Results tagged ‘ Joe Girardi ’

The old lady across the street

stadium_360.jpgBy Jon Lane
She spoke and people listened for 85 years. She’s dark and empty, and soon will no longer be with us, yet she still speaks with conviction.

I heard her voice stuck in traffic on the Major Deegan, on the exit ramp and emerging from the parking garage. It was then she said it: “They’re taking it tonight.”

Yankees in 6. The new place is quiet at the moment, but the buzz is palpable. It doesn’t guarantee winning or losing, but fate and karma has played huge role in the Yankees’ 2009 regular season. The old lady is demanding she be heard one last time.

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Joe Girardi is meeting the media in five minutes. Figure on him announcing the lineups – Nick Swisher or Jerry Hairston Jr. in right field is the only suspense – along with sharing more thoughts about being in position to win it all and answering for the thousandth time why he’s starting Andy Pettitte on three days’ rest and how long Mariano Rivera can go.

UPDATE: Swisher is in right. Girardi’s been fielding questions on going with his season-long starter, clinching at home, Mark Teixeira’s slump and A.J. Burnett’s availability (yes in an emergency).

On the iPod en route to the Bronx: A block of Judas Priest, the ideal band to get you pumped up. Now playing: Tommy Bolin’s “Wild Dogs,” another great tune to get one in the zone.

Back with a whole lot more later.

4:42 p.m. Quick hits from Girardi’s pregame press conference:

On the chance to win a World Series at home:

I think any time you get a chance to close it out in front of your own fans, it’s special, especially being the first year at the Stadium and what it would mean to the Steinbrenner family and the Yankee organization and all the people of New York. I’ve been on championship teams where we’ve won it at home and where we’ve won it on the road. And it seems to be a little bit louder and crazier when you do it at home.

On the decision to start Swisher over Hairston
“Swish has been our everyday right fielder. We thought it was important that Swish just sit down for a day. His at bats have been very good since we sat him down. We don’t always look at how many hits you get. We look at the at bats, and does the hit the ball hard, and does he square ball up and is he seeing pitches? That’s what we look at.

“Swish has been our everyday right fielder, and that’s what we’re doing.”

On being second-guessed:
“Well, as far as that, that pretty much happens a lot year in New York during the regular season, as well, so you get kind of used to it.

“The interesting thing about what people were calling second guessing that I’ve always thought is curious is they don’t know if their idea would have worked. Everyone makes the assumption that it would have worked. We base our decisions on a lot of preparation, a lot of discussion. We don’t do anything where we just pull something off the wall and with the intent of it working.

“The one thing about baseball and in life, every decision is not going to go according to plan, and you have to deal with it and you have to answer for it, and you understand that here.”

On the Yankees’ Core Four:
“They understand the moment, they know how to handle the moment. They’ve been through it and can share their experiences with others. They know that they’re not going to be fazed by the situation because they’ve been through it so many times together. So I mean, we like having that. And I’m sure they like having what they went through last year together as a club.

“Experience is important.”

7:36 p.m. Settled into my spot in Section 405. No pregame news to discuss. Let’s face it, the talking is over and everyone is psyched for first pitch. Just now I heard the first chants of “Who’s your daddy?” (and that’s old and weathered, too). While paying for dinner at the NY Grill, Margaret the cashier was wearing her collection of World Championship pins. I asked if she has room for a new one if it comes down to it. She said her guy has one ready and waiting, just for her.

7:50 p.m. Mary J. Blige gave a beautiful rendition of our national anthem before Scott Brosius threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

7:58 p.m. Andy Pettitte’s first pitch is a ball to Jimmy Rollins. The game-time temperature is 47 degrees.

8:02 p.m. Great start for Pettitte. He needed eight pitches to retire the Phillies after getting the red-hot Chase Utley to ground into a double play. Right now the Stadium is playing a highlight montage to Metallica’s “Seek and Destroy.” It’s their best one yet.

8:24 p.m. Another good inning for Pettitte. It got slightly hairy when he threw a wild pitch to Pedro Feliz with two out that advanced Jayson Werth to second base. Feliz popped the next pitch behind home plate where Jorge Posada made the catch.

Pedro Martinez looked sharp early too. Wishful thinking suggested the Yankees pound him early, but you know he’s not going down without a fight.

matsui_200_110409.jpg8:34 p.m. Godzilla goes boom! 2-0, Yankees off Hideki Matsui’s third homer of the 2009 World Series, fourth of this postseason and 10th of his career. The joint is jumping. Pedro’s hearing it now.

Matsui’s World Series numbers so far: .600, 4 HR, 9 RBIs. The Yankees want to free up the DH spot, but it’s going to be very tough to not re-sign him.

8:39 p.m. 2-0, Yankees after two. There’s a long, long way to go, but Pettitte is a guy you feel comfortable with protecting a lead.

8:48 p.m. Well, Carlos Ruiz tripled and scored on Jimmy Rollins’ sacrifice fly. It could have been a lot worse. To reiterate, there’s a long, long way to go.

9:10 p.m.
Two more runs plated by Matsui, now .636-4-11 in the World Series. This was bigger than his home run because it came with two out and after A-Rod was caught looking. Godzilla is making a serious case for both Series MVP – despite not starting three games – and to play in the Bronx for another season.

Pedro, by the way, has thrown 62 pitches. His night may be over. Jerry Hairston Jr. meanwhile, is now in left. Uh-oh.

Memo to Pettitte: You have a three-run lead. Do what you do.

9:17 p.m. Damon has a strained right calf. He probably did it coming home to score.

9:24 p.m. Pettitte works out of trouble again. He’s been walking a tightrope and is at 62 pitches after four innings. I’m wondering more and more whether Girardi will deploy Rivera in the seventh.The lefty was livid with plate umpire Joe West, BTW. West’s strike zone is tight enough. Probably not the best idea to tick him off.

9:43 p.m. Yankees ahead 4-1 going into the bottom of the fifth. Anticipation reached another level when Pettitte retired Jimmy Rollins on an inning-ending double play. He has enough for two more innings to get it to Rivera.

9:48 p.m. Tex breaks through with an RBI single. 5-1, Yankees. Fans starting to smell it, but still a ways to go.

9:57 p.m. Matsui – again. That’s six RBIs and for the first time I felt this place shake. He’s tied a World Series record (Bobby Richardson, Oct. 8, 1960, Game 3 WS).

10:10 p.m. Fans chanting “Andy Pettitte!” Nice touch. Who knows what his future will be if the Yankees seal it?

10:11 p.m. The beast has awakened. Ryan Howard’s two-run homer makes it 7-3. Yogi is a genius.

10:14 p.m. Raul Ibanez’s double ends Pettitte’s night. The lefty sprinted to the dugout and tipped his cap. It’s Joba time with two out in the sixth.

10:19 p.m. Joba cleans up. Nine outs to go, three to get to Rivera. I don’t care if the Yankees blast J.A. Happ to make it 10-3. Lock it down.

10:47 p.m. Not Joba Version 2007, but he gets two outs. Girardi doing anything and everything to give Rivera a lead in the eighth, which means Damaso Marte is in to face Chase Utley with two on. Marte’s been flawless since Game 2 of the Division Series, but still hold your breath.

10:50 p.m. Good morning. Good afternoon. Good night. Marte does his job. Six Mariano Rivera outs to go.

katehudson_350.jpg10:54 p.m Game 6 attendance: 50,315 – including Kate Hudson. A new Yankee Stadium high.

11:06 p.m. Godzilla is human, yet if he doesn’t bat again he’ll finish with a .615 batting average in the 2009 World Series. That is insane.

11:10 p.m. Marte will pitch to Howard to open the eighth before Rivera opens for business. Makes sense.

11:14 p.m. Give Marte a ton of credit. He was an afterthought for much of the season after starting poorly and landing on the DL. He whiffs Howard (13 Ks in the WS) and gets a nice ovation. Five outs to go and the place is going nuts for Rivera. I’m headed downstairs to get in postseason position.

11:25 p.m. Three to go.

1:45 a.m. Finally back from the crazy party in the clubhouse. A TON of ground to cover. The old lady had her say.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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.

Girardi not committed to three starters

By Jon Lane
Joe Girardi told Mike Francesa this afternoon that he is not committed to a three-man rotation as first reported. It’s CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte for Games 1-3. In the three-man scenario, Sabathia would start Game 4 on normal rest, but Burnett and Pettitte – Sabathia too if there’s a Game 7 – would all come back on three days’ rest.

Girardi said he may kick this around until at least Thursday, but Chad Gaudin was scheduled to throw a 70 to 80 pitch bullpen session today at Yankee Stadium, reports Chad Jennings.

On a side note, here’s some fun stuff on the pre-Game 1 agenda:

WFAN’s Boomer and Carton will be hosting a Yankees Pep Rally at Modell’s in Times Square Wednesday morning from 6-10, broadcasting live while giving away prizes and getting fans ready for the opening night of the 2009 World Series.

At 12:30 Wednesday afternoon in Times Square, Mayor Michael Bloomberg will host a rally in Times Square with YES’ Yankees play-by-play man Michael Kay.

Waiting: The hardest part

rivera250.jpgBy Jon Lane
Since the Yankees opened the Division Series battle against the Twins on October 7, they’ve had eight days off over the past 17 days – 20 if you include the time between their regular-season finale and Game 1 of the ALDS.

Thanks to Mother Nature, make that nine. For one of the rare times this month, the forecast for rain was correct, baseball’s luck with the weather ran out and Game 6 of the ALCS was postponed until 8:20 Sunday night at Yankee Stadium.

Andy Pettitte will remain Joe Girardi’s starter; the manager resisted the temptation to go for the kill and start CC Sabathia on normal rest to have him ready if there’s a Game 7.

“Who else would you want for a Game 7 if there is a Game 7?” Pettitte said. “I never thought they would not throw me tomorrow.”

Physically, Pettitte admitted that his body has appreciated the extra rest. Since the Yankees skipped one of his starts in mid-September due to shoulder fatigue, he’s been allotted an extra day’s rest between starts. As an younger player, Pettitte said that would set him back, but because he’s 37 years old, he admitted it’s “probably great for me.”

That didn’t mean he was happy with the rainout, however,

“The worst part of it is just the wait,” Pettitte said. “This was the longest day ever. You realize it’s a rainout – get ready to do it tomorrow – but it’s just frustrating from the standpoint it’s just such a long day, when you’re so ready and so anxious to get the game going.”

As I noted earlier, minutes before the game was called, MLB officials were conferring with
Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland. The look on his face essentially
said there was no way he was having Pettitte warm up. Furthermore, last thing the manager or pitching coach on both sides wanted was their starters to have to start the game, stop due to a delay and fire it up again if the game were to be resumed.

“I don’t think any of us are exactly sure when the rain is going to get out of here, how late it’s going to be, so I respect the decision that they made,” Girardi said. “I’m sure both clubs would have loved to have played. The weather is not permitting.”

“If it’s good enough to play a game, I think any ball team wants to — if you’re going to start a game, just have a fair amount of confidence you’re going to be able to finish it, and not have it be so disjointed and segmented because of weather,” agreed Angels skipper Mike Scioscia.

Besides the pitchers, everyone is affected playing in the slop and mud, no matter how state-of-the-art Yankee Stadium’s drainage system is compared to the building across the street.

“You don’t want anybody to get hurt,” said Mariano Rivera. “It’s bad weather out there. Waiting another day isn’t going to kill us.”

_______________________

Good line from Jerry Hairston: He and Mark Teixeira were discussing the inordinate amount of off days while in the indoor batting cages when, according to Hairston, Teixeira told him, “I have a new respect for utility players.”

“I just started laughing,” Hairston said. “I said why don’t you give me
part of that [pay check] you got there.”

Teixeira is in the first year of an eight-year contract that’s paying him $180 million. Hairston re-signed with the Reds for one year and $2 million in January and was acquired by the Yankees at the non-waiver trade deadline. Mother Nature, though, doesn’t discriminate between the rich and the filthy, dirty rich.

“That’s the life of a baseball
player,” Hairston said. “You’re going to have your rain outs, but we don’t make excuses.
You have to go out and play.”

_______________________

Game 7 is “if necessary,” but the media could not help asking about a potential Game 7. This was supposed to be A.J. Burnett’s day to throw a side session, but he
did not. The thinking was to ensure he’d be available for long relief or
if it’s all hands on deck in an elimination game. Burnett said he’d be ready in an emergency for both Games 6 and 7.

“If I need to come out and help, I’ll be ready,” Burnett said. “I’ll be ready for anything.”

Scioscia was asked about it, but did not confirm yet another one of those worst-kept secrets. If the Angels win Game 6, John Lackey is starting Game 7. Bet on it.

“If there was a seven, Lackey’s going to pitch,” Hairston said, mockingly. “They can say no, no … if you look at John’s reaction getting taken out of [Game 5], you think he’s a man that he’s not going to pitch a Game 7. They can sugarcoat it, but we’re concerned about Game 6 and we’re trying to win that game.”

_______________________

Scioscia was asked if he’s in favor of the added off day built in this week. In a word, no.

“Taking us almost 20 days to play eight games, I think that’s the wrong template for baseball,” Scioscia said.

swisher250.jpgOne person not complaining is Nick Swisher, 3-for-29 with 10 strikeouts in the postseason and who popped up Brian Fuentes’ 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded to end Game 5.

“You hear a lot of guys who say, ‘Man I wish we didn’t have all these
off days,’ but then again if you have bangs and bumps, and this and
that, it’s nice to have another day off,” Swisher said.

Swisher remained Girardi’s starter in right field and the manager doesn’t anticipate any changes tomorrow night. Swisher has taken advantage of the down time by working extra hard with hitting coach Kevin Long. A player fueled by emotion, Swisher was texted something once said by Babe Ruth:

“It’s hard to beat up a guy who never
quits. It’s going to turn, it’s got to. You have to have a positive
attitude about it.”

Girardi stuck with Johnny Damon after a 1-for-12 Division Series. He’s doing the same with Swisher despite considering inserting Brett Gardner in center field and shifting Melky Cabrera over to right.

“It’s amazing,” Swisher said. “Skip’s such a great guy. He’s the best manager I’ve ever played for, no doubt. You have to keep battling and keep grinding.

“I never lost any confidence. I’m frustrated, but Skip has faith in me and my teammates do. I just turn it up, strap it on a little tighter. I had a run like this during the regular season and no one seemed to care. But it’s at that point now when it’s on the biggest stage. You want to go out there and do sooo well. Maybe I’m just pressing a bit too much.

“Skip told me the other day, ‘Be yourself. You had a great year, just keep doing the things you’re normally used to doing.’ I’ll be ready to go tonight when I go to sleep. I’ll be ready to go tomorrow when I wake up and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

_______________________

As I wrap up blogging for the evening, it’s 8:02, five minutes after what would have been first pitch. It’s raining and raining hard. Unless Major League Baseball wanted to wait and play at midnight, there was no way this game was being played. MLB made the right decision to benefit both the players and the fans.

Talk to y’all tomorrow.

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.