it sounds kind of gross when I phrase it like that. But you know what I mean.

Get Your Texas Puns and References Ready

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I’ve already called dibs on “One Riot, One Ranger” for if Cliff Lee pitches a complete game win against the Yankees.
The Texas Rangers have the reputation of being a pleasant and likeable clubhouse, which is not particularly helpful when going into a Championship Series – where, generally speaking, searing hatred and blind loathing add a bit of spice to the proceedings. But I’m sure once the games get going and the Rangers commit unspeakable acts like scoring against C.C. Sabathia, we’ll come up with some good material. In the meantime, I’ll continue to eye Texas warily as I try to size them up.
 
*First of all, I have to say I kind of like the whole claw-and-antler schtick; it’s fun, and endearing, although I suspect I might come to find it irritating sooner rather than later. (After all the Rally Monkey seemed kind of charming at first too, before the vicious flea-ridden miscreation showed its true face).
 
*I’m just a little wary of the Josh Hamilton Redemption Story, only because – through no fault of his own – it has been turned into the kind of too-neat media narrative that’s hard to take at face value. That said, the footage of his teammates giving him a ginger ale shower (link via HardballTalk) is decidedly heartwarming.
*There are some very good baseball names on these Rangers:
Esteban German
Elvis Andrus
Neftali Feliz
…and my favorite,
Dustin Nippert.
“Win one for the Nippert!,” I would often say, if I were a Rangers fan.
*They do, of course, come equipped with a Molina. Remember what we told you last week? BEWARE OF MOLINAS! I can almost guarantee that Bengie will hurt the Yankees in some unexpected way this series. Last night against Tampa, he stole a damn base. Brace yourselves.
*My feelings towards Vlad Guerrerro have always been, and continue to be, a mixture of admiration and terror.
*Jeff Francoeur! I cannot even think about Jeff Francoeur anymore without laughing, although since I pull for the Mets when they’re not playing the Yankees, it’s sort of a brittle little laugh. Jeff Francoeur is an extremely personable player and a fantastic quote, and is therefore beloved by beat writers… at least when he first arrives in town; eventually, the fact that he is just a terrible, terrible hitter overwhelms the affability. I wish Frenchy a long and happy life, full of joy, but preferably that life can take place far away from the lineups of my favorite teams.
So Francoeur has now outlasted his original team, the Braves, in the playoffs, and gets to play in NY in the postseason, just like he hoped while he was flailing at balls several feet off the plate for the Mets this past summer. (When Mariano Rivera uncharacteristically hit him with a pitch to force in a run towards the end of the season, many of my Mets fan friends marveled at the fact that Francouer had somehow managed not to swing at the ball that hit him.) Now that I’ve written this Frenchy may well end up with the key hit of the Series - but it won’t be my fault. It’ll be the fault of any Yankees pitcher that throws him a fastball within arm’s reach of the strike zone.
What do you guys like, or dislike, about the Rangers so far?

Passing the Time

The postseason schedule is so relaxed, it’s now actually napping. As a result, we’ve got five whole days to kill before the Yankees play again, and while we figure out what to do with ourselves as we wait, I can only assume the players are doing the same. Some uneducated guesses as to how the Yankees are passing the time:

Robinson Cano: Hanging with his cousin Burt Reynolds*, tearing around Texas with a truckload of beer and eluding the sheriff with help from some friendly CBers.

*(No, really. I watched Burt Reynolds play for the Hudson Valley Renegades against the Brooklyn Cyclones this summer with, as you might imagine, considerable glee, and the discovery that he is Robinson Cano’s cousin just absolutely made my day.)

Alex Rodriguez: Sitting for a portrait of himself as a gryffin.

Derek Jeter: Oh, you know. Just chilling.

Andy Pettitte: Carefully planning ahead so that he will have just the right amount of stubble for Game 2 on Saturday.

Jorge Posada: Urinating on his hands a few extra times, spitting a lot, trying to hold his knees together with Fun-Tak, chewing gum, paper clips, and twine.

Nick Swisher: Finally getting that neck tattoo.

Mark Teixeira: Stroking a fluffy white cat and working on his sinister plan for world domination (well, I assume. No one is really that bland).

Joba Chamberlain: Wandering the streets and accosting random strangers to make sure they can see him.

A.J. Burnett: [sitting in front of the mirror]: “I’m going to pitch a great game next week! And I’m gonna help the team! Because I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and, doggonit, people like me!”

C.C. Sabathia: Watching fit, trim Cliff Lee and David Price as they pitch on absolutely nothing less than full rest, pointing, laughing, having another cheeseburger.

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Mariano Rivera: Being the speaker. Being the listener. Being the giver. Being the sustainer. Protecting us from the front and back. Protecting us from the north and the south, from above and below. Protecting us from all directions.

 Being full of perfect knowledge of truth and awareness. Being full of bliss and pure consciousness. Being truth, consciousness and bliss. Being the absolute awareness. Being full of supreme wisdom and knowledge.

Being the earth, water, fire, air and the space. Being the root foundation of speech. Being beyond the physical, mental and causal bodies. Being beyond the three aspects of time: past, present and future. Being eternally established in the muladhara chakra. Having three shaktis: action, knowledge and will.

(Griffon via Christian Damm at conceptarg.org, Photo via the AP)

Just Like Old Times

Andy tips his cap after leaving the game up 3-1 in the seventh (AP Photo/Peter Morgan)The Yankees won six pennants in Andy Pettitte’s first nine years with the team. They fell three outs short in 2004, Pettitte’s first year as a Houston Astro, but Pettitte claimed another flag with the ‘Stros in 2005. Last night, Andy Pettitte punched his ticket to his eighth and the Yankees’ fortieth World Series, exorcising the ghosts of the 2004 ALCS and 2002 and 2005 ALDS with a fine performance and a 5-2 Game Six victory over the Angels.

Pettitte made just one mistake all night, a hanging curveball that man Jeff Mathis hit for a double to lead off the third for the Angels. Mathis moved to third on a groundout and scored on a two-out Bobby Abreu single. It was the only run the Halos would get off Pettitte in his 6 1/3 innings of work. Pettitte got into a bit of a jam with two outs in the sixth when Torii Hunter singled and Vlad Guerrero doubled him to third, but Hunter’s single was a chopper that didn’t get beyond the infield grass and Guerrero’s double was a bloop to shallow right that Vlad golfed out of the dirt. Andy then fell behind Kendry Morales, 3-0, but got a Morales to chop a comebacker right at his beak for the final out of the inning.

In the meantime, the Yankees put up a three-spot on Angels starter Joe Saunders in the fourth. After Robinson Cano walked and the newly Swish-hawked Nick Swisher punched a single through the shortstop hole, Melky Cabrera bunted both runners up. Saunders then pitched around Derek Jeter, walking him on eight pitches, to get to slumping fellow lefty Johnny Damon. Damon got ahead 2-0, then punched the 2-1 pitch up the middle to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead. After Mark Teixeira reached on an infield single deep in the shortstop hole that reloaded the bases, Saunders walked in a third run on five pitches to Alex Rodriguez. The last pitch to Rodriguez seemed to be a strike (Alex was seen saying as much to Mick Kelleher at first base), but one got the sense that Saunders got off easy given Rodriguez’s hot hitting in this postseason. Darren Oliver got Jorge Posada to hit into a double play to end the threat, but Pettitte and the Yankees had their lead.

With one out in the top of the seventh, Juan Rivera singled on Pettitte’s 99th pitch of the night. Joe Girardi then called on Joba Chamberlain to pitch to the righty Mathis. Mike Scioscia countered with switch-hitting Maicer Izturis, thus taking one of his hottest hitters out of the game. Given his struggles in this series, Chamberlain seemed like a dubious choice with a slim, two-run lead, but Joba got Izturis to hit a would-be double play ball to shortstop. The ball took a funny bounce on Derek Jeter, but rolled right to Cano standing on second base for a fielder’s choice. Joba then got Erick Aybar to ground out to Jeter on two pitches.

Just six outs from the World Series, Girardi didn’t mess around. He skipped right over the scuffling Phil Hughes and went straight to Mariano Rivera. Rivera was greeted by a Chone Figgins single that was later plated by a single by Guerrero, but the other three men he faced in the eighth grounded out to the right side of the infield.

Nursing a one-run lead, the Yankee bats added some insurance in the eighth, again initiated by a Cano lead-off walk, this time on four pitches from Ervin Santana. With Scott Kazmir on in relief, Nick Swisher attempted to bunt Cano to second, but second baseman Howie Kendrick dropped the throw at first base leaving men on first and second with none out. Cabrera then attempted to bunt both runners up, but Kazmir babied the throw which sailed over Kendrick allowing Cano to score and pinch-runner Brett Gardner to go to third. After an unproductive groundout by Jeter, who has been battling a cold, Damon worked a seven-pitch walk, and Mark Teixeira hit a sac fly to deep center to plate Gardner and set the score at 5-2. Jered Weaver then came on and walked Rodriguez on four pitches before striking out Posada on six.

With that, Rivera popped back out of the dugout and set the Angels down in order, wrapping up the pennant by striking out pinch-hitter Gary Matthews Jr. with a fastball up and away.

the Yankees celebrate the pennant (AP Photo/Peter Morgan)There’s a sense that the Yankees are back in familiar territory, but while Pettitte will be playing in his eighth World Series, Jeter and Rivera their seventh, and Posada his sixth, this is a first for the vast majority of the team. Hideki Matsui was on the 2003 pennant winners, Jose Molina was on the 2002 Angels, Johnny Damon and Eric Hinske were on the 2004 and 2007 Red Sox, respectively, and Damaso Marte was on the 2005 White Sox, but for the other 16 men on the roster, including Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and even home grown Yankees Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera, this will be their first World Series.

One could see that difference in the celebrations. While Rivera and Posada shared a long, quiet embrace, Teixeira and Rodriguez acted like, well, like they had just won the American League pennant.

The Yankees have two days to celebrate and prepare for the arrival of the Phillies on Wednesday. With Pettitte having done his job, CC Sabathia will start Game One of the World Series in a stellar matchup against fellow lefty Cliff Lee. For the first time since 1996 the Yankees will be the challengers to the defending world champions. That’s fine by me. Feels like old times.

No End In Sight

Not long after opening the gates to fans, the Yankees and Major League Baseball have postponed Game Six of the ALCS to Sunday night in the 8:20 time slot reserved for Game Seven. If the Angels win Game Six, Game Seven will be played Monday night with first pitch at 7:57. The delay allows the Angels to skip Joe Saunders and start Jered Weaver in Sunday’s Game Six, though that might be to the Yankees’ benefit as Saunders has handled the Yankees better than Weaver in their most recent starts and Weaver’s road ERA is nearly two runs higher than his home mark. In his last start in the Bronx on September 14, Weaver allowed five runs on eight hits and four walks in 7 1/3 innings in an Angels loss. For that reason, Scioscia will stick with Saunders tomorrow night.

The real drag would be if the Angels force a Game Seven. That would not only force CC Sabathia to pitch on Monday, pushing his first World Series start back to Game Three and eliminating any hope of him making three Series starts, but would also draw a John Lackey on three-day’s rest. It would be thrilling baseball, but I’m sure Yankee fans would rather save the thrills for the World Series.

At any rate, until tomorrow night . . .

Remember The Alamo

Even if they came close to ending the series in Anaheim and likely feel a little bit diminished about having to crank things back up in the Bronx prior to the World Series, the Yankees have to feel pretty comfortable heading into tonight’s Game Six up three games to two in the ALCS with CC Sabathia lurking to pitch Game Seven if necessary. The have to because the only other option invites the ghosts of 2004 to mingle with old dames Mystique and Aura, who are still hanging their inspirational posters in the new Yankee clubhouse.

There are only five Yankees, and no coaches, remaining from the 2004 team that blew a 3-0 lead in the ALCS against the Red Sox–Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui, and Alex Rodriguez–but it surely lingers in the minds of Johnny Damon, who was on the other side of that collapse, and Andy Pettitte, who spent October 2004 in Texas, nursing his surgically repaired pitching elbow and likely wishing he could have taken the ball for his old mates in the disastrous Game Seven.

Pettitte gets his chance tonight, looking to put the Yankees into the World Series for the first time since 2003, the final year of his initial run with the team. Alex and I both expect Pettitte to come up big, but the fact that the Yankees are 0-5 in their last two ALCS in potential series-clinching games will linger in my mind until they put a “1″ in the win column there.

Pettitte’s start tonight will be his first home start of this postseason. Pettitte struggled at the new Yankee Stadium early in the regular season. On May 7, in his third start at the new park, he gave up four home runs in six innings in a loss to the Rays. In his previous start, he had allowed five runs in 5 2/3 innings to the Angels in a game the Yankees came back to win. However, Pettitte seemed to finally settle in at the new digs down the stretch. In four home starts in August and September, he posted a 2.52 ERA and compiled this line: 25 IP, 22 H, 7 R, 11 BB, 20 K. Yes, the walks were a bit high, but he allowed just one home run in those four starts, a seventh-inning solo shot by David Murphy.

Joe Saunders is the man charged with extending the Angels’ season. Saunders pitched very well, and very similarly, in his last two starts against the Yankees, September 21 in Anaheim (8 1/3 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 HR, 0 BB, 3 K), and in Game Two of this series in the Bronx (7 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 HR, 1 BB, 5 K). With that ALCS start included, Saunders is 7-0 with a 2.56 ERA in nine starts since returning from a disabled-list stay due to a tired pitching shoulder.

Despite a tendency to overmanage in other areas thus far this series, Joe Girardi is running out his standard lineup tonight, complete with Nick Swisher batting in his usual eight spot. The only question now is if they’ll get the game in. They’ll try, primarily to avoid facing Jered Weaver and John Lackey in the final two games. At this point in the postseason, I doubt there’s much risk of losing gate due to a one-day delay.

“We just liked the matchup much better.”

Howie Kendrick scores the winning run in the bottom of the 11th inning of Game Three of the ALCS (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Let’s cut to the chase here. After a 13-inning Game Two, the Yankees and Angels were tied in extra inning again in Game Three, this time 4-4 in the bottom of the 11th. In relief of starter Andy Pettitte–who allowed three runs in 6 1/3 innings on a solo homer by Howie Kendrick in the fifth and a two-out, two-run, game-tying shot by Vladimir Guerrero in the sixth–Joe Girardi had already used Joba Chamberlain (who allowed what was then the go-ahead run following a Kendrick triple in the seventh), Damaso Marte, Phil Coke, Phil Hughes, and Mariano Rivera.

Rivera came on in the bottom of the tenth following a lead-off double by backup catcher Jeff Mathis off Hughes. Erick Aybar greeted Rivera with a sac bunt that Rivera, attempting to get Mathis at third, bounced past Alex Rodriguez in a play that eerily recalled Rivera’s error in Game Seven of the 2001 World Series. Rivera’s throw hit the dirt because he made it while spinning and falling to the grass on the third-base side of the mound. The error would have won the game for the Angels had Johnny Damon not backed up the throw perfectly, holding Mathis at third. With the infield playing in, Chone Figgins hit a hard shot down the first base line that Mark Teixeira smothered, holding Mathis and forcing Figgins out at first for the first out. With runners on second and third and one out, Girardi had Rivera walk Bobby Abreu to set up a force at every base and sent Jerry Hairston Jr. out to left field to replace the weak-armed Damon in case he needed to make a potentially game-saving throw to the plate. Rivera got Torii Hunter to ground into a 3-2 force to Teixeira that erased Mathis at home, then got Vlad Guerrero to ground out to Teixeira’s right to end the inning.

The catch was that, when Girardi sent Hairston into the field, Hairston was already in the game as the designated hitter having pinch-hit for Brett Gardner, who pinch-ran for original DH Hideki Matsui, who walked to put the tying run on base in the eighth. Gardner was caught stealing two pitches before Jorge Posada hit a game-tying solo homer. Hairston hit for Gardner because Gardner’s spot in the order came due when the Angels’ lefty closer Brian Fuentes was on the mound (never mind that Hairston hit .242/.319/.422 against lefties during the regular season while Gardner hit .291/.381/.400 against them and had a reverse split in Triple-A in 2008 as well).

Moving Hairston into the field put Rivera in the batting order in Damon’s place, which was due up third in the following inning. Rivera used 17 pitches to get into and out of that jam in the tenth, and his spot came due with two outs and none on in the top of the 11th. Still, Girardi sent up third-catcher Francisco Cervelli to hit for Rivera, leaving just Jose Molina and Freddy Guzman on the bench (I assume Guzman can’t throw either, or he’d have been a much simpler defensive replacement for Damon). Facing Ervin Santana, Cervelli struck out, and Girardi went to David Robertson in the bottom of the 11th, leaving just Alfredo Aceves and Chad Gaudin in his bullpen.

Robertson, who pitched out of a jam in Game Two of the ALDS against the Twins in almost exactly the same manner that Rivera did in the tenth inning of this game, got Juan Rivera to ground out to short and Kendry Morales to fly out to left to start the 11th. Then Girardi popped out of the dugout to bring in Aceves to face Howie Kendrick.

Why?

That will be a question Joe Girardi will be asked until the Yankees win this series, and throughout the winter and possibly beyond if they don’t. Robertson looked good against his two batters, getting ahead 1-2 on Rivera and throwing strike one to Morales before running the count full and getting him to fly out. His postseason mettle had been tested in that jam against the Twins, and the Yankees had just two pitchers left in the pen in part because Chamberlain, Marte, and Coke each threw just one-third of a frame, and Rivera had been taken out after one due to loss of the DH.

Pressed for an answers after the game, pitching coach Dave Eiland said, “We just liked the matchup better.” I understand that to a certain degree. Robertson and Aceves are both right-handers, but Robertson is a power pitcher who challenges hitters with his low- to mid-90s fastball that seems faster due to his delivery and a hard-breaking curve, while Aceves is a kitchen-sink junkballer who changes speeds and keeps hitters off balance. Matchups aren’t always just about handedness or even the raw quality of a pitchers stuff. Sometimes they’re about style, and Girardi and Eiland clearly preferred Aceves’s junkballing against Kendrick, who is something of a right-handed Robinson Cano type, rather than Robertson’s power combo.

What I don’t get is why they felt they had to make a move with two out and none on. Yes, Kendrick had homered earlier in the game, but that was off the lefty Pettitte. Kendrick has just 12 homers in 963 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers in his major league career. If Kendrick got a hit, Girardi and Eiland could concern themselves about the best matchup against the typically weak-hitting Mathis (which very well may have been Aceves as well, but I suspect would have been Robertson).

As it was, Aceves fell behind Kendrick 2-0, then 3-1, and Kendrick hit the 3-1 pitch back up through the middle for a single. Aceves then threw ball one to Mathis after which Mathis crushed a shot to the left-field gap that scored Kendrick with the winning run, handing the Yankees their first loss of the postseason, 5-4 in 11 innings.

The loss is a bitter one given the many questionable decisions that led to it, but it may ultimately proove moot. The Yankees still hold a 2-1 lead in the series and have CC Sabathia going Tuesday night in Game Four, giving them a good chance to go up 3-1. Of course, the Yankee offense will have to contribute as well. The Yankees’ four runs in this game came on a quartet of solo homers (by Derek Jeter leading off the game, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon, and Jorge Posada), but they left ten other men on base, not counting Gardner, who was erased by a well-timed pitchout. The Yankees are 5-1 thus far this postseason, but they’ve scored exactly four runs in all but the first of those games and needed extra innings in two of them to get to that underwhelming total.

The Yankees need to turn the page quickly from this exhausting and dispiriting loss. They’re still in great shape in this series, but given their history in Anaheim, it’s easy to see how this loss could get into their heads. Yankee fans should be glad it’s not Chad Gaudin or Joba Chamberlain starting Game Four.

Must-Have

In every postseason series there are certain games that, based on the starting pitchers, teams consider built-in wins. These are the games that a team believes it has to win in order to, if you’ll pardon the mixed-sports metaphor, hold serve in the series. For the Yankees, those games are the ones started by CC Sabathia (they’re 2-for-2 thus far). For the Phillies, they’re the games started by Cliff Lee (3-for-3). For the Dodgers, they’re the games started by Clayton Kershaw (their loss in his Game One start is why they’re trailing in the NLCS).

The Angels’ must-win games are those started by this afternoon’s starting pitcher, Jered Weaver. The Angels won Weaver’s Game Two start in the ALDS against the Red Sox, taking commanding 2-0 lead in the series on their way to a three-game sweep. Coming into this series, they rejiggered their rotation so that Weaver could make his first start at Angel Stadium, where his ERA this season was nearly two runs better than it was on the road (and is nearly a run better on his career) and where he made his strong ALDS start. Weaver was the Angels’ best starter during the regular season and tonight matches up against Andy Pettitte, the Yankees’ number-three. That’s as close to a favorable pitching matchup as the Angels are going to get prior to John Lackey taking on A.J. Burnett in Game Five. This is a game the Halos have to have.

That would be true even if the Angels didn’t come home down 0-2 in the series, but given that predicament, this game goes from a must-have to perhaps their last chance to save their season. Because both of the games in New York were played as scheduled (despite foreboding forecasts of rain), CC Sabathia remains on schedule to start Game Four on short rest against Scott Kazmir, who struggled in his ALDS start against the Red Sox. If the Angels lose again tonight, Sabathia, who dominated the Halos in Game One, will take the mound with a chance to complete an unexpected Yankee sweep. (I’d quote the unfavorable stats about teams down 0-3 in best-of-seven series, but the lone exception to the rule just happens be the last team to face the Yankees in the ALCS.)

However, if the Angels win tonight behind Weaver, it makes Game Four a must-win for the Yankees, not only because Sabathia is starting, but because another loss there would let the Angels all the way back into the series, tying it up 2-2 and giving Anaheim all of the momentum heading into that Lackey-Burnett matchup in Game Five.

Weaver made three starts against the Yankees this season, the best of which was the one he made at home, when he struck out nine Yankees in six innings on July 11. Still, even in that game, Weaver allowed four runs (three earned), in part due to the two home runs he allowed. One of those homers was hit by Eric Hinske, who was left off the Yankees’ ALCS roster, but the other was hit by Mr. Clutch himself, Alex Rodriguez.

The loser in that game, incidentally, was Andy Pettitte, who gave up six runs on seven hits in just 4 1/3 innings. Pettitte was similarly kicked around in an earlier start against the Angels in the Bronx, but a return trip to Anaheim resulted in a quality-start win on September 21. The difference was the overall improvement in Pettitte’s pitching in the second half, which he maintained with a solid start against the Twins in the clinching game in the ALDS.

In his two postseason starts since returning to the Yankees, Pettitte, who tied John Smoltz for the most postseason wins ever with that win in the Metrodome’s final game, has allowed just one run in 12 2/3 innings, striking out 12 against three walks and no homers. Weaver has a 2.19 ERA in two career postseason starts, both of them coming at home against the Red Sox in the ALDS. He’ll face the usual Yankee lineup this afternoon.

Better Lucky Than Good

Joe Buck summarized it perfectly in the ninth inning: “What. A. Game.”

Game 2 of the American League Championship Series went the way pundits and prognosticators figured every game between the Yankees and Angels would. There was great pitching, timely fielding, and enough punching and counter-punching from both sides to merit an HBO documentary. And like Game 2 of the Division Series against the Minnesota Twins, nine innings weren’t enough to decide the outcome.

Question marks defined the lead-up. Would the weather hold? Would AJ Burnett? How quickly would the Yankees offense strike against Joe Saunders and get into the Angels’ bullpen? Would the Angels rebound after matching the worst defensive performance in their postseason history?

The answers were yes (until the ninth inning); yes, sort of quickly but not with enough oomph to force Scioscia’s hand; and kindasorta.

The scoring reflected the team’s personalities: The Yankees flexed their power while the Angels thrived on their speed and ability to execute small ball. In no inning was this more apparent than the 11th: Alfredo Aceves followed 2 1/3 innings of splendid relief by Mariano Rivera by promptly walking the leadoff man, Gary Matthews, Jr. A sacrifice bunt by Erick Aybar put the lead run in scoring position for Chone Figgins, whose first hit of the postseason plated Matthews to give the Angels a 3-2 lead. In the bottom half, Angels closer Brian Fuentes, who led the AL with 48 saves during the regular season and was a stalwart to the Colorado Rockies’ run to the World Series two years ago, made the mistake of throwing an 0-2 fastball up and out over the plate to Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod drilled a line drive to right field — a 320-foot Yankee Stadium Special into the second row to tie the game at 3-3.

”I just can’t imagine a scenario where you would go braindead and want to do that,” said MLB Network’s Joe Magrane, referring to Fuentes’s decision on 0-and-2 to throw the fastball in that location.

There were times over the next few innings where both teams wasted scoring opportunities. Jeff Mathis belted a two-out double in the top of the 12th and was stranded when Matthews struck out to end the inning. In the Yankees’ half, A-Rod popped up with the bases loaded and the winning run on third. In the top of the 13th, Robinson Cano, for the second time in the game, misplayed a routine grounder off the bat of Aybar. And for the second time, the pitcher bailed him out; David Robertson induced an inning-ending groundout from Vladimir Guerrero, which left Aybar at third base.

The Yankees did not waste their chance in the 13th. Jerry Hairston, Jr.’s leadoff single plus Brett Gardner’s sac bunt had the Yankees set up well. After an intentional walk to Cano, Melky Cabrera, the Yankees’ designated walk-off king during the regular season, hit a bouncer to Maicer Izturis at second base and Izturis, instead of getting the sure out at first base, threw to second to try to force Cano. The throw was wide, pulled Aybar off the bag and rolled to Figgins, who had a play on Hairston at the plate. Figgins bobbled the ball, Hairston scored and the Yankees won thanks to another Angels miscue. The Yankees’ ability to play small-ball and manufacture runs has been lost in the series analysis.

From a fan standpoint, it was a welcome sight to see the Yankees celebrate another extra-inning playoff win. The last time the Yankees played an extra-inning game in the LCS was 2004, when David Ortiz singled home the winning run in the 14th inning of Game 5 to keep that epic comeback alive.

Now it’s on to California, and the big question: With a 2-0 series lead, regardless of what happens Monday, will Sabathia pitch Game 4?

(more…)

Units Of Measurement

One of my big fears about A.J. Burnett was that he would be the 2009 version of Randy Johnson. In his two years as a Yankee, Johnson won 34 games, struck out 383 men, and had one key run of dominance, posting a 1.93 ERA over his final eight starts of 2005 as the team went 7-1 in those games and won the AL East via a tie-breaker with the Wild Card Red Sox. Those handsome counting stats and one hot stretch belied the fact that Johnson was maddeningly inconsistent and enigmatic, and used Jorge Posada as his scapegoat for his struggles, forcing his manager to pair him up with weak-hitting backup John Flaherty.

Most significantly, Johnson, who was brought in to be the dominant ace who would make the difference for the Yankees in the postseason as he had for the 2001 Diamondbacks who beat the Yankees in the World Series, was awful in both of his postseason starts as a Yankee. To make matters worse, both of those starts were key Game Three rubber matches in best-of-five ALDS series that were tied 1-1. Johnson’s failures put the Yankees in 1-2 holes against the Angels in 2005 and the Tigers in 2006, a game away from elimination, contributing mightily to the team’s first-round exits both years.

Burnett has proven to be a far better teammate than Johnson, but his regular season performance in 2009 was certainly Unit-esque. However, his role in the postseason has thus far been very different. There are two key reasons. The first is that CC Sabathia, not Burnett, is the man the Yankees are counting on to be that dominant post-season ace, and Sabathia has thus far delivered. The second is that Burnett, though he opened the season in the third spot in the rotation behind Sabathia and Chien-Ming Wang, is not starting those crucial Games Three. Instead he’s following Sabathia, which means that thus far both of his starts have come with the Yankees up 1-0. That’s a much lower risk situation as a Burnett stinker would do no worse than tie the series with plenty of games left to play.

Also, to Burnett’s credit, he pitched well against the Twins in his first career postseason start. It was a typical Burnett outing in which he put more men on base (seven, five via walk plus two hit by pitch) than got there via hits (three), but the end result was just one run alowed in six innings and, ultimately, a Yankee win.

Tonight he looks to put the Yankees up 2-0 against the arch-rival Angels and lefty Joe Saunders, once again pitching to Jose Molina. As for Saunders, he’s been excellent since returning from an August DL stay, going 7-0 in eight starts with a 2.55 ERA, including a strong 8 1/3-inning outing against the Yankees in Anaheim on September 21. The DL stay was due to a tight shoulder, and it seems the two weeks off were exactly what he needed.

Outside of Molina batting ninth, the Yankee order is the same as last night, including Hideki Matsui DHing against the lefty (because he hits them well, and so that Posada can sub in for Molina once Burnett is out of the game).

Despite forecasts of rain, it’s still dry in northern New Jersey a half-hour before first pitch. Still, the bitter cold could negatively effect Burnett’s ability to grip his knuckle-curve, giving sinker/slider pitcher Saunders and edge. If so, perhaps Girardi will get Posada in the game even earlier, as it was Burnett’s doubts about Posada’s ability to block that curve in the dirt that led to his preference for Molina.

¡Si, Si!

Sabathia pumps his fist after ending the 7th with a strikeout of Mike Napoli (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)In the previous two postseasons, CC Sabathia went 1-3 in four starts with a 9.47 ERA and 2.32 WHIP. It seems clear now that his struggles were due to exhaustion. In 2007, Sabathia threw a major league leading 241 regular season innings. That was nearly 50 more innings than he had thrown the previous year, and 31 more than his previous career high. In 2008, he threw a dozen more innings than in 2007 and pitched on three-days rest in his last three starts in September.

This year, Joe Girardi and Dave Eiland never once asked Sabathia to start on short rest during the season and gave him an extra day or two of rest before 12 of his 34 starts. Sabathia finished the year with “just” 230 innings pitched. As a result, his postseason line after two starts looks like this: 14 2/3 IP, 12 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 0 HR, 1 BB, 15 K, 1.23 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 2-0.

The Yankees got two runs in the bottom of the first of Game One of the ALCS Friday night thanks to a pair of defensive miscues by the Angels, who played a sloppy game on a frigid night in the Bronx. Sabathia made those two runs stand up for eight innings, and Mariano Rivera closed the door in the ninth, giving the Yankees a 1-0 lead in the series. That’s really all you need to know, but here are the details.

After Sabathia pitched around a two-out single by Torii Hunter in the top of the first, a hit that would prove to be one of just four Sabathia allowed on a night in which just five Angels reached base, Derek Jeter led off the bottom of the first with a classic opposite-field single off John Lackey. Johnny Damon, who went 1-for-12 in the Division Series against the Twins, but spent the layoff in between series working on his swing with hitting coach Kevin Long, particularly on reducing his head movement, followed with an opposite field single of his own, dropping a hit down near the left-field foul line. Ex-Yankee Juan Rivera gathered up the ball, but his throw to second was off-line, allowing Damon to move to second. After Mark Teixeira flew out to shallow left, Alex Rodriguez lifted a sac fly to center to give the Yankees an early 1-0 lead. Lackey then got Hideki Matsui to pop out behind third, but shortstop Erick Aybar didn’t hear third baseman Chone Figgins tell him to take the ball and it fell in between the two of them for what was absurdly ruled a single as Damon scored the second Yankee run of the inning.

That was all Sabathia would need. In the top of the fourth, Vlad Guerrero hit what looked like a home run to the visiting bullpen in left center, but the ball hit off the Plexiglas wall and Guerrero, in his home run trot, cruised into second with a double. He later scored on a Kendry Morales single, but that was the only run the Angels managed all night. Sabathia didn’t give up another hit the rest of the night, retiring 13 of the next 14 Angel batters (the exception being a walk to Morales in the seventh).

Meanwhile, the Yankees added some insurance runs. Damon led off the fifth with a double and scored on another by Matsui. Alex Rodriguez walked in between the two and ran through a stop sign to try to score on Matsui’s hit. The throw beat Rodriguez to the plate, but despite an awkward collision, catcher Jeff Mathis never actually tagged him. Nonetheless, Alex was ruled out and no one argued the call. It was just as well, he should have obeyed his third base coach (Alex admitted his mistake after the game, saying he had put his head down too early), and the run wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the game.

In the sixth, Melky Cabrera, another ALDS scuffler who had a good night, going 1-for-2 with a pair of free passes, walked, moved to second when Lackey’s attempted pick-off throw dove into the runner and got past Morales at first base, then scored on a single to center by Jeter. Jeter’s hit took an unexpected hop on Torii Hunter in center, getting past Hunter and allowing Jeter to go to second, but the extra base proved moot. Nonetheless, it was the Angels third error of the game (and should have been their fourth).

Pitching in relief of Lackey in the seventh, righty Jason Bulger loaded the bases with two outs on a pair of walks and a pitch that hit Robinson Cano in the ankle, but both the HBP and the jam left no lasting results as Nick Swisher struck out to end the threat.

Sabathia worked eight full, throwing a reasonable 113 pitchDerek Jeter congratulates Sabathia after the 7th inning (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)es and striking out seven. Rivera came on in the ninth and, after a leadoff walk to Hunter, locked down the 4-1 win. The Yankees take a 1-0 lead in the series and are looking sharp and smart with CC still on schedule to pitch twice more in this series should it reach seven games.

Game On!

The rain has held off all day. Though the skies remain gray and threatening, it seems they’ll get Game One of the ALCS in. I only hope it’s without interruption. Even still, it should be a miserable night to be out there as temperatures dipping into the 30s could get downright icy with some precipitation. In the comments the other day, Sliced Bread compared the weather to an air-conditioned car wash. CC Sabathia has spent his career pitching for teams in Cleveland and Milwaukee, but one wonders if the cold could be partially to blame for his perennially poor Aprils. Either way, here’s hoping he waxes the Angels tonight.

As a sort of pregame show, here’s the latest Bronx Banter Breakdown staring Alex, myself, and Ted Berg talking Yankees-Angels ALCS. My massive series preview is the post below this one. We can’t get any more ready. Play ball!

ALCS: Angels vs. Yankees

This is going to be epic. The ALCS should be pretty good, too.

When the decade began, the idea of a Yankees-Angels rivalry seemed laughable. The Yankees were on their way to their fourth world championship in five years and the Angels hadn’t made the postseason since 1986. Then came 2002. Having come two outs from a fifth title in 2001, the Yankees won the AL East for the fifth year in a row and were matched up against a surprising 99-win Wild Card team from Anaheim in the first round. The Yankees were the clear favorites, but after pulling out a come-from-behind win in Game One thanks to an eighth-inning homer by Bernie Williams, they were swept in the next three games by the relentless Angels, who went on to win the franchise’s first pennant and world championship.

A losing season in 2003 seemed to paint the Halos as a fluke, but they came storming back in 2004 and won their division. Since then, the Angels have won the AL West in five of the last six years, went 30-18 against the Yankees from 2004 to 2008, and beat the Yankees in the ALDS again in 2005 in a nerve-wracking series that saw the Yankees blow fifth-inning leads in Games Two and Three and lose Game Five in large part because of an outfield collision between Gary Sheffield and Bubba Crosby that allowed two runs to score.

It was also that series that, to many minds, sealed Alex Rodriguez’s reputation as a post-season choker. Rodriguez hit .133 in the series and, representing the tying run in the ninth inning of Game Five, followed a Derek Jeter leadoff single with a back-breaking double-play. The trick was that the Angels gave Rodriguez nothing to hit, walking him six times and hitting him twice. As with that double play, Alex got himself into trouble by expanding his zone and swinging at the junk he was being offered, but he still posted a .435 on-base percentage on the series. That devilish and effective strategy came from the mind of manager Mike Scioscia, who took over the Angels in 2000 and has presided over what has been by far the franchise’s most successful decade.

The Angels seemed to have the Yankees’ number again this year when they swept them in Anaheim just before the All-Star break to take a 4-2 lead in the season series, but the Yankees, as they did to the entire league, stormed back in the second half to even the series, thus avoiding losing the season set to the Halos for the first time since 2003.

Both teams swept their way to this year’s ALCS, though the Angels did it in more convincing fashion against a superior opponent, the Red Sox, while the Yankees needed a pair of comebacks to beat the lowly Twins. For the Angels, it is their first ALCS appearance since they beat the Yankees to get there in 2005. For the Yankees, it’s their first since they were victims of the Red Sox’s groundbreaking comeback from a 0-3 deficit in games in 2004. Though both teams are postseason staples, making five of the last six, neither has reached the World Series since the Yankees out-lasted the Red Sox in the epic 2003 ALCS.

The blood isn’t nearly as bad in this matchup, but the Yankees find themselves on an unfamiliar side of this one-sided rivalry. It’s the Bombers who always come up short in this pairing. Having finally escaped the perilous best-of-five format of the Division Series, this rivalry will literally reach the next level over the next week. Though the Yankees are clearly the better team by objective measure, I expect the series will be hard-fought and heart-stopping. My official prediction is Yankees in seven, and I expect nothing less.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver