Results tagged ‘ A.J. Burnett ’

Now what?

By Jon Lane
Now what? It’s time to party. The Yankees completed a virtually endless 2009 baseball season by capturing their 27th World Championship. We scribes never stop thinking about what’s next, that’s the nature of the Hot Stove season and you know Brian Cashman is already drawing up an offseason blueprint, but today is a day for the players, their families and everyone in the organization to bask in the glory.

The Core Four of Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera have done this four times (today makes five), but for Alex Rodriguez, it’s his first in 16 seasons. For A.J. Burnett, it was winning without the pain of rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. For Jerry Hairston, it was the first time in his 11-year career he played in postseason games and was in left field the night the Yankees clinched.

This may have been Hairston’s final shot at a winner, and for youngsters like Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Melky Cabrera, Brett Gardner, Francisco Cervelli and Ramiro Pena, this may be their only chance to enjoy the experience. Yes they play for the Yankees and not the Pirates, Nationals or Royals, but there was also nine years between World Championship.

Before the parade, Steven Goldman asked questions the rest of us will be asking quite often this weekend. But for today, Chris Shearn, Joe Auriemma, Kevin Sullivan and the rest of the YES gang are in lower Manhattan. Stick around for many great photos and videos from the festivities.

Some quick housekeeping: Within the next week or two, I’ll be blogging for YES in this space full-time. All of us will soon be fully migrated to My YES, and the door is open to you too.

Burnett: Nobody can take this away

burnett_250_110509.jpgBy Jon Lane
A.J. Burnett now owns two World Series rings, though there’s no doubt No. 2 is sweeter. He was a member of the Marlins team that won it all in 2003, but was out most of the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

November 4, 2009 was Burnett’s finest moment. Well, almost.

“I have two kids and I’ve got a beautiful wife,” Burnett said, “but besides that they ain’t nothing that beats this right here.”

Some days he drove you crazy. Others he was an adrenaline surge. All put together, Burnett had a fine first season in the Bronx, the first of a five-year pact that will pay him $82 million. Burnett is so, so talented, you always want more from him, but a 13-9 record with a 4.04 ERA isn’t too shabby. There were times Burnett was electric enough to make citizens stop and stare in awe: 7 2/3 shutout innings August 7 against the Red Sox and one run allowed with nine strikeouts in seven frames in Game 2 of the World Series.

Burnett had a bad Game 5, really bad, but his Game 2 saved the Yankees from being in deep trouble and a city from near-total panic.

“Nobody can take that away from me,” Burnett said of his 3-1, Game 2 win, his World Series debut. “I had a rough one my last time out, but I had 24 guys in there telling me, ‘You know what, if it wasn’t for you, we’d be coming to Philly in a big hole. I’m glad I could help out and be a part of something this special.”

Burnett was always an interesting interview. He was soft-spoken, sometimes blunt, always honest and had good insight on the most standard of cliches. On July 22, Burnett defeated the Baltimore Orioles to put them alone in first place. At the time, though, the AL East was long from being decided, especially with Boston due in town for that big early August series. The Yankees were 0-8 against the Red Sox and the questions were accumulating. Burnett was asked why it’ll be different and whipped out one of sports’ oldest cliches, albeit with a different spin.

“We’re going one game at a time right now,” Burnett said. “That’s the big difference as opposed to looking ahead and worrying about who’s coming into town or where we’re going. It’s just one at a time.”

While drenched in champagne, I asked him how and why that philosophy worked so well.

“Nothing mattered to us,” Burnett said. “We knew we had another game. No. 2 [Derek Jeter] over there would always come in and say, ‘Oh, we got another game today.’ And that was it. We’re a humble team that no matter what happened the day before, we had another game. That’s all that mattered, one at a time.”

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Ticker-tape parade Friday at 11 a.m. beginning at Broadway and Battery Place, and ending with a ceremony at City Hall where Mayor Mike Bloomberg will present the team with keys to the city. It’s open to the public, but details are forthcoming about a limited number of tickets that will be made available for those wanting to get inside City Hall Plaza. Fans who can’t get a ticket can watch the ceremony on a giant TV screen that will be set up near City Hall Park.

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.

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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.

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.

Live from Section 405

rally_350_102809.jpgBy Jon Lane
Well, not yet. It’s raining and the media auxiliary press area is soaked at the moment. I’m told that not only will there be a Game 1, but the rain is expected to let up by around 5:30.

I love it how all of us make a simple attempt at meteorology.

Showers did not prevent a bevy of Yankees fans from attending a pep rally this afternoon at Times Square, where New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, Yankees legend Reggie Jackson and the YES Network’s Michael Kay addressed Yankees Nation.

Joe Girardi is speaking at 3:45, followed by Game 2 starter A.J. Burnett. Later it’ll be Charlie Manuel and your favorite, Pedro Martinez, addressing the media.

Once the rain (hopefully) let’s up, I’ll be watching Game 1 from a unique vantage point. Right field is where I camped out during postseason (and the All-Star) games across the street, though in the loge section. Yet there’s something about being amongst the fans, as my colleague and friend Jerome Preisler can attest.

Oh, if you’re reading this and have tickets for the game, shut the computer off and leave now. Gates open at 5 p.m. and on top of New York/New Jersey’s prolific rush-hour traffic, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, wil be here and Major League Baseball is implementing additional security measures in select seating locations. The additional security screening will occur every time guests enter their location before the start of the game. If guests leave their seats, they will be screened again upon returning.

Additional security measures are in effect from the time gates open until the start of the game, so please allow yourself extra time to enjoy batting practice and the pregame ceremonies scheduled to begin at approximately 7:30 p.m.

Here’s the latest hour-by-hour forecast, which calls for a 55 percent chance of “light rain” by first pitch.

Back with more later.

4 p.m. I cannot tell a lie … the sun is out!

4:35 p.m. Joe Girardi said the expected when asked about the
roster adjustments. Eric Hinske provides another pinch-hitter and Brian
Bruney an extra arm that will be important in Philadelphia. The
exclusion of a third catcher (Francisco Cervelli) also increases the
likelihood of Jorge Posada catching A.J. Burnett if he gets the call
for Game 5.

He’s also not in any rush to name a starter for Game
4; the current great debate is whether he’ll throw his top three arms
on short rest. “The focus is Game 1 tonight, and that’s what we’ll
worry about,” he said.

You can watch the full presser here.

burnett_250_102809.jpg5:01 p.m. There was his first postseason start in the Division Series. Now A.J. Burnett is set to make his World Series debut in Game 2 tomorrow night. Burnett played for the 2003 champion Marlins but missed out while recovering from Tommy John surgery.

I”m looking forward to it, I’m excited,” Burnett said. “I’m going to prepare, yeah, maybe, as another game, but deep down I know what it’s about. I know how real it is and I don’t want to change it. I want to go out there knowing it’s my first World Series start.”

Burnett, of course, said he’s all for making a potential Game 5 start on short rest. First there’s Game 2, when his opponent will be Pedro Martinez.

“He’s come back and what he’s accomplished this year is great,” Burnett said. “As a fellow starting pitcher you can respect that. I’m looking forward to going up against him. I’ve seen him pitch and he’s going to bring a lot of excitement here tomorrow night, and I think everybody in the world knows what he can do in the postseason this year or in the past, or whenever he takes the ball.”

Burnett was also asked about facing Ryan Howard and his 45 home runs and 141 runs batted in. He kept the Phillies slugger hitless in three at-bats with a strikeout in a 7-3 loss at Yankee Stadium on May 22. In 12 career at-bats, Howard is 2-for-12 (.167) with six strikeouts lifetime against the Yankees’ right-hander. Both hits have been homers.

“You try to get ahead and strike him out, I guess,” Burnett said. “I think you’ve seen him do more this postseason than hit home runs. He’s hit the ball pretty much everywhere. I’m going to probably pitch him the same as I pitch all lefties, pretty much the same. Just try to get ahead and put them away as quick as I can, and not leave anything over the plate or in his hot spot when the game is on the line.”

Here’s the Burnett conference in its entirety.

7 p.m. What’s a Yankees game, especially a World Series game, without Freddy Sez (aka) Freddy Schuman, who since 1988 has encouraged fan interaction by walking around hitting a pot with a teaspoon while allowing fans to do the same? In the Great Hall, fans lined up to get their picture taking with Freddy.

“We’re here to celebrate the Yankees winning,” he said before two clanks of his famous pot.

The Hard Rock Cafe was already packed well before 6 p.m. The wait for a table was 2 1/2 hours and climbing.

All fans received a 2010 MLB calendar along with a protective cover to hold their World Series ticket.

Two hours before first pitch, Yankee Stadium was playing highlights of the 1950 World Series. The Yankees swept the Phillies in four games in what before tonight is the only time the teams met in the Fall Classic.

pedro_250_102809.jpgCharlie Manuel spoke in depth about Pedro. It’s amazing the amount of attention he’s receiving but given his history with the Yankees and his legacy of, from where I sit, being the greatest pitcher of this generation, that attention is justified.

“I looked at him in Dodger Stadium, I think he’s a guy who’s in good shape physically, and I think with the knowledge and knowing how to pitch, I think that definitely he’s ready, and I think that he can handle the big setting,” Manuel said. “He’s been there before, and he likes being there, and he likes everything about it.

“I saw a guy who was cocky, which is fine. Sometimes to be good you’ve got to be cocky and you’ve got to be — someone has to let you be who you are sometimes. Sometimes you don’t want to take who somebody is and their identity and stuff or what they stand for and try to change it because who they are sometimes makes them — that’s why they’re good. He had an arrogance about him, and you would think — at times I thought he was kind of arrogant, but at the same time everything about him, I felt like — I always thought he was a professional and that he loved to pitch.

And since I got to know him, not only does he love to pitch and the competitive part I already knew about, but the guy, he really studies the game and he loves baseball and he’s a baseball guy. If you sit and listen to him talk and everything, he’ll impress you with what he knows and how he kind of sees things. That’s the part about it I’ve gotten to know him, and I’m very proud that he was able to sign and come on our team and pitch for us because that way I got to know who he is.”

7:21 p.m. Pedro Martinez says he’s “older and wiser,” but he remains very entertaining. Check out these money quotes from his meeting with the media. Warning, he pulled no punches taking shots at the scribes.

pedro2_250_102809.jpg“Because of you guys in some ways, I might be at times the most influential player that ever stepped in Yankee Stadium. I can honestly say that. I mean, I have been a big fan of baseball for a long time, since I was a kid. My first ball I ever got from a Big League player I actually got to purchase in Dodger Stadium in a silent auction, was Reggie Jackson. I was actually a big fan of the Yankees, too.

For some reason with all the hype and different players that have passed by, maybe because I played for the Red Sox, is probably why you guys made it such a big deal every time I came in, but you know, I have a good bond with the people. After playing in New York, I went to realize something: New York fans are very passionate and very aggressive. But after it all, after you take your uniform off and you deal with the people, they’re real human beings. It’s all just being fans.

I have all the respect in the world for the way they enjoy being fans. Sometimes they might be giving you the middle finger, just like they will be cursing you and telling you what color underwear you’re wearing. All those things you can hear when you’re a fan. But at the end of the day, they’re just great fans that want to see the team win. I don’t have any problem with that.”

On his rumored meeting with George Steinbrenner :

“I remember quotes in the paper, ‘Here comes the man that New York loves to hate.’ Man? None of you have probably ever eaten steak with me or rice and beans with me to understand what the man is about. You might say the player, the competitor, but the man? You guys have abused my name. You guys have said so many things, have written so many things. There was one time I remember when I was a free agent, there was talk that I might meet with Steinbrenner. One of your colleagues had me in the papers with horns and a tail, red horns and a tail. That’s a sign of the devil. I’m a Christian man.

“I don’t like those things. I take those things very serious.”

On hearing “Who’s your daddy?”
“It really reminds me that God is my daddy. It gives me strength. It keeps me strong and healthy, and I believe I can do anything. And when you have — I said it before, when you have 60,000 people chanting your name, waiting for you to throw the ball, you have to consider yourself someone special, someone that really has a
purpose out there.

“Maybe when I said that quote out of frustration, I had the purpose of maybe hearing it now, hearing it the following few years that I played, because every time I hear it, it reminds me not to make the same mistake. And at the same time it reminds me that God is my real daddy, and he’s the one that keeps me strong to compete, just like he does to Mariano [Rivera]. I’ve seen Mariano when I know his shoulder is barking, and he still succeeds. Men of faith. It’s only God who can probably do that for him.”

On his tangle with Don Zimmer during Game 3 of the 2003 ALCS:

“We are both, I consider, mature people, Zim more than I am, wiser than I am, and he acknowledged that it wasn’t my fault; that it was his fault.

“I never wanted to apologize to you guys because why should I apologize to you guys or come to a press conference and say, I apologize for something I didn’t intend to do? It’s a normal human reaction to defend yourself when you feel threatened, and that’s what happened to me at that point. I had to defend myself, and I know how. Don’t let this small body fool you; I know how. I just don’t put it into play.

“I mean, that Zim situation is over with. I didn’t feel like I had to apologize at that time, give an apology because I didn’t feel like I did anything to apologize. But it’s something I’m not happy about. It’s something I don’t condone, and it’s something that I don’t want to see in baseball.”

Game 6 topics

By Jon Lane
Why didn’t Joe Girardi go to the bullpen to start the seventh inning?
Damned
if you do, damned if you don’t. Girardi’s been an easy target whenever
things have gone wrong, but I didn’t kill him for sending A.J. Burnett
back in despite sitting for about a half hour. After all, he kept the
Yankees in the game and had thrown just 80 pitches. That said, I would have gave him the hook after that leadoff walk.
You have a rested bullpen that you’ve maximized to the fullest this
whole postseason. That was the ideal time to use it. Furthermore,
certain guys are better served by starting innings (read: Phil Hughes).

What has happened to Nick Swisher? Will he be in Saturday’s starting lineup?
Three
hits in 29 at-bats with 10 strikeouts, making two outs in that sixth
inning and popping up a game-deciding 3-2 pitch. Logic says bench him,
but I doubt Girardi will do that with the Angels throwing left-hander
Joe Saunders and the alternative, Brett Gardner, a lefty hitter. But
memo to a manager who manages by the numbers: Swisher is 1-for-6 with
two RBIs against Saunders this year and 5-21, 6 RBIs lifetime. Right
now, when it matters, he’s lost. Saunders has never faced Gardner and
the element of surprise works in the latter’s favor. Furthermore,
batting Gardner ninth with Derek Jeter leading off gives you a nice
look and tightens the outfield defense. I’d do it.

Why doesn’t David Robertson have a bigger role out of the bullpen?

I
have no idea. Robertson’s pitched three scoreless innings in the
postseason, none bigger than Game 2 in the Division Series. This is
where Girardi has to put the binder away and go with his gut. If
Robertson has his best stuff, nobody is hitting him, not Jeff Mathis,
Vlad Guerrerro, Kendry Morales, nobody.

If Saturday brings a rainout and the Angels win Game 6, will John Lackey start Game 7 on three days’ rest?
Duh.

Will it actually rain Saturday night?
Here’s the forecast,
but don’t cancel your plans yet. Thursday’s YES Network Toyota Text
Poll presented a great question on who has had the worst performance
this postseason: Baserunners, closers, umpires or meteorologists. Maybe
Mother Nature will provide one more reprieve. If not, Game 6 and (if necessary) Game 7 will be played Sunday and Monday, respectively.

P.S. I hate rain.

Fire Girardi if the Yankees lose the series?
Jesse Spector of The New York Daily News got ahead of himself with this column,
but prefaced it so it’s not a reactionary thing. There’s no doubt
Girardi has made some really strange decisions this postseason, but
he’s not managing in the crazy 1970s and ’80s either. Unless the
Yankees completely spit the bit these next two games, he comes back
next season win or lose.

Do the Yankees need an answer to the Rally Monkey?
Steven Goldman thinks so: King Kong.
They do have that Rocky II montage, yet a team with 15 walk-off wins
finds a way to get it done without any gimmicks. Swisher has said it
many times: The Yankees feed off the energy of their fans and that
energy has done wonders.

Who will win Game 6?
Yankees.
I had Yankees in six from the get-go. Andy Pettitte, for the umpteenth
time, proves his mettle and the Yankees go ahead for good in the
seventh … on a clutch pinch-hit by Swishlicious.

Heaven and hell

yankees_250_102309.jpgBy Jon Lane
Blame A.J. Burnett for a horrendous start and a miserable finish, if you want.

Blame Joe Girardi for allowing Burnett to start the seventh inning – three days after you killed him for his bullpen obsession, if that’s your poison.

Blame Nick Swisher, the one who made two outs in the Yankees’ six-run sixth inning, the one hitless in five Game 5 at-bats including the one when he popped up a bases-loaded, two-out, 3-2 pitch to shortstop to conclude a gut-ripping affair, the one with three hits in 29 postseason at-bats, until the roosters cluck and the cows retire.

Rant and rave at your choosing, it’s your right, but also heed Morris Buttermaker’s famous words, the ones in response to Tanner Boyle’s outburst over Timmy Lupus’ inability to throw the ball back to the infield, costing the Bad News Bears their first win: “When we win, it’s a team win. When we lose, it’s a team loss.”

Plenty of individuals were guilty, but the Yankees lost Game 5 as a team. I’ll isolate my personal turning point in a bit, but it was one of those games where you’re simply obligated to give a tremendous amount of credit to the opponent, to admire and respect how the Angels, neck-and-neck with the Yankees as baseball’s most resilient team, did not fold and found a way to force a Game 6. A lesser team would have decided it wasn’t meant to be and began dreaming about a winter’s vacation.

Not these Angels, who since the tragic and senseless death of Nick Adenhart have endured an emotionally-challenging season beyond anyone’s comprehension.

“When they got the six runs, I was out there deflated and [ticked] off,” said Torii Hunter. “I came in the dugout and threw my glove, but after all of that, I settled down. We all settled down and we saw we still had some innings left.”

The game, from my point of view, turned on one pitch: Phil Hughes’ fastball to Vladimir Guerrero in the fateful seventh. After walking Hunter, Hughes used a sharp curveball to move ahead 1-2. These days, breaking pitches make Guerrero look more like Pedro Cerrano than Vlad Guerrero.  Ahead in the count, you can afford to waste a pitch, and even if it’s do-or-die, it’s kill or be killed with your best pitch.

Inexplicably, Hughes, shaking off Jorge Posada multiple times, threw a fastball. Guerrero, who even with his best days behind him eats fastballs for breakfast, smoked a belt-high pitch up the middle to tie the game. Kendry Morales’ RBI single followed and the Angels were ahead for good.

“Trying to be a little too fine to Hunter,” Hughes said. “Then got ahead of Guerrero and tried to come up and in on him and left the ball pretty much in the middle. He didn’t get it good, but he got it just enough and in the right spot.”

Hughes, who is going to be a great starting pitcher, received an education. As fans and journalists, we saw that not every baseball diaper dandy ( Dick Vitale) is Mariano Rivera or Francisco Rodriguez. Because Hughes has a different learning curve, and because Swisher is completely lost at the plate, the 20 cases of champagne outside the Yankees’ clubhouse remained sealed and were packed for the flight to New York. Of course, there are those out there who are panicking, fretting about 2004, quaking because now the Angels have the momentum and nothing to lose.

Allow me to remind you (again) that momentum is only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher. All you had to do, writes Mark Feinsand, was “watch Game 5 to change your mind.”

Thus, it’s back to the Bronx Saturday night for Game 6. Of course, the forecast projects the heavens opening, but we’ve heard that before too. Those ’04 echoes are louder, but the games are played for a reason.

Now playing on Sirius 71: Bernie Williams’ “Go for It.” Appropriate.

Arms obsession

By Jon Lane
I, like many, am still trying to comprehend Joe Girardi’s decision to pull David Robertson after he used 11 pitches to get two clean outs in the 11th inning.

Alfredo Aceves was the eighth pitcher used in Game 3. Girardi also employed eight men, including the starting pitcher in Game 2 as well as Game 2 of the ALDS. All that amounted to was playing with fire and getting away with it, because until Monday the Yankees were unbeaten in postseason play. But on Monday, Girardi finally got burnt, and at the worst possible time. His whole bullpen except for Chad Gaudin was burned with CC Sabathia today going on three days’ rest.

Girardi and pitching coach Dave Eiland cited matchups and declined to elaborate further when presented with the fact that Howie Kendrick, who greeted Aceves with a single to set up Jeff Mathis’ walk-off double, was 1-for-2 lifetime against Robertson and had never faced Aceves. (And in case you wondering, Mathis had never faced Robertson and was 0-for-2 with a strikeout against Aceves.)

“We have all the matchups and all the scouting reports,” Girardi said. “And we felt that, you know, it was a better matchup for us.”

Three at-bats to me doesn’t seem like a concrete body of work to make such a critical decision. These numbers would have worked out a lot better. In the second half, Robertson was 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 21 innings pitched. Aceves was 5-0, but with a 4.65 ERA and 33 Ks in 40 2/3 IP. Robertson’s ERA in the first half was 3.57, while Aceves’ was 2.49. I also don’t need to explain how big Robertson has been since the start of the playoffs.

Oh, Aceves also allowed a run on a hit with two walks in 1 1/3 innings in Game 2.

Aceves made a serious impact as a swingman when he was promoted to the Majors in May, but hasn’t been the same pitcher since another one of Girardi’s strange decisions: when he made a spot start against the Twins on July 9 after Chien-Ming Wang was lost for the season due to injury rather than call up a stretched-out Sergio Mitre to fill the void.

Of course, people are calling for Girardi to be fired immediately. Chill. Girardi’s Yankees won 103 games and own a 2-1 lead in this series, and  you know what they say about momentum being as good as the next day’s starting pitcher. Girardi is also not to blame for the Yankees leaving 10 men on base and going 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.

A team that scored a league-high 915 runs are 0-for-16 with RISP with 22 stranded in its last two games. The Yankees need to get it going against Scott Kazmir, who has pitched well against them, or another loss evens the series with A.J. Burnett opposing John Lackey on the road in a swing game. I’m not crazy about those odds.

Game 2 ALCS: Live blog

alcs_400.jpgBy Jon Lane
It’s cold (again) and rain – lots of it – is threatening the New York metropolitan area (again), but the Yankees are taking batting practice in preparations for Game 2 of the ALCS.

Courtesy of STATS Inc., the Yankees, Angels and MLB, here are a few nuggets to know and what to watch for.

First and foremost, the weather report: Weather.com’s hour-by-hour forecast pegs a 40 percent chance of showers at 8 p.m. and 55 percent by 9. We were supposed to get soaked last night, but it held off and CC Sabathia was awesome. In the event of a rainout, the current speculation has the teams playing here tomorrow at 4:30 and flying to Anaheim afterwards to play Game 3 Monday at 1 p.m. California time.

Starting lineups: As expected, Jose Molina is catching A.J. Burnett and batting ninth. For the Angels Maicer Izturis (2B) and Mike Napoli (C) are in for Howie Kendrick and Jeff Mathis, respectively.

Pitching matchup: A.J. Burnett (13-9, 4.04) vs. Joe Saunders (16-7, 4.60)

Burnett finished his first season in pinstripes very strong. Since September 18 he has 34 strikeouts and a 1.80 ERA. Joe Girardi this afternoon reiterated why Molina is in and Jorge Posada is back on the bench. “Molina caught A.J. in the last round,” Girardi said. “Sometimes you have to make sacrifices and our players have done that all year long.” Throwing to Molina, Burnett gave up a run in six innings in Game 2 of the ALDS and was 5-2, 3.28 in 11 starts as one-half of this battery. His final six starts of the season were all caught by Molina (3-1, 2.92).

And still wondering why Burnett and not Andy Pettitte is Girardi’s Game 2 starter? He was 5-3, 3.51 at Yankee Stadium and the Yankees were 12-4 in those starts.

Saunders went undefeated over his final eight starts (7-0, 2.55) and the Angels are 42-19 in his last 61 regular season starts, but hasn’t pitched since October 4 (five innings in a season-ending 5-3 win).

Historical precedents: Game 1 winners have won the ALCS 23 out of 39 times (59 percent). Since 1985 and the advent of the seven-game series, 12 of 23 (52 percent) have advanced to the World Series. However, the team losing Game 1 in six out of the last nine ALCS have rallied to win the league pennant. Since 1999, the Bombers have not lost Game 2 of an LCS, going 5-0 in that span. Their last LCS Game 2 loss came to Cleveland in a 12-inning game in 1998.

Stalled: A big storyline coming into the ALCS was the Yankees controlling the Angels’ feared baserunning. The best way to do that is keep the top of their order off the bases. Chone Figgins and Bobby Abreu are two of the Angels’ best players. However, their one-two punch combined to go 0-for-8 in Game 1 with three strikeouts. Figgins is 0-for-16 in the postseason. Somehow the Angels swept the Red Sox in three games, but it’s imperative they get their sparkplug re-ignited.

Throwing out the first pitch: Tino Martinez.

On the Stadium jukebox: Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion,” Metallica’s “Wherever I May Roam,” Jacko’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.”

Highlights from Girardi’s press briefing:
Look for roughly a 45-minute time limit for Burnett to sit around in the event of an in-game rain delay. If it gets past that, Girardi will go to the bullpen early. “You have to be smart about it,” he said.

On having any advantage over a warm-weather team at this time of year: “I don’t think it’s such a huge advantage because they do play in cold
weather cities in April. And we were fortunate — two of the teams in
our division (Blue Jays, Rays) that you play early have domes, and one of them is actually in
a warm place. And when we went to Boston earlier it was 80
degrees. It was one of our hottest days, so I really don’t think it’s
much of an advantage.”

Game 3 starter Andy Pettitte is still with the club. The team had not yet decided to fly him west ahead of time.

Back with a lot more later. On the field working pregame, Chris Shearn chatted with Kevin Long, Phil Hughes and Michael Kay.

7:21 p.m. So far, so good for an on-time first pitch. The grounds crew is prepping the field while fans slowly file in. Some reading material while you wait: Chris Shearn does his best Joe (9=8) Maddon.

7:41 p.m.
Weather update: Chance of rain downgraded to 10 percent at 8 p.m., 20 at 9 and 30 at 10.

7:45 p.m. Beautiful rendition of our national anthem by NYC firefighter Regina Wilson.

7:49 p.m. Tino Martinez throws the ceremonial first pitch to Jorge Posada.A minute later the Bleacher Creatures applauded A.J. Burnett as he left the bullpen flanked by Jose Molina and Dave Eiland.

7:57 p.m. Nick Swisher salutes the Creatures with a fist pump. Burnett’s first pitch is a strike to Chone Figgins. Game time temperature is 47 degrees.

8:05 p.m. Torii Hunter earned himself a cheap two-out double when he fisted a blooper that landed just inside the right field foul line, but on his next pitch Burnett got Vladimir Guerrero to ground out to short. Nice start for A.J. Sixteen pitches, 13 for strikes.

8:19 p.m. Take away a couple a pitches low and a tad outside, Burnett looks sharp. He froze Kendry Morales on a breaking ball to open the second and needed only nine pitches total to work a clean frame.

8:30 p.m. 1-0 Yankees on Robinson Cano’s triple. Those two-out walks (this to Nick Swisher) kill you every time.

8:46 p.m.
The natives were getting restless, but Burnett survived a two-out walk to Chone Figgins to retire Bobby Abreu on a fly ball to center.

jeter_400_101709.jpg8:52 p.m. Derek Jeter – again. HR to right field, the first of the ALCS. 2-0, Yankees. Jeter’s second of this postseason and the 19th of his career. He passes Reggie Jackson and Mickey Mantle for sole possession of third place on the baseball’s all-time list.

9:04 p.m. Teixeira is having an amazing defensive game. First he does his best Henrik Lundqvist impersonation, saving A-Rod from a throwing error. Then he stretches to his left to catch Jose Molina’s throw to first after Guerrero’s swing and miss hit dirt and ricocheted off his leg.

9:07 p.m. Burnett in four scoreless IP: 12 of 15 first-pitch strikes.

9:41 p.m. Good A.J. electrifies an audience. Bad A.J. sucks the life out of it. A bases-loaded wild pitch just tied the game. David Robertson is getting warm. Guerrero’s ground out mercifully ends the top of the fifth, but Burnett threw 33 pitches and started every batter except one with a ball. He’s thrown 90 in the game and Molina is due up second. If we see Posada, that’s the cue Burnett’s night is over.

9:45 p.m. Nope, Molina is batting. Watch Good A.J. return to retire the side in the sixth.

9:52 p.m. Replays show Jeter was safe on his double-play grounder. Another impeccable job by the umpires this postseason.

10:01 p.m. What did I tell you? Three up, three down in the sixth. That’s 105 pitches for Burnett. It’s looking like Joba Time in the seventh.

10:08 p.m. Not a good past two innings for the Yankees. There was the never-ending fifth, and in the sixth Teixeira reached first on a throwing error, but A-Rod flied out and Hideki Matsui grounded into an double play.

10:12 p.m. Burnett is starting the seventh. Hang on a second. Andy Pettitte is yanked from Game 3 of the DS with 81 pitches in 6 1/3 superlative innings and Burnett is still in this game – AND he’s facing a lefty hitter after retiring the righty Napoli. Someone please explain.

10:14 p.m. Phil Coke now coming in to face Figgins. To give Burnett credit, there would have been two out if not for Cano’s error. Burnett gets a nice ovation and responds with a tip of the cap.

10:26 p.m. Joba Time: Loud applause as Joba enters to “Shout at the Devil.” Nice job by Coke rebounding from his walk to Figgins to strike out Abreu, a professional hitter. Joba Chamberlain to face Torii Hunter with two on and two out in the biggest confrontation of the game.

katehudson_250_101709.jpg10:37 p.m. Save the Joba to the bullpen debate for the offseason. That was a great job whiffing Guerrero with a nasty slider to leave the bases loaded and the game tied at two. It has been a nail biter, just ask Kate Hudson.

10:53 p.m. The Yankees are morphing into the Twins. A sure inning-ending double play ball is booted by – of all people – Derek Jeter. That would have restored faith in Phil Hughes, whose ALDS ERA was 9.00.

10:59 p.m. Faith restored. Hughes fans pinch-hitter Gary Matthews Jr., but Girardi isn’t fooling around. Mariano Rivera is in the game with two out in the eighth to face Erick Aybar with runners on first and second.

11:01 p.m. Mariano the Magnificent. The Angels have stranded 10 runners and are 2-for-10 with RISP.

11:11 p.m. Figgins can’t buy a hit. Johnny Damon robs him with a stumbling catch to open the ninth.

11:16 p.m. Hey Yankees fans:
Your team led the Majors with 15 walk-off wins and had one in Game 2 of
the ALDS. Teixeira, A-Rod & Matsui in the ninth.

11:45 p.m. Amazing. What was supposed to be a double-play is instead one out and the winning run at second because Aybar straddled the bag and failed to step on it. The Angels are putting Jeter on intentionally for lefty Darren Oliver to face Johnny Damon. Fans are already chanting Damon’s name.

11:53 p.m. Does anyone want to win this game? The teams are a combined 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position and have left 17 men on base (11 by the Angels). Teixeira is 0-for-5 and hasn’t hit a ball out of the infield.

12:01 a.m. From the impeccable timing department: It begins to rain four hours after first pitch and Chone Figgins snaps a hitless streak of 19 at-bats with an RBI single off Alfredo Aceves to put L.A. ahead 3-1. Damon has no arm in left and Aybar can fly, but the throw was closer than you’d expect. Still, this is shaping up to be another galling loss to Scioscia’s Angels unless the Yankees can summon that walk-off magic one more time.

12:11 a.m. Unbelievable.

12:17 a.m. Onto the 12th of an endless game and it’s raining a bit harder. Bellow all the A-Rod superlatives you want, but Aceves and to make it stand and someone has to make it count.

12:22 a.m. Memo to Marte: You have one job. Get it done.

12:25 a.m. He got it done. David Robertson coming in. Chad Gaudin the last man in the pen, just like last Friday.