Results tagged ‘ Mariano Rivera ’

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.

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.

_______________________

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

Business as usual

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

Nothing. He didn’t need to.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_______________________

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

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

_______________________

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

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

So why bunt instead of hit-and-run?

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

_______________________

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

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

_______________________

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

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

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

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

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

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.

This is not 2004

By Jon Lane
The inevitable comparisons are in full force. One victory from a World Series the Yankees drop a winnable Game 5 and are back home with two chances to grab that elusive ‘W’ with both hands and hold tight.

In the event you lived on Mars five years ago and are back on Earth: The Yankees blew a 3-0 ALCS lead to the Boston Red Sox in 2004, starting when they were three Mariano Rivera outs from a four-game sweep and the right to play the St. Louis Cardinals in the Fall Classic.

gordon_250_102309.jpgWatching Game 5 of Yankees-Angels, my colleague and friend Jerome Preisler couldn’t help but compare Phil Hughes to Tom Gordon, the latter one symbol of that epic collapse. I covered the 2004 ALCS from start to finish and sure there are similarities. Like these Angels, those Red Sox never quit. They had heart, soul, pop, clutch hitting and pitching, and some good luck. I remember specifically Game 5. The Yankees took a 4-2 sixth-inning lead on Derek Jeter’s three-run double off Pedro Martinez and had the bases loaded with two out. Hideki Matsui laced a liner to right field. If it drops, the game is broken open and we’re not talking about the 2004 ALCS.

Alas, Trot Nixon made a sliding catch to end the inning. Looking back at the series, Joe Torre called that the turning point, the first time when he told himself, “Uh oh.” David Ortiz homered off Gordon to begin the bottom of the eighth and Jason Varitek’s sacrifice fly off Rivera tied the game at four. Fate, by the way, also smiled on the Red Sox in the ninth when Tony Clark doubled off Keith Foulke, If the ball doesn’t bounce over Fenway Park’s short right-field fence, Ruben Sierra scores from first. Instead, Clark and Sierra had to stay on second and third. Miguel Cairo popped out and David Ortiz finally won the game in the 14th.

The moral of the history lesson: 2009 is a different time with a different team. These Yankees had it within them to pull out 15 walk-off wins and two in the postseason. Andy Pettitte and not Jon Lieber (to be fair, Lieber pitched very effectively in the ’04 postseason) is starting Game 6 Saturday night. And if there’s a Game 7, the season will be on CC Sabathia’s back, not our old friend Kevin Brown.

Furthermore, there are glaring differences between Joe Girardi’s lineup to what Torre had to send out for Games 6 and 7 five years ago:

DH
2004 – Kenny Lofton/Sierra
2009 – Matsui

2B
2004 – Cairo
2009 – Robinson Cano

1B
2004 – Tony Clark (John Olerud’s bruised instep kept him from starting Games 5-7)
2009 – Mark Teixeira

Cano instead of Cairo; Teixeira instead of Clark (who struck out to end Game 6 as the winning run at the plate). Here’s hoping you’re reassured. Now all this lineup has to do is score runs off two very good pitchers, Joe Saunders and Jered Weaver.

To whet your appetite

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

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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.

Now for an opponent

By Jon Lane
What to watch for this week:

? Yankees games meaningless only to the standings. The AL East may be wrapped up, but Joe Girardi will be resting regular players (read: Alex Rodriguez) while evaluating who may grab the last couple of ALDS roster spots (read: Brian Bruney, Freddy Guzman). Peter Abraham had a funny line looking ahead to who may comprise tonight’s batting order: The Hangover Special.

? Whether Mark Teixeira can become AL home run champion. Teixeira’s 38 home runs are one behind leader Carlos Pena, out for the season with a broken hand.

? One last chance for Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Joe Mauer to convince voters they deserve to be AL MVP.

? CC Sabathia’s first and only shot at his first 20-win season (he’s a two-time 19-game winner) Friday night against the Rays in St. Petersburg. Sabathia is a top contender for the Cy Young, though Royals ace Zack Greinke may have sealed it after holding the Twins to a run over seven innings on Sunday. In five September starts (Twins, Red Sox, Tigers, Indians and Angels), Greinke has allowed three runs (two earned) in 33 innings.

(Before I get to the Twins, allow me to digress. From this person’s point of view, Mariano Rivera belongs in the Cy Young conversation and deserves a place in the top three. His 44 saves are his most since 2004 [53]. He has two blown saves and allowed only two runs since June. There’s Jeter, Teixeira and Sabathia, but where are the Yankees without Rivera? Would there have ever been that last dynasty if not for Rivera?)

? Twins vs. Tigers in a four-game set that will likely decide the AL Central champion and the Yankees’ ALDS opponent. Three weeks ago, the Tigers had a seven-game lead. That’s down to two with Detroit on an 8-11 skid and Minnesota on its typical late-season surge (11-2). The Twins are also winners of nine out of 14 against the Tigers this season.

Let’s rewind to 2006: The Tigers led the Central by 10 1/2 games on August 7. The Twins won the title on the final day of the season while the Tigers settled for the Wild Card. Minnesota was swept by Oakland in the ALDS. Detroit dropped Game 1 of the DS to the Yankees before winning their next seven to capture the AL pennant. Go figure.

Nick Blackburn opposes Rick Porcello tonight at Comerica Park. It’s Brian Duensing against Justin Verlander Tuesday, Carl Pavano (yes, him) against Eddie Bonine Wednesday, and Scott Baker and Nate Robertson conclude the set on Thursday. Something tells me it’ll be Twins vs. Yankees next week. What do you think?

Washed out?

washburn_250_090309.jpgBy Jon Lane
This via the AP:

Tigers left-hander Jarrod Washburn will miss his next start because of a sore left knee.

Washburn was scheduled to start Saturday in Tampa Bay. He said on Thursday that he will be replaced by Armando Galarraga. Washburn missed a start in May with Seattle for the same reason.

Washburn has an ERA 6.81 while winning one of six starts since joining the Tigers at the trading deadline. He is expected to make his next start on Sept. 10 against Kansas City.

Like last season, Washburn was a hot name on the Yankees’ radar before July 31 and many Yankees fans screamed over how they were beaten out by the Tigers and that fact that Brian Cashman’s only acquisition was Jerry Hairston Jr. Last I looked, Hairston has been a useful bench player batting .273 with two homers and 10 RBIs in 26 games. And that other ‘non-sexy’ name, Eric Hinske, has seven homers and 12 RBIs in 23 games. Cashman acquired him and $400,000 for two Minor Leaguers.

Jonah Keri today offered insight on what’s happened to Washburn since he became a Detroit Tiger.

Moral of the story: Remember Shawn Chacon and Aaron Small in 2005. The right role players blended with superstars make for the best recipe, yet a lot of these guys slip through the cracks.

One of the other Yankee no-names, Chad Gaudin, starts tonight in Toronto (YES HD, 7 p.m.). At this point, either Gaudin or Sergio Mitre will make the postseason roster as a long man.

Phil Hughes as temporary Yankees closer will be interesting to watch, for the Yankees can afford the luxury of being extra careful with Mariano Rivera (groin stiffness). No further explanations about Hughes’ breakthrough season are necessary. But, and I quote Kimberly Jones, will there be Hughes Rules next season?

Mid-week thoughts: Burnett a major variable

By Jon Lane
I suggested yesterday that Andy Pettitte deserves to start Game 2 of the ALDS ahead of A.J. Burnett. That was more to extol the virtues and merits of Pettitte than to condemn Burnett, who upon first glance has been a frontline starter his first season in New York.

But because there is rarely any middle ground with Burnett, because there have been times when the right-hander has been absolutely electric, it can be frustrating to see a net result of 10-8 with a 4.29 ERA. When he’s on, he takes over a game and captivates a city. When he’s off, whoa boy.

Burnett hasn’t won a game and owns a 6.54 ERA in a seven-start stretch since his last victory on July 27, and that includes the 7 2/3 scoreless innings he tossed against the Red Sox during that Friday night epic at Yankee Stadium. Last night the bad A.J. showed up in Baltimore. He allowed six runs on 11 hits (two home runs) and two walks in 5 1/3 innings and, worse, a television audience saw him lose control of his emotions (again).

You demand excellence from Burnett, for obvious reasons. You also want to see him succeed. He has the talent. He’s stayed healthy. He’s provided life and wisdom to the Yankees’ clubhouse beyond whipped-cream pies. Best of all he’s been accountable. He hasn’t blamed Jorge Posada or anyone and nobody has to tell him he must turn it around.

“I take these as a little bump in the road,” Burnett said. “I’m not going to stew on it too long and let it bring me down, because I thought I turned a good corner the last start and I’ve got to pitch in five days. I can’t let it affect me too much.”

Burnett’s next postseason appearance will be his first and a Game 3 start is not a demotion. It’s either a chance to sweep, a swing game or the nightmare scenario of avoiding an embarrassing sweep. The Yankees are paying Burnett $82.5 million over five years. At times he’s been money. Other times he’s been worth 82 cents. Next month, there is no choice but to be priceless.

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? Nick Swisher is hitting .200 at home with 20 RBIs, but .283 on the road with 52 RBIs. Strange, but his overall numbers are 23-72. The Yankees acquired Swisher in an offseason trade with the White Sox for Wilson Betemit. Swishalicious.

? He can sometimes make you want to pull your hair out, but Robinson Cano batted .347 with 19 runs scored and 16 RBIs in August. He’s already set a career high with 22 homers and his.320 overall average is his finest since 2006 (.342). I’ve killed him in this space over his inability to hit with runners in scoring position, but since August 27 he’s bumped his average in that area from .204 to .221.

? Mariano Rivera has saved 34 consecutive games, a personal best, and has 38 on the season. In his last 29 innings, he’s allowed one run while striking out 29. He might pitch forever.

? Jeter Meter: Nine hits from Lou Gehrig’s franchise record (2,721).

? Ian Kennedy threw batting practice for the first time since surgery in May to remove an aneurysm from below his right biceps, another step towards pitching in September’s instructional league and the Arizona Fall League. He’s 1-4 with a 6.14 ERA in 13 Major League games, but Kennedy’s story is far from finished. The humbling experience is maturing him and I see him earning a spot in the Yankees’ rotation within two years.