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.
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.
By Jon Lane
If the Yankees can defeat the Angels one more time, they will have the ultimate challenge ahead of them. The Philadelphia Phillies pounded and blasted Joe Torre’s Dodgers into submission Wednesday night to become the first team to reach consecutive World Series since Torre’s Yankees in 2000-01 and the first to capture back-to-back pennants since the Atlanta Braves in 1995-96. The last team to repeat as World Champions were also Torre’s Yankees when they won three straight from 1998-2000. The Phillies have a shot at becoming the first National League team to repeat since the Cincinnati Reds in 1975-76.
The Phils smacked four homers off Dodgers pitching, two from Jayson Werth. Bottom line, this team can bash and Yankees pitching will have to raise it to the highest of levels to get past Werth, Ryan Howard and that lineup.
But first things first. The Yankees have to win one more game; it takes four games to win the pennant, the Yankees have won three. A.J. Burnett gets the ball tonight (pregame on YES at 6:30, first pitch on FOX at 7:57 p.m. and YES will have an hour-long postgame show immediately after the last pitch) and the right-hander looked relaxed and confident during Wednesday’s media session. He has a firm grasp on what he has to do, and the Yankees are cognizant about the need to step on the Angels’ throats and make them tap out. Too many teams have rallied from down 3-1. One blew a 3-0 LCS lead. Guess which one?
Benjamin Kabak from River Ave. Blues wrote something I’ve been thinking about since yesterday: Joe Girardi refused to confirm it, but you know Jose Molina is catching Burnett tonight. In Burnett’s prior two postseason starts Girardi has left Jorge Posada on the bench while going with Hideki Matsui as the designated hitter.
That needs to change. To echo Kabak’s take, Posada is batting .308 with a .471 on-base percentage and .615 slugging percentage, compared to Matsui’s .286/.412/.357. The former not only looks more comfortable at the plate – his eighth-inning homer tied Game 3 before the Angels won it in the 11th – he owns better numbers against Halos starter John Lackey. Posada is 12-for-29 (.414) with three walks, a homer, and three RBIs against the big Texan, compared to Matsui’s .286 average, though he does have seven RBIs versus the Angels right-hander.
How Girardi will handle pinch-hitting/pinch-running duties with regards to Posada and the risk of losing the DH, we’ll find out if the game is close and late. The Yankees don’t want it to get that far. It won’t be easy, but they’ll have to get to Lackey early and cash in on the opportunities they missed against him in Game 1. Batting Posada behind A-Rod gives them their best shot.
By 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.
8:52 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.
10:37 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.
By Jon Lane
Yankees fans were able to party early when the Angels rallied off Jonathan Papelbon and eliminate the Red Sox Sunday afternoon. Alas, be careful what you wish for.
En route to their first World Championship, the Angels knocked out the Yankees in four games in the 2002 Division Series and have been a thorn in their side since. Three years later, the Halos took it to the Bronx Bombers again, this time in five games, and have frequently given the Yankees fits during the regular season, owning a 35-23 edge since 2003.
The teams split 10 games this year, the last a thrilling 3-2 win September 23 that secured the Yankees’ first series win in Anaheim since May 2004. But when the Yankees and Angels open the American League Championship Series on Friday, the Yankees own the all-important home field advantage; including the postseason they’re 59-24 at Yankee Stadium in ’09.
“It’s going to come down who is going to pitch best, who is going to hit in the clutch,” said Jorge Posada. “You know, home field advantage is going to help a little bit. I think that’s the key to this series, having four games at home is going to change.”
Another critical difference is the postseason resurgence of Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod batted .455 with two homers and six RBIs in the three-game sweep of the Twins. And before you point out he had similar success against them in ’04 before the playoff flame out that dogged him since Game 5 of the ’04 ALCS, consider that Rodriguez was .333-5-9 in 10 games versus L.A. during the season.
The recent and distant past will be moot come Friday, but it’s a different time, Rodriguez is a different person and both are different teams.
“We have a huge challenge in front of us,” said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. “Before we talk about a Freeway Series [against the Dodgers] we’re going to have to beat an incredible team in the Yankees. These guys just don’t give up.”
The teams meet in a rematch of the 2005 ALDS, when after winning Game 1 the Yankees lost the series in five games.
Active holdovers from that team: Vladimir Guerrero, Chone Figgins, Juan Rivera, John Lackey, Scot Shields, Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders.
A snapshot look at the regular season matchup and respective team leaders:
Season Series: Series tied 5-5
September 14: A night the Yankees beat the Angels at their own game and marked by Joe Girardi’s unorthodox decision to pinch-run Brett Gardner for Mark Teixeira in the eighth inning. Gardner slid into third on the front end of a double steal and raced home with what turned out to be the winning run on catcher Mike Napoli’s throwing error.
Jose Molina (played for the Angels 2001-07)
Bobby Abreu (played for the Yankees 2006-08)
Juan Rivera (played for the Yankees 2001-03)
Yankees: Derek Jeter (.334)
Angels: Erick Aybar (.312)
Yankees: Mark Teixeira (39)
Angels: Kendry Morales (34)
Runs Batted In
Yankees: Mark Teixeira (122)
Angels: Kendry Morales (108)
Yankees: CC Sabathia (19)
Angels: Joe Saunders (16)
Yankees: CC Sabathia (3.37)
Angels: Jered Weaver (3.75)
Yankees: CC Sabathia (197)
Angels: Jered Weaver (174)
Angels: Mariano Rivera (44)
Angels: Brian Fuentes (48)
Projected Pitching Matchups
Game 1 (Friday, 7:37 p.m.): John Lackey (11-8, 3.83) vs. CC Sabathia (19-7, 3.21)
Game 2 (Saturday, 7:37 p.m.): Jered Weaver (16-8, 3.75) vs. A.J. Burnett (12-9, 4.10)
Game 3 (Monday, TBA): Andy Pettitte (14-7, 4.11) vs. Scott Kazmir (10-9, 4.89)
Game 4 (Tuesday, TBA): Sabathia/Chad Gaudin (6-2, 3.43) vs. Joe Saunders (16-7, 4.60)
By Jon Lane
Key points from Joe Girardi’s pregame press conference:
On the debate of whether Hideki Matsui or Jorge Posada would DH:
“Matsui has been our DH most of the year and is familiar with that role. That is not a role that Jorge has done a lot in his career. If there’s a left-hander on the mound maybe you think a little bit different. But Matsui, I mean, he’s been great against left-handers, so it wasn’t much of a decision because of what Matsui has done in the DH role.”
On the temperature of the clubhouse given the talk about Posada’s reaction to sitting:
“Clubhouse is great. I watched the guys go through practice yesterday. They were loose; guys were having fun. They enjoyed being around each other like they always do, so I think our clubhouse is great.”
On why he believes A.J. Burnett will be successful:
“I’ve always found that A.J. has liked the big stage. I talked about his success that he’s had coming into here as an opposing player, the success before this year he had going into Boston, some of the games. We were 0-2 to start the year and he got our first win in Baltimore. I think A.J. likes it and I think A.J. likes pitching in this ballpark. That leads me to believe that he’s going to have a good game.”
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire also discussed Carl Pavano starting Game 3, a potential elimination game:
“He’s been great for us, a veteran pitcher. The leadership you get from a guy who’s been there and done it has been very, very important. And then watching him go out on the mound, when he’s throwing the ball, how he works hitters and works the zone when he’s got his good stuff. He’s in and out and using all his pitches and can pitch backwards if he has to. That’s something that some of our younger pitchers need to learn to do, so he’s been very important for us.
By Jon Lane
First pitch: 6:07 p.m. at Yankee Stadium; gates open 3 p.m.
Pitching matchup: A.J. Burnett (13-9, 4.04) vs. Nick Blackburn (11-11, 4.03)
Forecast: Cloudy with a slight chance of showers in the evening; showers likely with a slight chance of thunderstorms after midnight. (They could play through “showers,” but “thunderstorms” will force a delay and put everyone in one big I hate rain bad mood.)
If there’s a rainout: Game 2 moves to tomorrow night (TBD) and the teams lose the travel day. Games 3-5 will remain Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. If the series then goes the distance, the Yankees would be faced with a choice of starting Burnett on short rest, Chad Gaudin or Joba Chamberlain.
Throwing out the first pitch: “Mr. October” Reggie Jackson. Incidentally I heard a replay of Reggie’s appearance on “The Howard Stern Show.” His weekly Tuesday night show on Sirius 123 was plugged, but the rest of the details are for mature audiences only.
The big story: Joe Girardi’s decision to sit Jorge Posada and start Jose Molina.
Before Game 5 of the 1977 ALCS in Kansas City, Billy Martin made the most courageous decision of his career when he benched Jackson, George Steinbrenner’s $3 million man. It’s apples and oranges compared to Posada and Molina, but hang with me. Jackson was 1-for-15 in the series and numbers against Royals starter Paul Splittorff so poor that when asked, Catfish Hunter told Martin that Jackson “can’t hit him with a paddle.” That left Martin, who felt if the Yankees lost he would be fired anyway, to convince Steinbrenner and Gabe Paul why he had to bench Jackson.
Posada owns three World Series rings and was .285-22-81 this season, while Molina can’t hit even if attempted to put paddle on beach ball, so obviously this is different. But what’s similar is the manager’s guts. Ian O’Connor writes it’s E-2 on Girardi, but Sam Borden commends Girardi for making the requisite tough decisions.
There is something to chemistry between some pitchers and catchers. Andy Pettitte had it with Jim Leyritz – and not Girardi – in 1996, so did Greg Maddux with Eddie Perez. You can’t discount that Burnett went 5-5 with a 4.96 ERA and .270 opponent batting average in 16 starts with Posada and 5-2 with a 3.28 ERA and .221 opponent batting average in 11 starts with Molina catching, including 3-1 2.92 in his last six.
Molina showed a knack for keeping Burnett’s emotions in check and in a cohesive enough pace to not made desperate mistakes during crisis situations. And during the time of season where pitching rules all, you do whatever you believe is best to shut down the opposition, especially if Nick Blackburn suddenly morphs into Jack Morris. And it’s not like Posada won’t be available to pinch-hit or enter the game immediately after Girardi finds an opening. And it’s certainly not like the rest of the Yankees lineup can’t hit. Blackburn was 11-11, 4.03, so the odds are long that he’ll pull a Morris and good that the Yankees offense will knock him out early.
Of course, if Burnett is razor-sharp and the Yankees win, Girardi is a genius. If he’s blasted, Girardi is stupid, Burnett is a whiner, boos will be heard from Jersey and Posada would be given carte blanche to scream, “I was the problem?” Yankees fans, in a panic, will declare the series over and demand that Girardi is shown the door.
That’s the nature of sports. It’s also the nature of sports to stop debating, hang up the phone after your favorite sports talk station leaves you on hold for an hour, quit crunching numbers, and sit back and watch. It’s why the games are played. We’ll see if this issue is either buried quickly or linger like a thunderstorm of biblical proportions.
Memo to Mother Nature: Hold off on the showers until after midnight. Too much going on tonight in the Bronx.
By Jon Lane
A.J. Burnett was adamant about his defense of Jorge Posada during a dugout chat with reporters on Wednesday, and reiterated his success throwing to both Posada and Jose Molina. But he admitted to having a better rapport with Molina, which is why Joe Girardi – not Burnett – made the risky call to bench Posada and start Molina in Game 2.
“It’s more of kind of a ‘me’ rhythm,” Burnett said. “It’s being able to throw both heaters any time I want. And just working off of that. Four seam, two, seam. Just whenever, inside, out and not really worrying about calling it, kind of working a faster pace. He just keeps me going at a little quicker pace. We seem to click.”
Molina shrugged his shoulders and wondered why there was such a fuss over Posada’s disappointment in not being behind the plate and how he suddenly found himself in the middle of it.
“I always say and I will keep saying the same thing, the manager’s Joe,” Molina said. “He writes it down my name, I will play. I’m ready. If Jorge don’t like it that’s him, but you guys have to ask him about that not me. But Joe is the manager. He puts me in the lineup and I play.”
Thanks to Larry Fleischer for the quote. Girardi is also considering starting Brett Gardner in center field, but indicated he’ll probably stick with Melky Cabrera.
Girardi’s been down this road before, having been asked by Joe Torre to take a seat in favor of Jorge Posada. Posada has too, but it was different in 2005 with Randy Johnson’s insistence of throwing to John Flaherty. What worked in September that season backfired in Game 3 of the DS when The Big Unit was rocked for five runs on nine hits in three innings.
That’s one reason why Molina dismissed any thought about certain pitchers responding better to particular catchers.
“You guys have to understand that the one who has the ball is the pitcher,” Molina said. “He’s the one who’s going to decide what he’s going to throw. We just suggest what the pitch could be. But when the pitcher has something in the mind, they’re going to throw it no matter what. I prefer a pitcher be 100 percent in his pitch than 50 (percent) in my pitch.”
Girardi left open the possibility that he may not remain committed to a Molina-Burnett battery if the Yankees advance to the LCS. But let’s face it: This may be the right move – you live and die by pitching in the postseason and if any starter is on his ‘A’ game on any given night, Ted Williams ain’t hitting him – but it’s also a huge risk. A bad start by Burnett and you know Posada will be seething and asking himself, “I’m the problem?”
“No, I’m not worried about it,” Girardi said. “I never saw Joe Torre fret about it. I never saw Bobby Cox fret about it when Javier Lopez didn’t catch Greg Maddux. I never saw them worry about it. You put the club out there that you feel should be out there that evening, and then you hope that your club makes plays and throws the ball well. And that’s what you do, so, I mean, that’s the decision that I made.”
Burnett on what’s worked and why he’s not surprised Posada will be on the bench
“I figured he was going to catch because we had a good rhythm in the past handful of starts,” Burnett said. “I guess it’s a comfort level. It’s maybe having the same guy out there every day and not mixing it in and out. And just getting the feel of him wanting to know what I want to do on a consistent basis instead of having to come in and out and figure out what we’re doing. It’s the same game plan every day. Just sticking to it.
“I’m not surprised because what Jorge is to this organization and what he’s done in the post season. He’s the leader in this clubhouse. He’s the leader in the dugout. When he’s out there, even when he’s not playing, he’s very vocal and he’s very — he’s around all the time. So I imagine what — how he’s feeling, you know. But like I said, I figured it was going to happen just because of the handful of starts that Molina caught me. And I’m just going to worry about taking my starts tomorrow. Molina is back there, skip made the decision and there’s really nothing we can do about it.”
Molina on creating comfort and rhythm:
“You have to find the right words and time to do it,” Molina said. “If the guy is giving up a lot of runs, you know that’s not the right time to say something. So you hold off until whenever is the right time. You just gain trust. It’s just about trust.”
By Jon Lane
Joe Girardi announced his ALDS rotation: CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte. That lines up Sabathia for Game 4 and Burnett for a deciding Game 5 if they are necessary.
Girardi cited the home and road splits among the factors behind his decision.
5-3, 3.51 (home)
8-6, 4.59 (road)
6-4, 4.59 (home)
8-4, 3.71 (road)
“I did not talk to A.J. about that,” Girardi said. “That was a decision I made – as a manager, you have to make some tough decisions and that was a very tough one.”
Regarding Jose Molina catching Burnett, which means Molina swings a bat in a decisive Game 5: “They’re working in a good rhythm and we thought we keep it that way and keep them working together. Georgie is our No. 1 catcher, but in this situation we chose to go with Molina.”
It’s unclear if Posada will DH in Game 2, but Girardi indicated Hideki Matsui will DH most of the time. Basically, it’ll come down to the match-ups.
No ALDS roster yet, which will be finalized after Tigers-Twins, but Sergio Pena, Brian Bruney and Ramiro Pena will head to Tampa to stay in shape. You figure Francisco Cervelli will be the third catcher and Damaso Marte the second left-hander out of the bullpen, and Girardi all but confirmed Joba Chamberlain will be active. He’ll work out of the bullpen and can pitch to as little as two hitters or more than three innings.
As if there was any suspense, the Yankees chose not to wait until the end of the Tigers-Twins game and formally announced they selected the Division Series with the extra off day. Put it in stone: CC Sabathia will throw the first pitch of Game 1 tomorrow night at Yankee Stadium.
By Jon Lane
BREAKING NEWS: Jorge Posada told reporters today that Jose Molina will catch A.J. Burnett in the ALDS. Whether Posada or Hideki Matsui will DH remains to be seen.
“I just hope we win that game, that’s all,” Posada said. “That’s all I have to say. Matsui’s our DH, so we’ll see. Joe talked to me on Sunday. It’s not like I didn’t see it coming. It’s the manager’s decision”
I guess it’ll depend on which Tigers or Twins starter faces Burnett. If it’s Game 2, it’ll be Justin Verlander or Carl Pavano (yes, him). In Game 3 I project Rick Porcello or Scott Baker, the two squaring off against one another later in Minneapolis.
For what it’s worth, here’s how each match up:
Matsui vs. Pavano: 1-for-5, 1 K
Matsui vs. Verlander: 4-for-12, 2 RBIs, 1 K
Posada vs. Pavano: 0-for-2, 1 K
Posada vs. Verlander: 1-for-10, 1 2B, 3 RBIs, 2 K
Matsui vs. Porcello: 2 BB
Matsui vs. Baker: 1-for-5, 1 RBI
Posada vs. Porcello: 1-for-1, 1 BB
Posada vs. Baker: 1-for-2
Some interesting nuggets from the Yankees and the Elias Sports Bureau:
? Joe Girardi is the fifth Yankees manager (Joe McCarthy, Ralph Houk, Billy Martin, Dick Howser) to win 100 games within their first two full seasons with the team. Girardi also joined Lou Piniella to have played for and managed teams that won at least 100 games. He’s done enough to be named AL Manager of the Year, writes Steven Goldman.
“Winning helps,” Posada said. “Coming here not knowing what to expect, as a player it’s different than as a manager, as a bench coach. The second time around is a little different. He did a lot of things to keep this team united. The first year I think he was tougher more on himself.”
? The Yankees’ 15 walk-off wins led the Major Leagues and were second-best in franchise history behind 17 set in 1943. Their 51 come-from-behind wins and 28 in their final at-bat were also best in the game.
? Think the Yankees enjoyed their new digs? After the All-Star break they won 31 of their final 39 regular season games at Yankee Stadium and compiled baseball’s best home record (57-24).
? Think Alex Rodriguez melts in the clutch? According to Elias, 15 of A-Rod’s 30 home runs either tied the game or gave the Yankees the lead, and seven came in the seventh inning or later and either tied the game or gave the Yankees the lead. Out of his 100 RBIs, 50 tied the game or were go-ahead, and 33 came in the seventh inning or beyond.
? Nobody will consider Phil Hughes for MVP, but consider this: The Yankees went 58-26 after Hughes was named Mariano Rivera’s primary setup man, and 31-5 in games in which Hughes appeared. In 54 games before Hughes, Yankees relievers were 13-10 with a 4.88 ERA and 14 saves). After Hughes, the ‘pen went 27-7 with a 3.37 ERA and 37 saves in 105 games.