Nothing Like a Game Six

Published on: 4th November, 2009

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New York — The New York Yankees will sink or swim with their three-man postseason rotation. They don’t have any other viable options.

Pettitte will be the third straight Yankees pitcher to start on short rest. He will be opposed on Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium by the Phillies’ Pedro Martinez, making this a match of postseason veterans who are a combined 75 years of age.

Girardi had waited to make the Pettitte announcement official until he checked on the veteran left-hander’s condition Tuesday. How did that conversation go?

“‘How do you feel?'” Girardi asked. “And he said he felt great. It doesn’t take more than that.”

Petite sounded very confident at yesterday’s press conference.

“What an opportunity to be able to hopefully pitch the game to bring the 27th world championship to this organization and to this city,” he said. “It’s what we set out to do. I’ve had the opportunity to close out the previous two rounds and it’s exciting. For me, it’s not even a concern. I’m just going to go as hard as I can, as long as I can.”

Petite is very much aware of the different type of preparation to go on shorter rest but doesn’t think it will affect him, though.

“I don’t think there’s that big a difference,” he said. “I guess you fatigue a little quicker because your body gets into the routine of pitching every fifth day. I can’t even remember the last time I went on three days rest. I know I went on three days rest in the World Series against the Marlins. And I know it was a good outing. It was six years ago. I don’t even know if I’ve done it since then. It’s just not done anymore. The biggest thing is our routines. We get so set on pitching on our fifth day so it’s a little unusual. My mindset is just going to be the same as normal. I’m not going to try to blow the ball past anyone. I’m going to try to pitch like I normally would. If I can get my command and my mechanics, I feel I should be successful.”

The Yankees won Game 4 with CC Sabathia going on short rest. They lost Game 5 as A.J. Burnett, also pitching on short rest, was toasted for six earned runs in two-plus innings. Girardi said Burnett’s difficulties were not necessarily the result of pitching on three days’ rest.

But this is what the Yankees have left at this point; Pettitte on short rest in Game 6 and, if that doesn’t work out, Sabathia on short rest, for the second straight start, in the finale.

There is no doubting the stature of either Sabathia or Pettitte. There is no doubting the talent of Burnett, although his performances in the postseason have run all the way from superb to woeful. But the fact is that there is nowhere else for the Yankees to turn.

The name of Chad Gaudin has been frequently floated as a possible fourth starter. That was never going to occur. Gaudin was released by the Cubs in April. He then compiled a 5.13 ERA for San Diego. That would be San Diego in the National League, with the most pitcher-friendly facility in the Majors.

“The thing is, Chad hasn’t thrown — I think he’s thrown one inning in 27 days,” Girardi said. “And to me, there are no games where you don’t keep the pedal to the metal, and that’s what we tried to do with our starters.”

The other starting option at one point appeared to be Joba Chamberlain. Between the Yankees’ desire to limit his innings and the sharp decline in his work as a starter in August and September, it was determined that his best move in this postseason would be a return to the bullpen.

“Part of it is that,” Girardi said. “Joba we turned into a bullpen guy, so it is what it is. These are the guys that we’ve relied on all year and we’re going to continue to do it.”

Pettitte is 37, which doesn’t make him a prime candidate for work on short rest. But over the last two months, every start he has had has been on long rest, rest more than the typical four days. To the question of what effect this would have when he went to short rest, Girardi replied with a smile:

“I would think that he’s rested. We haven’t had to overwork him the last, I don’t know, two months basically, and that’s probably why he feels extremely well.”

On the other side, Martinez, 38, pitched well in Game 2 of the Series, even though he took the loss. It is not difficult to picture him getting motivated for one more postseason bid for glory. At this point in his career, his performances are far from predictable, but this would be the sort of event that would summon forth his very best efforts.

“He’s capable of throwing a real good game,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. And this is why it is handy to have him around at a time such as this.

The Yankees look relatively better for Game 7 matchups. Sabathia would go for them, on short rest again, but he defines pitching durability in the contemporary game. For the Phillies, it would be Cole Hamels’ turn in the rotation. Hamels, the hero of the 2008 postseason, but a victim this autumn, earlier said he just wanted the season to be over. More recently, he said that he really wanted the ball in Game 7. Sabathia is still the more stable choice in this one.

And the World Series now moves back to the Bronx for Game 6, weather permitting, on Wednesday night, and for Game 7, if necessary, on Thursday night. Historically the Bronx has not been kind to the visiting team in the postseason. The Yankees are 6-1 at new Yankee Stadium in the 2009 postseason. Their only loss was to a virtually untouchable Cliff Lee in Game 1 of the World Series.

The only games the Phillies have won in this Series have been started by Lee. Is there a way they could get him back on the mound before this thing wraps up, even in relief?

“What’s that old saying: ‘Spahn and Sain and pray for rain?’ ” Manuel said, referring to a slogan that described the rotation, headed by Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain, of the pennant-winning 1948 Boston Braves.

“Got an off-day tomorrow, maybe it’ll rain the next day. I can get [Lee] on three days like you guys are talking about,” Manuel told reporters with a smile on Monday night. “No, I look at it actually in a sense right now, the seventh game would be on his day to throw in the bullpen, and I’ll see what goes on from there. I’ll talk to him.”

“As far as my availability, I’m available,” Lee said to a large laugh. “I’ll pitch whenever they want me to pitch. That’s about as clear as I can say it. I’m ready whenever. I don’t really get that sore, so I’ll be ready to pitch whenever they want me to. If it’s going to help the team win, I’m in.”

The underlying difference in both the Game 6 matchup and the projected Game 7 matchup is that the Phillies starters will be going on regular rest, and the Yankee starters on short rest.

Given the quality of the three Yankee starters in question, if the Yankees prevail, the three-man rotation could be seen in retrospect as a source of strength. But if they lose, giving up a 3-1 lead in the process, the outcome could be seen as the result of the Yankees simply having a shortage of starting pitchers.

Thanks to Trainor Communications for assistance with press conference coverage.

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