Close the deal

questfor27.jpgBy Jon Lane
I started covering the Yankees regularly in 2003, preceded by two seasons (1997 and 1998) for a magazine when I wasn’t as immersed in the daily grind. The last time the Yankees won it all was 2000 when Mike Piazza’s loud out put a scare into Yankees Nation before it landed safely in Bernie Williams’ glove. That was at Shea Stadium. The last time the Yankees celebrated a World Championship on their turf – the original Yankee Stadium – was 1999 after completing a four-game sweep of the Atlanta Braves.

In the nine years since Shea it’s been near-misses, heartache and high hopes smashed to pieces. We’ve had to endure Kevin Brown, Carl Pavano, Tony Womack, Kenny Lofton, Angry Randy Johnson … I’ve probably left out a few. Fans have all shared in the pain of bitter disappointment and another year of waiting.

Okay, 26 World Championships will never be matched and will always be cherished. But the Boston Celtics never stopped compiling championship trophies. Neither did the Montreal Canadiens, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Los Angeles Lakers or John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins. Outsiders like to view dynasties and institutions with scorn; fans appreciate it and always leave room for more.

The Yankees have won 113 games, more than anybody in Major League Baseball. They have to win one more. If they don’t, 113 wins mean nothing and the Phillies will deserve the accolades that come with being a repeat champion, and their fans will have earned the right to brag.

Tonight is Game 6. The hell with the safety net. The Yankees need to get it done – and it’s your chance to implore them to close the deal. Show Philadelphia that New York is louder, prouder, crazier. Don’t fret over the chance of a Game 7 or how you may wake up tomorrow with laryngitis.

Of course, how the Yankees respond is totally out of your control, but the illusion of influencing the outcome by superstition and prayer is part of being a fan, and there are things the Yankees can control to put them in position to finally finish the Phighting Phillies:

? Leave no doubt: The great Pedro Martinez stands in the way one more time. As always he arrived with bravado and will take the ball with confidence.

“Everybody that grows up in the Dominican and didn’t have a rich life is a survivor,” Martinez said during Tuesday’s media conference. “And in baseball I’m a survivor. I’m someone that wasn’t meant to be, and here I am on one big stage.”

You can hate him if that’s your prerogative, but Martinez demands your respect. That said, there’s no stopping you from giving him an enemy’s welcome, writes Benjamin Kabak, one of our friends from River Ave. Blues. There’s been debate over Andy Pettitte starting on three days’ rest and the possible usage of Mariano Rivera for more than two innings. The Yankees’ offense can eliminate those seeds – and keep stress levels at a minimum – by pounding Pedro early and feasting on the Phillies’ weak bullpen.

pettitte_250_110409.jpg? If Chad Gaudin had started Game 5 and gotten lit up, many would be screaming at Joe Girardi about why he didn’t go for the kill with A.J. Burnett. It’s the nature of this beast, and now that we’re at Game 6, give Girardi a break. You want Pettitte on the mound tonight – period. He’s 3-0 with a 3.24 ERA in four postseason starts, and tops baseball’s charts with 17 playoff wins and five series-clinching victories.  

“He’s done it the whole year, but there’s something about the postseason that makes him rise to the occasion,” Burnett told reporters on Tuesday. “I think we’re going to be all right.”

While Pettitte hasn’t gone on short rest since his final start of the 2006 season, he also had at least one extra day’s rest over his final eight starts of 2009. The extra rest has made a world of difference for CC Sabathia. It will help Pettitte.

“I would think that he’s rested,” Girardi said. “That we haven’t had to overwork him the last two months, that’s probably why he feels extremely well.”

(Here are links to videos of the full press conferences with Pettitte and Girardi.)

? Provided the bats don’t blow away Pedro or the Phillies’ bullpen, and if Pettitte and the Yankees take a close lead into the seventh inning, lock it down. I don’t always agree with Mike Francesa, but Rivera’s had two days rest and probably won’t throw again until February. Ride that final leg with the greatest closer ever.

“Hopefully, we don’t need it,” Rivera said. “We will have to do whatever it takes to win the game. It’s a big game for us.”

Rivera’s ERA this postseason is 0.63 ERA in 11 outings (one run, nine hits in 14 1/3 innings). Opponents are batting .176 against him. He’s saved 39 postseason games and closed out 14 clinchers. Convinced?

Talk to you tonight. If you can get to Yankee Stadium early, here’s a rundown of the festivities:

4:50 p.m. – 5:50 p.m. Yankees take BP

5:00 p.m. Gates Open

5:50 p.m. – 6:50 p.m. Phillies take BP

7:35 p.m. Lineups Announced

7:45 p.m. Presentation of Colors: United States Coast Guard Color Guard

7:46 p.m. National Anthem: Mary J. Blige

7:49 p.m. Ceremonial First Pitch

7:51 p.m. Game Ball Delivered to Mound – Boys and Girls Clubs of America

7:52 p.m. Umpires and Managers to Home Plate

7:55 p.m. Yankees Take the Field

7:57 p.m. First Pitch

Still one more for No. 27

burnett_300_110309.jpgBy Jon Lane
Of course, there’s uproar over the fact that the Yankees actually lost a game, this one Game 5 to the defending World Series champions, and Joe Girardi’s decision to start A.J. Burnett on three days’ rest instead of Chad Gaudin.

Take your imaginary scale and place it in front of you. Then weigh these options in a potential World Championship-clinching game: Burnett or Gaudin? Gaudin or Burnett?

I addressed your comments in my previous entry – great feedback, by the way, so keep it coming. Girardi’s over-managed at times and has made some strange moves, but I stand by him in this case. You win and lose with your best. Burnett didn’t lose that game because he pitched on three days’ rest. He lost because he’s an enigma and the Phillies were bound to bust out. I also refer to what Robin Roberts told a Philly reporter before Game 5: In his days starting on as little as 24 hours rest was nothing.

Yep, the Yankees are in serious trouble, just like when they were ahead 3-2 against the Angels in the ALCS after losing Game 5 and everyone had flashbacks to 2004. Chill. The Yankees took two of three in Philadelphia against the champs and have two chances to win it at home. They still need one win to win it all and have Andy Pettitte – owner of the most series-clinching wins in history – likely going in Game 6. You’ll take that, right?

Short rest or not, you like the Yankees’ chances, even against the amazing Pedro Martinez. Pettitte is 4-6 with a 4.15 ERA in his career working on three days’ rest. The last time he did it was 2006 in Houston (1-1, 3.79.).

Last I checked Burnett was 4-0, 2.33 prior to Game 5. Studying the numbers helps one make a decision, but in the big picture they mean nothing.

_______________________

Here’s yet another reason why it’s not 2004 – or even 2003. The Yankees’ winning percentage at home was a league-best .704. They outscored opponents by 101 runs and hit 136 of their 244 home runs in the new place. You’d also have to go back to September 11 and 12 (Orioles), and June 17 and 18 (Nationals) for the last times they lost two straight at Yankee Stadium.

_______________________

arod_200_110309.jpgIf the Yankees wrap it up Wednesday night, Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon and Alex Rodriguez are, for my money, the team’s top MVP candidates. Jeter’s double-play grounder in the ninth was one of the final nails of Game 5, but he’s still batting .364 in the World Series. Damon is batting .381 and his two stolen bases in Game 4 is another part of Yankees lore. And since starting his first Fall Classic 0-for-8 with six strikeouts, A-Rod homered in Game 3 and totaled four RBIs in Games 4 and 5. One more big hit in Game 6 can seal it for the Yankees’ third baseman.

What Rodriguez is doing is more remarkable considering that Mark Teixeira has been terrible. Teixeira is 2-for-19 with seven strikeouts, including his game-ender as the tying run Monday night. In the postseason, Teixeira is batting .172 (10-for-58) with 16 strikeouts.

More troubling is Robinson Cano’s .167 average, which is tied with Nick Swisher for the team low, and his ridiculous struggles with runners on base have continued (1-for-10, one RBI). Swisher was benched for Jerry Hairston Jr. in Game 2. As one reader suggested, does Girardi gulp and bench Cano, a .320 hitter in the regular season, for Ramiro Pena, added to the World Series roster on Monday?

I wouldn’t, but Bill Madden reminded us of 1978 when the little-known Brian Doyle replaced the injured Willie Randolph late in the season and batted .438 against the Dodgers.

_______________________

Chase Utley is the Phillies’ MVP to date; his five home runs is tied with Reggie Jackson (1977) for the World Series record. But despite the Game 5 win, the Phillies have issues.

If Martinez can get them through Game 6, the big debate in Philadelphia is who starts a Game 7: Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels or J.A. Happ? Hamels has taken some unfair flack for his “I can’t wait for it to end. It’s been mentally draining. At year’s end, you just can’t wait for a fresh start.” (Disclaimer: He said this after saying he’d want the ball in a potential Game 7.) However, the city – and reportedly Brett Myers – is down on him and, let’s face it, Hamels has been hideous. Happ hasn’t started since September 29 (more perspective to the Burnett-Gaudin debate).

Lee would pitch on two days’ rest, but Thursday is his scheduled throw day, so my guess is the Phillies got with their ace left-hander and empty the bullpen from there.

Furthermore, who’s Charlie Manuel’s closer? Ryan Madson started the ninth inning of Game 5 with Brad Lidge on the bench. Madson got it done, but barely. Neither inspire confidence in big spots.

World Series Game 5: Lineups

YANKEES (3-1/103-59)
yankees.jpgDerek Jeter SS
Johnny Damon LF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Nick Swisher RF
Robinson Cano 2B
Brett Gardner CF
Jose Molina C
A.J. Burnett P

Pitching: A.J. Burnett (13-9, 4.04)

PHILLIES (1-3/93-69)
phillies.jpgJimmy Rollins SS
Shane Victorino CF
Chase Utley 2B
Ryan Howard 1B
Jayson Werth RF
Raul Ibanez LF
Pedro Feliz 3B
Carlos Ruiz C
Cliff Lee P

Pitching: Cliff Lee (7-4, 3.39)

Joe Girardi just met the media. Melky Cabrera has what Girardi called a mild strain of his left hamstring and is “very limited.” A move is expected to replace Cabrera on the World Series roster since Major League Baseball allows injury substitutions. – Jon Lane

The Burnett debate

By Jon Lane
It’s one more and done for the Yankees, who can accomplish the mission that’s been on Joe Girardi’s back as soon as tonight. I haven’t been in Philadelphia, but Chris Shearn, Joe Auriemma and Kim Jones have done a nice job keeping you plugged in. The crew – along with My YES – are in Philly one more night to either help celebrate a coronation or meet me in the Bronx for Game 6 Wednesday night.

There’s been debate on whether Joe Girardi made the right decision by going with A.J. Burnett tonight in Game 5 on three days’ rest, instead of Chad Gaudin with a 3-1 series lead and the luxury of having a fully-rested Burnett for Game 6 and Andy Pettitte for Game 7 if needed.

This afternoon on WFAN, Mike Francesa said he was against the idea and suggested Gaudin be the guy who gets the ball, telling his audience that Girardi’s message must be, “Hey this is a free game, just have fun,” while adding that Burnett ought to be sent back to New York tonight.

Fans have a problem with that, and they’re right.

Here’s my problem, besides telling Burnett, go home and miss out on a potential World Championship celebration with your teammates. Gaudin hasn’t pitched since working a mop-up inning October 20. He last started a game September 28, pitching 6 2/3 innings of an 8-2 win over the Royals. He’s pitched well since becoming a Yankee (2-0, 3.43 ERA in 11 games, six starts), but before that went 4-10, 5.13 for the Padres and owns a career record of 34-35, 4.50.

Let’s see, Gaudin is someone who you want to trust with a potential World Series-clinching game, especially one who isn’t fully stretched out, over someone you’re paying $82 million, who electrified New York with seven superlative innings in Game 2?

Here’s why you go with Burnett, and (if needed) Pettitte and CC Sabathia all on short rest:

? In four career previous starts on short rest – none in the postseason – Burnett is 4-0 with a 2.33 ERA.

? Jose Molina will likely catch with Jorge Posada on the bench, which means a Yankees lineup without Posada and Hideki Matsui will have to break through against Cliff Lee. Not ideal, but the battery isn’t broken, so don’t break it. Besides, Posada won’t be sitting the entire game, not by a longshot.

? Phillies closer Brad Lidge pitched for the first time in 10 days in a pressurized spot in Game 4. No further explanations are necessary.

? Still worried about Burnett crashing emotionally? If he bombs tonight it won’t be because he imploded. It’ll be because his location is terrible, and Philly’s prolific boppers will awaken and pounce on it. And from where I sit, Burnett’s been at his best when everyone has bet against him.

? Burnett, Pettitte, Sabathia and the rest of the Yankees will have all winter to rest. This is the World Series and in this case you don’t worry about Game 6 unless you have to. You defeat or get beat with your best.

World Series Game 4: Lineups

YANKEES (2-1/103-59)
yankees.jpgDerek Jeter SS
Johnny Damon LF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Jorge Posada C
Robinson Cano 2B
Nick Swisher RF
Melky Cabrera CF
CC Sabathia P

Pitching: CC Sabathia (19-8, 3.37)

PHILLIES (1-2/93-69)
phillies.jpgJimmy Rollins SS
Shane Victorino CF
Chase Utley 2B
Ryan Howard 1B
Jayson Werth RF
Raul Ibanez LF
Pedro Feliz 3B
Carlos Ruiz C
Joe Blanton P

Pitching: Joe Blanton (12-8, 4.05)

World Series Game 3: Lineups

yankees.jpgYANKEES (1-1/103-59)
Derek Jeter SS
Johnny Damon LF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Jorge Posada C
Robinson Cano 2B
Nick Swisher RF
Melky Cabrera CF
Andy Pettitte P

Pitching: Andy Pettitte (14-8, 4.16)

phillies.jpgPHILLIES (1-1/93-69)
Jimmy Rollins SS
Shane Victorino CF
Chase Utley 2B
Ryan Howard 1B
Jayson Werth RF
Raul Ibanez LF
Pedro Feliz 3B
Carlos Ruiz C
Cole Hamels P

Pitching: Cole Hamels (10-11, 4.32)

Business as usual

By Jon Lane
The Yankees down a game after Cliff Lee turned out their lights, what did Joe Girardi tell them before Game 2?

Nothing. He didn’t need to.

“Our club ha been resilient all year,” Girardi said. “The one thing that we’ve been able to do is we’ve went through some tough losses and we’ve seemed to bounce back. It was just business as usual for us today.”

The usual business came in the form of big hits from Mark Teixeira and Hideki Matsui. Ahead in the count, Pedro Martinez threw two curveballs. One was low and outside, and Matsui made the adjustment and put a good swing on it.

Two Matsui-related decisions, one immediate, the other in the offseason. Without the DH, the Yankees will have to determine if they want to put Matsui and his balky knees in the outfield, where Matsui said he’s confident he can handle a full workload. After the season, the major question is whether the pending free agent will return for another year in the Bronx.

Matsui was asked if he stops to look around extra carefully and enjoy it a bit more, considering this may be his final opportunity to win a World Series as a Yankee.

He and his knees be ready for outfield if Girardi decides and to play as long as needed

“I’m not thinking about my contract, so I really don’t have an answer for that,” Matsui said. “Even with the atmosphere changes, how I feel and what I do to prepare and my approach at the plate, those things just don’t change for me.

“I don’t feel like I really look at it in terms of success or failure. Obviously every year my goal is to be a World Champion, but I don’t look at it that way.”

_______________________

Mariano Rivera’s 21st World Series appearance moved him past Mike Stanton for second place on the Yankees’ all-time list behind Whitey Ford’s 22, Mariano Rivera threw 39 pitches in two innings, his World Series high, topping 35 in Game 3 against the Braves in 1996. He still extended his own record of 10 Fall Classic and 38 postseason saves. It was also his fourth two-inning save and lowered his career ERA to 1.09.

Despite the workload, Girardi is confident that with Friday’s off day he’ll be OK for Game 3 Saturday night.

_______________________

Was Derek Jeter bunting on his own in the seventh inning? With two strikes, yes, and then the sign was taken off.

“Derek Jeter is a very smart baseball man,” Girardi said. “If he feels he can do the job in that situation, I’m not going to bark at him. He felt he could get it done and he didn’t get it done.”

So why bunt instead of hit-and-run?

“I don’t really like to talk too much about strategy,” Girardi said.

_______________________

Stop the presses: Alex Rodriguez is 0 for 8 with six strikeouts in his first World Series appearance. Lay off the haterade, Girardi isn’t benching him.

“I know he’ll bounce back,” Girardi said. “We’ll get it going with him in Philly.”

_______________________

You knew Yankees fans would give Martinez a rude reception. Par for the course, but one fan stood out when Martinez exited the game after throwing six innings of three-run ball with eight strikeouts.

“It’s a new Yankee Stadium, but the fans remain the fans,” Martinez said. “I remember one guy sitting right in the front row with his daughter in one arm and a cup of beer in the other hand and saying all kinds of nasty stuff. I just told him, ‘Your daughter is right beside you. It’s a little girl. It’s a shame you’re saying all these things.’ I’m a father myself. How can you be so dumb to do those kind of things in front of your child? What kind of example are you setting?”

Love Pedro or hate him, we continue to witness one of the greatest (if not the greatest) pitcher of this generation.

“I tell you what, he may not have 96 to 98 (MPH) he did back then when he was a little bit younger, but his command was every bit as good as it was back then,” said Jerry Hairston, who started over the slumping Nick Swisher due in part to his .370 lifetime average against the right-hander. “He was painting pitches at my knees, inner half (of the plate) basically at will on a couple of guys.”

Hairston, like A-Rod playing in his first World Series game, went 1-for-3.
 
“He’s always been a great pitcher and for him to adjust and adjust to what he’s got now, that’s a credit to him,” Hairston said. “He’s really pitched well this postseason and it was a tough win for us.

Game 2 Live Blog

stadium_640.jpgBy Jon Lane
Pedro Martinez is certainly a polarizing figure. One day after his entertaining rant,
during which he recalled the altercation between he and then Yankees
bench coach Don Zimmer during Game 3 of the 2003 ALCS, Zimmer told the St. Petersburg Times,
“Pedro is full of crap. It’s what, six years later? If Pedro wants to
be a big man, I don’t care what he says.” He did, however, soften his
stance during an interview with the New York Daily News. “I was definitely wrong and Pedro didn’t do nothing,” he said.

This
was my favorite line from yesterday: “I might be at times the most
influential player that ever stepped in Yankee Stadium.” I recall
sitting in the bleachers on September 14, 1998 when he squared off
against Orlando Hernandez. Pedro and El Duque each struck out nine
batters, except Pedro gave up three runs to Duque’s none. Duque went
the distance in a 3-0 win, but that didn’t douse the enthusiasm of a
large contingent from Pedro’s native Dominican Republic who took over
the front row, and proudly waved their country’s flag. That was years
before the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry was re-ignited and Martinez found
himself on New York’s most hated list.

Speaking of influential, Jay Z and Alicia Keys are performing on the field to a slew of flashbulbs.

Speaking
of influential and inspiring, Derek Jeter was named the winner of the
Roberto Clemente award for commitment to community service.

Chat with you right before first pitch.

7:51 p.m.
Former Yankees outfielder and current YES Yankees analyst Paul O’Neill
throws out the first pitch. Those familiar chants of “Paul Oh Neill!”
echoed around the Stadium, along with loud boos for Philly’s starting
pitcher.

7:57 p.m. A.J. Burnett warming up to Marilyn
Manson’s “The Beautiful People.” Awesome. First pitch 7:59 p.m.
(strike). Game time temperature 52 degrees.

8:04 p.m. A
clean 12-pitch first for Burnett. For Yankees fans’ sake, Bad A.J. must
stay away. For now they’re getting a thrill taunting the heck out of
Pedro Martinez.

pedro_350_102909.jpg8:14 p.m. Pedro in the first: Three up, three down, two strikeouts. He’s come to play.

8:28 p.m.
Ladies and Gents: Bad A.J. Throws 25 pitches, a few in the dirt, and
follows up Raul Ibanez’s ground-rule double that Johnny Damon could
have caught by serving Matt Stairs’ RBI single to left. Of course,
Ibanez was immediately waved home to give the Phillies a 1-0 lead.

8:42 p.m. Wow.
Ibanez’s great diving catch robs Robbie Cano and saves a run. The good
news is the Yankees are making Pedro work (20 pitches in the second as
of this writing).

9:02 p.m. Burnett at his best is
electrifying. At his worst he puts 50,000-plus to sleep. There’s never
middle ground. As far as “rhythm” between Burnett & Molina, even if
there was a DH in Philly, I think you’re seeing the end of this
experiment.

9:05 p.m. BIG strikeout of Ryan Howard with
two on and two out; Burnett deserves credit there. Howard is 2-for-14
(.143) with eight strikeouts lifetime against the Yankees’ right-hander.

9:29 p.m. Life
for the Yankees and life in this once-quiet stadium thanks to Mark
Teixeira’s moonshot to right field. Walking the concourse, fans were
going through the motions. Just like that, one swing from Texieira
snapped out of it. The bomb also awakened the Pedro haterizers.

9:46 p.m.
He drives you crazy, but Burnett somehow gets it done. He erases a
one-out double by No. 9 hitter Carlos Ruiz by retiring two good hitters
Jimmy Rollins (strikeout) and Shane Victorino (pop up to third). The
latter was on the first pitch, which at 86 total pitches affords him at
least the sixth inning.

9:54 p.m. Memo to Johnny Damon:
Why swing at the first pitch with Derek Jeter on second, Pedro’s pitch
count in the 80s and the Phillies’ pen warming up? Fans in front of me
waved their hands in disgust after Damon’s pop up landed in Ryan
Howard’s glove. Golden opportunity to forge ahead wasted.

10:08 p.m. A-Rod
is 0-for-7 in the World Series. There are people planning to wait on
hold for two hours for a one-minute platform telling their favorite
host that he and not Nick Swisher should have been benched.

matsui_250_102909.jpg10:12 p.m. The
Yankees needed another big hit. Leave it to Godzilla to deliver. The
Yankees face a major decision on whether to bring him back for another
season. Matsui may have to compromise if he wants to stay.

10:20 p.m.

At 97 pitches I wondered if Burnett had enough for one more inning
(last week in SoCal he did not). Needed 11 pitches to retire the
Phillies in order, with two called strikeouts, this time he did. His
night is done (108 pitches). Despite what Joe Girardi said before the
game, expect Joba Chamberlain to be the bridge to Mariano Rivera.

I was wrong. Rivera is warming. He’ll go for the six-out save.

10:31 p.m.

Jorge Posada pinch-hitting for Molina with runners on first and second
and no one out in the 7th. Pedro was lifted (107 pitches) and left,
head down, to loud boos.The Yankees going for the kill.

10:36 p.m.
3-1 Yankees after Posada drives one home. Still nobody out with the top
of the order coming up. Unless the Yankees blow it open, Rivera is
locking this one down.

10:41 p.m. Still wondering why Jeter was bunting, especially with two strikes. Made no sense.

10:48 p.m.
More
controversy thanks to the clowns in blue. First base umpire Brian
Gorman and the band of idiots failed to see that Damon’s line drive was
not caught by Howard. It bounced, which is why Howard threw to second
in the first place. It was ruled a double play that ended the inning.
Yet another terrible call, but the bad karma started with Jeter’s
decision to bunt. Remember that if the Phillies get to Rivera.

11 p.m. It’s been discussed to exhaustion, but what Rivera did
to escape the eighth inning, no other closer that participated in the
2009 postseason gets done.

World Series Game 2: Lineups

yankees.jpgYANKEES (0-1/103-59)
Derek Jeter SS
Johnny Damon LF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Hideki Matsui DH
Robinson Cano 2B
Jerry Hairston Jr. RF
Melky Cabrera CF
Jose Molina C

Pitching: A.J. Burnett (13-9, 4.04)

phillies.jpgPHILLIES (1-0/93-69)
Jimmy Rollins SS
Shane Victorino CF
Chase Utley 2B
Ryan Howard 1B
Jayson Werth RF
Raul Ibanez LF
Matt Stairs DH
Pedro Feliz 3B
Carlos Ruiz C

Pitching: Pedro Martinez (5-1, 3.63)

Hairston in, Swisher out

hairston275.jpgBy Jon Lane
Nick Swisher is not in tonight’s starting lineup. Jerry Hairston Jr. is starting in right field. Joe Girardi cited Hairston’s .370 lifetime average against Phillies starter Pedro Martinez. It also hurt Swisher that he’s batting .114 in the postseason.

“It was something that I kicked around in my head, and I talked to my staff when we got here, and we talked about it. We made the decision to go with Jerry,” Girardi said. “Swish is a team guy. He understands, and I told him be ready because you never know when we might need you, and he said OK.”

The last time Hairston faced Martinez was July 26, 2004 when his Orioles played Pedro’s Red Sox. Hairston went 2-for-3 in that game, but despite his overall good numbers, he had just four hits in 19 at-bats in 2002 and ’03.  It makes you wonder if Girardi would have gone this route if Swisher weren’t batting .114. Then again, we’ve seen during this postseason that he’s not afraid to open the binder and go the unconventional route.

“I can’t tell you because we’re in position where he is struggling, but Jerry has real good numbers off Pedro,” Girardi said. “We also like the way they kind of match up against each other, and that kind of shows up in the numbers, so we thought we’d give Jerry [the start] tonight.”

Johnny Damon lockers next to Swisher (we hope to get a comment from Swisher before or after batting practice). Damon senses that Swisher will find himself involved in the game at some point. Despite his poor performance, you can look at Swisher as a power threat from both sides of the plate now sitting in reserve.

“Obviously Nick wants to be the guy who helps carry us to a World Championship,” Damon said. “At this time of year it’s about team. Hairston has had some success off of Pedro before, and hopefully he has it tonight. Right now we’re just trying to win as a team, and hopefully what we’re doing tonight will work out for us.”

Here are the lineups. Back with more later.

5:11 p.m. Panic in the Bronx? If you’re a big chunk of the Yankees’ fan base, maybe, depending on your point of view (there were those on watch after the Yankees lost Games 3 and 5 of the ALCS). Damon said during his press briefing that the mood in the clubhouse is “good” and it’s business as usual.

“Every game in the postseason is a must-win,” Damon said, “and we feel like we must win this one.”

girardi275.jpgGirardi remembers the 1998 ALCS against the Indians, when the Tribe to a 2-1 lead over a Yankees team that won 114 games and when George Steinbrenner was still in full force. The Yankees won the next three — two in Cleveland — to win their 35th pennant.

“I remember butterflies in my stomach,” Girardi said, “but besides that, I don’t remember a lot. I remember having a good feeling about that club because we had won so many games and we knew the challenge ahead of us in Cleveland. Maybe I could draw from that experience and say, you know what, I felt good then. I feel good now.

“I can’t necessarily think for my players and know what’s going on in their gut, but as I’ve said all along, I believe this club is very resilient and has a confidence about them.”

History is against the Yankees. Game 1 winners have won the World Series 64 of 104 times, including six straight and 11 of the last 12. In 2002, the Angels dropped Game 1 to the Giants before rallying to win in seven. YES’ Yankees analyst Ken Singleton was on another one of those exceptions. In 1983, his Orioles lost Game 1 to the Phillies, but rebounded to win the next four and the championship.

6:57 p.m. Swisher’s reaction to the benching. As expected, he handled it well:

“Jerry’s got great numbers off him. Hey, let him go out there and do his thing,” Swisher said. “Obviously it’s frustrating and I’m upset, but it’s a team game. It’s about playing everybody we have.

“It’s Skip’s thing and I’m behind him, just like I’m behind everyone on this team.”

hughes_250_102909.jpgStruggling right-hander Phil Hughes, unavailable after walking the first and only two batters he faced in Game 1, regretted baking at plate umpire Gerry Davis over balls and strikes, citing the emotion of the moment.

“I went back and looked at the pitches, and they weren’t as close as I thought they were, so it falls on me,” Hughes said.

“I didn’t execute my pitches. Walks are killers. We can’t afford to have those, especially when we’re trying to keep the game 2-0 like it was. To let those four runs come across really hurt us. I feel like the weak link right now is our bullpen.”

The pen, flammable the early portion of the season, became a major strength after Hughes took over the role as Mariano Rivera’s primary set-up man, posting a 1.40 ERA in 44 appearances. In the playoffs, however, his ERA is 9.64 through 4 2/3 innings pitched in seven appearances. Girardi said he would continue to go to Hughes in the eighth, but don’t be surprised to see Joba Chamberlain in that role if it’s a tight game.

Rather than being being aggressive and attacking the zone like he’s done all year, Hughes admitted he’s relying too much on scouting reports.

“That’s something I need to get back to,” Hughes said.

Chris Shearn interviewed Hughes exclusively. Watch it here.