Champions on Display MLB

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Birth Of Mr. November

It was eight years ago tonight. Mr. November was born.

The Yankees entered the ninth inning of Game 4 of the 2001 World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks trailing 3-1 at the old Yankee Stadium and down 2-1 in the series, when Ghosts spun their magic and Tino Martinez stroked a two-run homer off Byung-Hyun Kim, who was in his second inning of work.

The game stretched on from Halloween past midnight as the World Series stretch into November for the first time because of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Then, with Kim still on the mound and two outs in the 10th, the score still tied at 3, a legend was created as Derek Jeter added to his amazing postseason resume, launching a Jeterian shot into the stands in right to give the Yankees the dramatic, mind-blowing 4-3 walkoff victory.

The moniker "Mr. November" was quickly affixed to Jeter.

The next night in Game 5, the Ghosts struck again as the Yankees trailed 2-0 entering the ninth before Scott Brosius hit a stunning two-out, two-strike homer of Kim to right to tie it before Alfonso Soriano won it in the 12th with a single for a second-consecutive amazing, mind-blowing walkoff victory.

Of course the Yankees went on to lose that series in 7 on Luis Gonzalez's flair over short off Mariano Rivera

The World Series hasn't been back in November, until this year.

If we were to get as much drama as we did in 2001, that would be great.

What is more important is that the outcome of this Series turns out better, with the Yankees beating the Phillies for World Series championship No. 27.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Yankees STILL Pedro's Daddy

Pedro Martinez can blab all he wants to the media about being the "most influential athlete" to step foot in Yankee Stadium, but he also knows this: the Yankees are still his daddy.

It's been five years since Pedro has donned the uniform of the Red Sox and his repertoire and game plan have changed, but the Yankees' formula for beating him remains the same: good pitching and tough, grind-it-out-at-bats to drive up Pedro's pitch count quickly.

A.J. Burnett delivered the good pitching Thursday, allowing one run in seven terrific innings, and the Yankees made Pedro work hard in six-plus innings en route to a 3-1 victory in Game 2 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium to even the best-of-seven at 1.

Game 3 is Saturday night in Philadelphia.

Yes, Sox fans can crow all they want about the 2004 ALCS, but the fact remains that the Sox won that series despite Pedro, not because of him. He went 0-1 with a 6.23 ERA in three outings, two starts.

Despite that, Pedro spouted off in his media session Wednesday about how his treatment by the New York media made him the most influential athlete to ever play at Yankee Stadium.

Bullocks. What Pedro fails to realize is that the only reason he garnered so much attention is because he played for the Red Sox. Had he played for the Mariners or Angels or Tigers, everyone in New York still would recognize his talent and greatness, but no one would care at all about anything he said. It's only because he played for the Yankees' archrivals that he gained significance.

But when you spew babble like that, you had better deliver, especially in the World Series.

Pedro pitched well, but he certainly didn't deliver.

Pedro did a good job mixing his pitches and keeping the Yankees off balance, but the Yankees dgrindout out at-bat after at-bat against Pedro. Martinez threw 17 pitches in the first, 26 in the second and 16 more in the third.

With Pedro at 59 pitches through three, you knew that if the Yankees kept it up, it would only be a matter of time before Pedro would crack or the Yankees would get to feast on the Phillies' middle relief.

Pedro cracked first, serving up a leadoff homer in the fourth to Mark Teixeira on a 1-and-0 changeup up to tie the score at 1.

The Yankees continued to work Pedro through the next two innings and with his pitch count soaring into the 90s in the sixth, the Yankees struck again, this time with two outs as Hideki Matsui lined a 1-and-2 curveball into the stands in right to give the Yankees the lead for good at 2-1.

And when Robinson Cano flied to end the sixth, Pedro's pitch count stood at 99. He should have been done. Every Yankee fan knows that once Pedro hits 100 pitches, he become increasingly vulnerable.

But Phillies manager Charlie Manuel had his inner Grady Little working and sent Pedro back out for the seventh. He paid for that decision as Jerry Hairston Jr. -- who started in right in place of Nick Swisher because he had been 10-for-27 in his career against Pedro -- and Melky Cabrera led off the inning with singles.

That was it for Pedro as Manuel brought in Chan Ho Park, but pinch hitter Jorge Posada made sure the Yankees took advantage of the opportunity with a single to center to make it 3-1.

Pedro ended up allowing the three runs on six hits and two walks. He struck out eight and threw 72 of 107 pitches for strikes. The reality is the Yankees should have tacked on one more run to his line.

That is in part because of Joe Girardi and Derek Jeter and in part because of ... you guessed it ... the umpires.

With runners on first and second and no outs, Girardi had Jeter, the Yankees' all-time hit leader who has a major league record 168 postseason, to sacrifice. Are you kidding me? Jeter? Really? He should be swinging away!

Even worse, after falling behind 0-and-2 and having the bunt sign taken off, Jeter still tried to bunt on the third strike and it went foul for a strikeout. C'mon Derek, you've got to know better than that!

Then the umpires got in the act.

Johnny Damon followed by hitting a low screamer down the first base line that Ryan Howard trapped before taking a two steps toward first, then firing wildly to second in an attempt to force Posada, who got in safely. First base umpire Brian Gorman, however, ruled Howard caught the ball on the fly and Posada was call out for a double play when he was tagged by Jimmy Rollins.

Replays, however, show the ball hit the dirt as it skipped into Howard's glove. The umpires huddled but did not overturn the call. Pedro was saved another run.

Not that it mattered with the way Burnett pitched. He was sharp and he was outstanding.

It was almost as if he was trying to prove something after his awful outing in Game 5 of the ALCS, in which he allowed four runs before recording an out in the first inning.

No such trouble this time as he retired the side in order on 12 pitches in the first.

But it's rare that Burnett can get through a start cleanly and he ran into a little trouble in the second as Raul Ibanez blooped a ground-rule double down the left field line with two outs before Matt Stairs rocketed a grounder that Alex Rodriguez -- who went 0-for-4 and is 0-for-8 with six strikeouts in the two games -- should have picked clean. Instead the ball got under A-Rod's glove for a single, giving the Phillies a 1-0 lead.

Burnett, though buckled down, striking out Pedro Feliz to end the inning and then surrendering a single, a double and two walks the rest of the way. When he handed to ball directly to Mariano Rivera to start the eighth, Burnett had retired eight straight, four on strikeouts.

Burnett ended up allowing just the one run on four hits and two walks. He struck out nine, threw 68 of 108 pitches for strikes and went a long way toward proving he is, in fact, New York tough and worth the big contract he signed in the offseason.

And with a day off today, Girardi didn't mess around with his suddenly leaky bullpen. It was Mariano for six outs or bust.

It was nearly bust, except the umpires blew yet another call, this time in the Yankees' favor.

With one out in the eighth, Rollins walked and Shane Victorino singled to put runners on first and second. Chase Utley, the Phillies' hero of Game 1, then hit a sharp ground to the right side that Cano fielded and fired to Jeter at second for one out. Jeter then made the relay to first to get Utley and end the inning.

Only thing is, Utley was safe. Replays show Utley's foot hitting the base before the ball was in Teixeira's glove.

Sometime these blown calls do, in fact, even out.

Rivera would have little trouble in the ninth, striking out Howard -- who struck out four times on the night -- and getting Jayson Werth to line out to second. Ibanez then doubled, but Rivera struck out Stairs to end it and earn his 38th postseason save.

Yet after the game, Pedro was still talking, telling the media that if he pitched for the Yankees, he would be king.

"It’s just that I don’t play for the Yankees, that’s all," The Hartford Courant reported Pedro as saying. "They love the fact that I compete. If I played for the Yankees, I’d probably be a king over here."

Not quite, Pedro. In New York, in order to be king, you'd actually have to back up your talk and win the game.

Runners In Scoring Position
World Series
1-for-9 (.111)
Game 2
1-for-5 (.200)
Game 1
0-for-4 (.000)
12-for-64 (.188)
6-for-17 (.353)
Regular Season
419-for-1,543 (.272)

Up Next
World Series Game 3
Saturday at Phillies, 7:57 p.m., FOX

Andy Pettitte (14-8, 4.16 ERA; Postseason: 2-0, 2.37 ERA in 3 Starts)
Cole Hamels (10-11, 4.32 ERA: Postseason: 1-1, 6.75 ERA in 3 starts)

Hamels has been very inconsistent this year. He was the World Series MVP last year and has the ability to dominate. He's also young and may be the victim of the Verducci Effect. Pettitte is Mr. Postseason with a record 16 postseason victories. You can almost count on a solid start from him. If Hamels is not sharp, it could be a long night for the Phillies.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Since It Worked So Well Before...

Let's keep that mojo working, Phillies! Here's your inspiration. She's whipping cancer's ass. All you have to do is beat the Yankees.

Just Tip Your Hat And Win Today

Cliff Lee was magnificent.

There really is no other way to describe it.

Lee pitched a six-hitter and struck out 10, and Chase Utley hit two homers as the Phillies beat the Yankees 1-0 Wednesday at Yankee Stadium to take Game 1 of the World Series.

That's not the way the Yankees want to begin their 40th World Series, but after it was done, all we can do is tip our hats. No one said this was going to be easy and Lee made sure of that.

It truly was a great performance by the Phillies lefthander, and when a starter pitches like that, there isn't that much a team can do.

Lee had every pitch working and could put it anywhere he wanted. Lee was just that good. And the only thing we can do is be thankful that this a best-of-seven series instead of a one-game championship, such as the Super Bowl.

Lee started the game off by striking out Derek Jeter and only got better. He walked none and threw 80 of 120 pitches for strikes. Until the ninth, the Yankees couldn't get more than one batter on base with Jorge Posada getting a one-out single in the second, Jeter a two-out double in the third and a one-out single in the sixth, and Hideki Matsui a lead off single in the fifth.

That the Yankees' even scored in this game was more a product of luck than any mistakes by Lee.

Jeter and Damon led off the ninth with singles before Mark Teixeira hit a grounder back up the middle that Utley fielded and flipped to Jimmy Rollins at second for the force, however, Rollins' relay to first sailed high for an error, allowing Jeter to score and Teixeira to go to second. Alex Rodriguez and Posada followed by striking out to end it.

The Yankees' only hope against a performance like that would have been to get one just like it from their own starter.

And certainly CC Sabathia is capable of pitching like that, but he simply didn't have his best stuff. His fastball command was off, but that didn't stop him from battling. Sabathia loaded the bases with two outs in the first, walking two around a double by Ryan Howard, but he escaped unscathed by getting Raul Ibanez to ground out to second.

But that lack of fastball command eventually would come back to bite Sabathia and Utley made sure to make him pay.

With two outs in the third, Sabathia jumped ahead of Utley 1-and-2 but couldn't put him away. Utley battled, working the count full. On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Sabathia tried to put a fastball on the lower, outside corner, but missed, the ball drifting back over the middle of the plate for Utley to hammer into the front row in right for a 1-0 Phillies lead.

Sabathia settled down after that and retired the next eight straight, four on strikeouts, but in the sixth, Utley struck again.

Sabathia again jumped ahead of Utley, this time 0-and-2. This time he tried to get the final strike with a fastball up-and-in, but again Sabathia missed, the ball drifting back over the middle of the plate for Utley to crush into the bleachers in right-center for a 2-0 lead. Utley became only the second left-handed hitter to hit two homers in a World Series game off a left-handed pitcher, joining Babe Ruth.

That's all Sabathia would give up. His line: 7 innings, 2 runs, 4 hits, 3 walks, 6 strikeouts and 70 of 113 pitches for strikes. The reality is that this was a very good start, good enough to win on most nights.

It just wasn't good enough of this night.

Still, with just a two-run deficit after seven and at home at Yankee Stadium, where magic can always strike, the Yankees were still in the game. They just needed the bullpen to hold the line.

The bullpen, instead, just stunk.

Joe Girardi brought in Phil Hughes to start the eighth. Hughes had solidified the bullpen since he took over that role in June, and even though Hughes has struggled so far in the playoffs, it was the right move.

Hughes has had five days off since his last appearance in Game 5 of the ALCS. It was plenty of time to rest and fix whatever mechanical flaw he might have had in his delivery.

But the results weren't there.

While Sabathia struggled to command the strike zone, Hughes struggled to even find it. Hughes walked Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino to start the inning and was lifted.

It's entirely possible that Hughes simply is out of gas. He has not pitched a full season yet in his young career, missing most of 2007 and '08 with injuries and his lack of stamina may be showing. When a pitcher gets tired, he has trouble repeating his delivery. He loses his arm slot and he loses his control and his stuff. And if that's the case, Girardi has to find a way to reconstitute this bullpen and do it fast.

The answer, though, is not pitching Mariano Rivera two innings every time out. Rivera is great and can get two-inning saves, but even Rivera will get tired and eventually that kind of workload will take its toll.

Against the Phillies, the answer may be to rely more heavily on the lefties: Damaso Marte and Phil Coke.

After Hughes came out, Girardi brought on Marte to face Utley and Howard, two scary left-handed hitters. Marte delivered, striking out Utley and getting Howard to fly to left.

Girardi, then, made a mistake. With right-handed hitter Jayson Werth due up next, followed by dangerous lefty Ibanez, Girardi decided to bring in righthander David Robertson.

Look, I don't entirely trust Marte against righties, but with a big lefty due up after Werth, I'd rather have seen Marte pitch carefully to Werth, trying to get him to chase, then go after Ibanez.

Instead, Robertson walked Werth before allowing a two-run single to Ibanez to make it 4-0.

The Phillies tacked on two more in the ninth of Brian Bruney and it was lights out, on to Game 2.

A.J. Burnett gets the call tonight in what is easily the biggest start of his career. The focus will be on Pedro Martinez pitching at Yankee Stadium tonight, but this game's outcome will depend on Burnett and I think he's going to come up big.

This Series will head to Philadelphia tied, 1-1.

Runners In Scoring Position
World Series
0-for-4 (.000)
12-for-64 (.188)
6-for-17 (.353)
Regular Season
419-for-1,543 (.272)

Up Next
World Series Game 2
Thursday vs. Phillies, 7:57 p.m., FOX

Pedro Martinez (5-1, 3.63 ERA; Postseason: 0-0, 0.00 ERA in 1 start; Did not face Yankees this year)
A.J. Burnett (13-9, 4.04 ERA; Postseason: 0-0, 4.42 in 3 starts; 2009 vs. Phillies: 0-1, 7.50 ERA)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Choke On It, Jimmy Rollins

That Jimmy Rollins, he sure likes to talk doesn't he?

Mets fans surely know what I'm talking about.

Before the 2007 season, the All-Star shortstop declared the Phillies as the team to beat in the NL East, despite the fact that the Mets had the league's best record the year before.

Of course, the Mets rolled over and died like dogs that year ... and the year after, just for good measure.

Well Monday night, Rollins went on Jay Leno and declared the Phillies would win the World Series ... in five games.

Now, you would always expect an athlete to say his team will win, that's fair enough. But to say the Phillies would beat the Yankees in five games, talk about a lack of respect.

He must be confused and think the Phillies are playing the Mets, because no one should be expecting this to be a short World Series. This is going to be a tough, hard fought series that will be coming back to New York.

And I've got news for you, Jimmy Rollins: The Yankees are winning it six games.

The fact of the matter is that the Yankees are a very difficult matchup for the Phillies for two reasons: The Phillies' suspect bullpen and the Yankees' strong left-handed pitching.

The Phillies bullpen was a mess during the regular season, primarily because closer Brad Lidge struggled badly. He went 0-8 with a 7.21 ERA and 31 saves in 42 opportunities.

You read right. He blew 11 saves.

The Yankees, meanwhile, have been the best team in the majors at coming back late in games, capturing 15 walkoff wins in the regular season, among them a 4-3 victory over the Phillies on May 23. Alex Rodriguez hit a two-run homer over Lidge in the ninth in that game.

And that ability to come back didn't stop in the regular season as the Yankees earned two more walkoffs in the playoffs with A-Rod hitting big homers of Twins closer Joe Nathan and Angels closer Brian Fuentes.

Yes, Lidge has been much better in the postseason, not allowing a run in 2-2/3 innings in three games while going 1-0 with one save.

But you know the Yankees and the Yankee Stadium ghosts are going to victimize Lidge in this series and when that happen, Lidge will not be able to rebound.

Meanwhile, the Phillies have a problem on offense. Don't get me wrong. Their offense is tremendous and better than most American League lineups even with a pitcher hitting ninth.

The numbers prove that as they led the NL in runs scored with 820 runs and 224 homers while hitting .258 with a .781 OPS.

But the splits reveal an Achillies' heel: left-handed pitching.

Against lefthanders, the Phitin' Phils hit just .248 with 244 runs 68 homers and a .787 OPS.

Against the Yankees, that's a problem. The Yankees feature two strong left-handed starters in CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte, who could start five of the seven games if Joe Girardi goes with a three-man rotation.

In addition, the Yankees feature two more lefties in the bullpen, Phil Coke and Damaso Marte, which will allow Girardi to match up against lefties Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Raul Ibanez and Matt Stairs in big spots.

What's that you say? What about the Yankees? How do they match up against the Phillies, who have lefty starters Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and J.A. Happ, as well as reliever Ryan Madson and Scott Eyre?

Glad you asked. Of course the Yankees had the majors' best offense, scoring 915 runs with 244 homers, a .283 batting average and .839 OPS,

Against lefties they had major league-bests of 294 runs, 76 homers, .286 batting average and .846 OPS. It's virtually impossible to matchup against the Yankees' lineup that features four switch hitters (Mark Teixeira, Jorege Posada, Nick Swisher and Melky Cabrera), two future Hall of Fame righties (Derek Jeter and A-Rod) and three lefties (Robinson Cano, Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, who actually hit lefties better than righties, .282 - .271).

The Yankees' lineup will get to Philadelphia's pitching in this series, while the Phillies will run into trouble.

And in the end, the Yankees will be serving Jimmy Rollins a big, fat slice of humble pie to go along with his meal of crow.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Three-Man Rotation? Take The Risk

As the Yankees begin preparing for the World Series and their battle with the Phillies, WFAN's Brian Heyman and Sweeny Murti reported Monday that he Yankees are giving strong consideration to using a three-man rotation.

Given the alternative of giving Chad Gaudin a start in either Game 4 or 5, a three-man rotation should be the only consideration.

Gaudin has pitched well for the Yankees this year and the Yankees have won every one of his starts since they acquired him from the Padres in August.

But he hasn't made a start start since Sept. 28 against the Royals. In fact, he's made just two relief appearances since then and didn't even pitch two innings in either outing. That means it's been a month since Gaudin has pitched any significant innings.

Can Joe Girardi really afford to give a World Series start to a pitcher who likely wouldn't be able to go much more than four innings at best? Could he afford to drain the bullpen? If Girardi commits to giving CC Sabathia three starts in the series, is worth taking a start away from either Andy Pettitte or A.J. Burnett to give to Gaudin?

The answer to all of those questions is, "No, no, no and no!"

Of course, going with a three-man rotation in this era presents its own set of risks and making this move does not guarantee the Yankees anything at all.

Should Girardi go with a three-man rotation, Sabathia will be scheduled to start Games 1, 4 and 7, with Burnett likely to go in Games 2 and 5 and Pettitte in 3 and 6. Because there is no scheduled day off between Games 4 and 5, that means after their first turns throught he rotation, all three starters would have to make their subsequent starts on three days' rest.

Prior to Sabathia's Game 4 gem against the Angels in the ALCS, pitchers starting on three days' rest in the postseason hadn't had much success since 1995, going 20-35 in 85 starts with a 4.65 ERA, while averaging just 5.39 innings.

Those numbers don't inspire much confidence. In fact, looking at those numbers alone would be enough scare many managers away from using a three-man rotation. Asking the bullpen to get 10 or 11 outs in a playoff game is asking for trouble.

But managers can't make decisions like this on numbers alone. They have to take a long, hard look at their personnel, too, and determine if they have guys who have the physical ability and mental makeup to go on short rest.

In the Yankees' case, they actually do.

Sabathia has proven himself to be a horse so far in these playoff, going 3-0 with a 1.19 ERA. That includes his Game 4 start in which he allowed just one run in eight innings on short rest.

It wasn't the first time in his career he's done that. In four regular season starts on short rest, he is 3-1 with a 1.01 ERA, 0.825 WHIP and 26 strikeouts in 26-2/3 innings (an average of 6-2/3 innings per start).

He does have one other postseason start on short rest, taking the ball on three days' rest for his fourth consecutive outing for the Brewers last year and getting bombed in Game 2 of the NLDS. Sabathia, though, has said that by that point, he was emotionally drained after carrying the Brewers into the playoffs. The Yankees haven't overburdened him this season and CC is ready and willing to go two straight times with short rest.

The questions you have with a three-man rotation is how Burnett and Pettitte will hold up.

With Burnett it's not a physical issue. He's actually made four starts on three days' rest in his career and has fared very well, going 4-0 with a 2.33 ERA, 1.074 WHIP and 24 strikeouts in 27 innings pitched.

With Burnett the issue, as always, is which A.J. you'll get. He can be very, very good -- or he can blow up in one inning as he did in Game 5. Of course, that's an issue the Yankees will face regardless of whether Burnett goes on normal rest.

The thing about Burnett is that he has proven that he does have pride. He got bombed in Boston in early June and responded with a seven-week stretch that was brilliant. He went winless in August, but bounced back in September and finished strong.

After losing in Game 5, Burnett wasn't happy. He told the media that if Girardi needed him in relief in Game 6 or 7, he was eager to take the ball. Something tells me that hunger, that eagerness is going to be there for his next two starts. He'll have something to prove and will be determined to shine, regardless of his rest -- who is catching (Jose Molina or Jorge Posada).

With Pettitte you don't ever worry about his makeup. He's not going to be shaken up by anything and won't get caught up in the moment. He'll go out and battle. His resume of a record 16 postseason wins with five series clincers proves that.

The question is whether Pettitte's arm can hold up on short rest.

Pettitte hasn't started on anything fewer than five days' rest since the Yankees skipped his turn in the rotation to give his sore shoulder a rest in mid-September. He hasn't had any problems with that shoulder since, but also hasn't overwork it. In fact, Pettitte threw just 194-2/3 innings in the regular season, the first time he's thrown fewer that 200 innings since 2004, when he was limited to 83 innings because of an elbow injury.

He made three more postseason starts, pitching 19 more innings, getting an extra day's rest prior to Game 6 because of Saturday's rainout.

Had Pettitte been pitching every fifth day through September and in the playoffs, I'd be very concerned. He's had arm issues in the past and that kind of workload would have been a lot to burden.

But the fact that the Yankees have been able to give Pettitte plenty of rest means he should be strong and should be able handle one start -- his final start of the year and at Yankee Stadium -- on short rest and do well.

No, this is not a the type of scenario you want heading into the World Series. Both choices bring risks, but in the end only the three-man rotation will give the Yankees the best chance to win in every game.

It's a risk Girardi and the Yankees have to take.

Monday, October 26, 2009

One Picture Says It All

As you know, me and mine up here in New England are all die-hard Sox fans. So we already know who we want to win. But I have to share this picture of my daughter Elle after the jump. She's four, and if you have been following us here at SvS for a while, you know she is currently battling cancer. But she is in great health and spirits. So if she is whipping cancer's ass, you want that mojo on your side.

Sorry, Yankee fans. Elle has spoken... :)

Go Phillies!

Pennant No. 40, Oh, So Sweet!

Collapse? This team? Keep dreaming Red Sox Nation!

The Yankees are back where they belong -- in the World Series -- after capturing their 40th American League pennant Sunday.

Andy Pettitte pitched 6-1/3 terrific innings, Johnny Damon had a huge two-run single, the Angels fell apart defensively and Mariano Rivera was there on the Yankee Stadium mound to close out a 5-2 victory to give the Yankees the American League Championship Series, 4-2. CC Sabathia was named MVP, winning two games in the series and allowing two runs in 16 innings.

The 2004 ALCS collapse against the Red Sox, the first-round exits in '06, '07, '08 are all things of the past. None of that can haunt the Bombers now. Make no mistake, winning this pennant is oh, so sweet!

The Yankees are back in the World Series for the first time since 2003, seeking their first championship since 2000. They will face the defending champion Phillies with Game 1 set for Wednesday at Yankee Stadium.

The last time the Yankees and Phillies met in the World Series was in 1950 with the Bombers sweeping the "Whiz Kids."

But the Yankees had business to take care of Sunday and they did not mess around.

Joe Girardi has made many questionable decisions this postseason, including several more in this game, but the one decision he nail head-on was starting Pettitte.

Pettitte may choose to retire after this season, but he's far from done physically. And when there is a big game, he is still a guy who you want on that mound. He's has delivered so many times in the past and he delivered yet again Sunday.

He's now won 16 postseason games, taking sole possession of the record from John Smoltz. And for the second time this season, he's won a series clinching game, the fifth time he done that in his career -- also a record.

Pettitte was strong from the start, cruising through the first two innings, getting some help from Nick Swisher in the second when charged Kendry Morales' pop to right, caught it and doubled Vladimir Guerrero, who had singled to start the inning, off first.

Jeff Mathis, however, led off the third with a double and came around to score two outs later on Bobby Abreu's single to right to make it 1-0.

That lead wouldn't last long as the Yankees finally broke through in the fourth.

Through the first three innings, the Yankees made Angels starter Joe Saunders work, putting two runners on in the first and loading the bases in the second, but failing to come up with the big, two-out hit.

Saunders' luck, though, finally ran out as he walked Robinson Cano to lead off the fourth before Nick Swisher grounded a solid single to left. After Melky Cabrera moved the runners up with a sacrifice and Derek Jeter walked, Damon delivered the big blow, lining a 2-and-1 single to center to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead.

Mark Teixeira followed with a single to load the bases before Alex Rodriguez walked to make it 3-1 and knock out Saunders, who ended up allowing three runs on seven hits and five walks in 3-1/3 innings.

That's all Pettitte would need, cruising though the fourth and fifth before escaping a second-and-third, two-out jam in the sixth by getting Morales to ground to first.

Pettitte ended up allowing seven hits and one walk, while striking out six and throwing 64 of 99 pitches for strikes. He gave the Yankees everything they could have asked for and proved yet again why the Yankees trust him so much.

Girardi pulled Pettitte after he allowed Juan Rivera's single with one out in the seventh. Giradi then made his first questionable move the night by bringing in the struggling Joba Chamberlain instead of going with the hot hand of David Robertson.

But the move worked out as Joba seemed comfortable and confident at home, and got Macier Izturis to ground into a force out before getting Erick Aybar to ground out to end the inning.

And with the Yankees' six outs away from the pennant, that left Girardi free to go to Mo to start the eighth, though that is not a move without its risks.

Mariano has now saved a record 37 postseason games, 21 more than the Phillies' Brad Lidge, who is second on the list. In addition, Mariano has 29 postseason saves of 1+ innings and 13 of two innings.

There is no closer pitching today who is better equipped to go two innings to close out a series.

That said, Mariano does have five blown saves in the postseason and in each of those games, he entered in the eighth, including starting the eighth inning of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series against the Diamondbacks. We all know what happened there. No need to recount it.

And for a moment Sunday, there was reason to worry.

Chone Figgins led of the eighth against Rivera with a single and went to second on Abreu's ground out. Hunter then hit a grounder back through the middle that seemed targeted for center, but Cano had been holding Figgins close and was in position to not only make the play, but force Figgins to hold at second.

But Rivera couldn't keep the Angels off the board as Guerrero singled to right in a nine-pitch at-bat to drive in Figgins and make it 3-2. It was the first postseason earned run Rivera had allowed at home since the 2000 World Series against the Mets.

Kendry Morales then grounded out to end the inning, leaving the Yankees in need of more runs.

The offense delivered.

Cano walked against Ervin Santana to lead off and Mike Scioscia brought in lefthander Scott Kazmir to face Swisher.

The Girardi made another questionable move, asking Swisher to bunt. Swisher is not normally asked to bunt and was going to come out of the game for defensive purposes after the at-bat anyway, so why not send up Brett Gardner, who is more prolific at a bunter, instead?

Turns out the Ghost of Phil Rizzuto was in the park on this night.

Swisher got down a beautiful bunt down the first base line that Morales fielded and threw to Howie Kendrick at first. Kendrick, however, dropped throw for an error, putting runners on first and second.

Gardner was sent in to run for Swisher and Girardi then properly had Cabrera lay down another sacrifice that Kazmir fielded, but his throw to first was off the mark, sailing down the right field line and allowing Cano to score to make it 4-2.

With runners on second and third and no outs, Jeter grounded back to the box before Damon walked to load the bases. Teixeira followed with a sacrifice fly and the Yankees had an insurmountable three-run lead.

That was more than enough for Mo in the ninth as he got Kendrick to ground out and Juan Rivera to fly out before striking out Gary Matthews Jr. to end the game and start the celebration.

The Yankees are back in the World Series.

Championship No. 27 is within reach.

Runners In Scoring Position
12-for-64 (.188)
Game 6
2-for-8 (.250)
Game 5
3-for-11 (.273)
Game 4
4-for-17 (.235)
Game 3
0-for-8 (.000)
Game 2
0-for-8 (.000)
Game 1
3-for-12 (.250)
6-for-17 (.353)
Regular Season
419-for-1,543 (.272)

Up Next
World Series Game 1
Wednesday vs. Phillies, 7:57 p.m., FOX

Cliff Lee (14-13, 3.22 ERA; Postseason: 2-0, 0.74 ERA in 3 starts; 2009 vs. Yankees: 1-1, 3.00 ERA in 2 starts)
Sabathia (19-8, 3.37 ERA; Postseason: 3-0, 1.19 ERA; 2009 vs. Phillies: 0-0, 3.38 ERA, 1 start)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

And So We Wait ... And Wait ...

... And wait.

The only thing worse than waiting through one off day in the during the postseason is having to wait through two.

That's the situation we find ourselves in following Saturday's rainout. No baseball Friday. No baseball Saturday. A full slate of football today before the Yankees and Angels finally take the field for Game 6 of the American League Championship Series at 8:20 p.m.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia will keep lefthander Joe Saunders on the mound for tonight's game, but the rainout will allow him to start John Lackey on three days' rest in Game 7, if it gets that far and if Lackey doesn't pitch in relief in Game 6.

Joe Girardi is sticking with Andy Pettitte for Game 6, holding back CC Sabathia for Game 7 or Game 1 of the World Series.

It is the right decision.

Pettitte is not some journeyman starter. He's an accomplished postseason pitcher who has pitched the most playoff games and innings in baseball history and has 15 playoff wins, tied for most with John Smoltz. In addition, he has closed out four playoff series, including the ALDS against the Twins this year.

He is well rested and a pitcher who is more than capable of doing the job and is properly being given that opportunity.

Should Pettitte succeed, the Yankees will be better off for the World Series. And if the Yankees don't win Game 6, well, their have their best pitcher on the mound and fully rested in Game 7.

It would have been pure folly to push Pettitte back.

But perhaps the player that will benefit most from the rainout is the struggling Nick Swisher.

To say it's been a bad postseason so far for Swish is an understatement. He's just 3-for-31 (.097). He's been pressing, though he did put together a tough at-bat against Brian Fuentes before popping out to end Game 5.

According to WFAN's Sweeny Murti, Swisher said the Angels have been pitching him backwards, throwing fastballs early in the count and then throwing offspeed stuff even if they fall behind. The result has been Swisher has been out in front and chasing pitches out of the zone.

Baseball is a game of constant adjustments. Swish has identified an adjustment he has to make and the rainout allowed Swisher to catch a break and spend Saturday working in the batting cages with hitting coach Kevin Long to get his swing and mind back on track.

That's exactly what Swisher needed.

I've always felt hitting coaches get too much blame for hitters' woes, especially on a team of veterans. But in a video interview with Locker Blogger's Mitchell Karasik, Long provides some good insight into the role of the pitching coach and how he works with veterans. Among things Long says is that he has the title of hitting coach, but all the hitters on the team help each other out with swings, especially Jorge Posada. It's an insightful piece.

We can only hope Long was able to identify and help correct any flaws in Swish's swing, and that the free-spirited right fielder can finally come up big today.

Something tells me, Swisher will.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Relax! It's Not 2004 Redux

Red Sox Nation is cooing about the posibility of another collapse, whispering in not-so-hushed tones, "2004! 2004!"

But have have no fear Yankees fans it isn't going to happen again. Take a deep breath and relax. Now is not the time to panic.

There is no need to make drastic changes and do things like, say, bench Robinson Cano in favor of Jerry Hairston Jr., though benching Nick Swisher should strongly be considered. He's just been that cold (3-for-31) with the bat.

This is not 2004 and this year's team is much, much better then the team that collapsed ever was.

That '04 team was the start of an era in which the Yankees were poorly constructed. Andy Pettitte, Rogers Clemens and David Wells left after the 2003 World Series, leaving the Yankees' rotation in tatters.

In came the likes of an old and broken-down Kevin Brown, not-made-for-New York Javier Vazquez and rehabbing Jon Lieber to join an aging Orlando Hernandez and staff's the only reliable starter, Mike Mussina.

That meant that team -- and the teams that followed until last year's team -- was over-reliant on its offense to cover up its massive flaw.

For the entire regular season (101-61), through the first round of the playoffs and even during the first three games of the ALCS against the Red Sox, the Yankees were able to hide their fatal flaw.

But as we all know, that Achilles' heel did show, resulting in the greatest playoff collapse in baseball history as the that Yankees team became the first to lose a seven-game series in which it had 3-0 lead.

Yes, Mariano Rivera couldn't slam the door in Games 4 and 5, which were started by El Duque (5 IP, 3 R) and Mussina (6 IP, 2 R). But with two more chances to punch that ticket to the World Series, the Yankees didn't have the horses. The starting pitching just didn't have what it took.

Leiber was outclassed in Game 6 by Curt Schilling and his bloody sock and Brown imploded in the first two innings of Game 7.


Fast forward five years. The Yankees grab a 3-1 lead in the ALCS against the Angels, but fail to close out the series in Game 5, despite grabbing a two-run lead in the seventh inning.

Relax, history is not going to repeat itself. This team is much better equipped to overcome that adversity. It has the starting pitching and it has two strong pitchers lined up for the next two games.

Pettitte returned in '07 and gets the call in Game 6 tonight. You could not have a more experienced big game pitcher on the mound. Pettitte is tied with John Smoltz for the most career playoff victories with 15. In addition, he has won four series deciding games -- also tied for the record -- including Game 3 of the ALDS this year.

Pettitte will not get rattled. He will not get caught up in the moment. Big Game Andy will show up tonight and Ghosts will be around to help the offense.

And just in case it doesn't end tonight because, say, Joe Girardi overmanages the bullpen again, the Yankees have CC Sabathia ready to go on full rest for Game 7.

The Yankees are well armed. They will win this series. They are going back to the World Series and they will beat the Phillies.

Stay confident and stay positive.

This will not be 2004 all over again.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Theo Is Out Of His Mind

It's not bad enough the Yankees are a game away from the World Series (thanks, however, to the Angels for maning up last night. Finally.). But Aviv has to point me to this summary of an interview Theo did the other day on WEEI, the big sports station in Boston. In it he expounded on a number of topics...including one J.D. Drew. And what he had to say was...interesting.

“If you want to look at this from a straight objective standpoint, what he contributes offensively and then what he contributes defensively, and then add in baserunning, so it’s the total value of a player, on a rate basis, he was outstanding. And there aren’t too many outfielders who can compare to what he did from a qualitative standpoint… What he’s done in the first three years of that contract, the way we value . . . based on the free agent market, what he’s done qualitatively, and when you factor in even the amount he’s played over these three years, yeah, he’s actually come out to a tick more than $14 million per year.”

Really? Really? He's actually worth more than we're playing him? Unless we're talking pesos or zlotys here, I think Theo just took the Crazy Train to Loonyville. Who can possibly look at what J.D. Drew has done in Boston and coherently argue that he is worth more than his salary?

In his three years in Boston, Drew has never played more than 140 games in a season. He has never had more than 126 hits, has never hit 25 or more homers, has never reached 70 RBI or hit better than .280 in his three years in Boston. His average OPS for the three years is a respectable .896, although I personally would expect better from someone getting paid $14 million per year.

If you look at the 2009 stats, Drew ranks seventh among AL rightfielders in batting average, eighth in hits, fifth in homers and eighth in RBI. He does rank first in OPS, so credit must be given there. He also ranked first in fielding percentage for right-fielders in the AL in 2009. But this isn't about where he ranks alone; it is whether he is actually worth his contract. It's also worth pointing out that in 2008 and in 2007 he barely made the top 10 in any of these categories and was getting paid $14 million then as well.

But in 2009, here are some other right-fielders who equalled or exceeded Drew's production:

Shin-Soo Choo (Cleveland) 156 G .300 BA 20 HR 86 RBI 175 H .883 OPS 2009 Salary: $420,300

Nick Markakis (Baltimore) 161 G .293 BA 18 HR 101 RBI 188 H .801 OPS 2009 Salary: $3,350,000

Nick Swisher (New York) 150 G .249 BA 29 HR 82 RBI 124 H .869 OPS 2009 Salary: $5,400,000

Bobby Abreu (Anaheim) 152 G .293 BA 15 HR 103 RBI 165 H .825 OPS 2009 Salary: $5,000,000

Michael Cuddyer (Minnesota) 153 G .276 BA 32 HR 94 RBI 162 H .862 OPS 2009 Salary: $7,666,666

All these gentlemen also placed in the top 10 in fielding for right field. Were we to go back to 2008 and 2007, the list could be even larger. Now, is it entirely fair to add someone like Choo, who is under the Indians' control for years to come? Theo's argument is that Drew was "outstanding" on the total value of a player, so I think it is.

And what I see here is that there are more than a couple of right-fielders who are as good, if not better, than JD Drew and are getting paid substantially less. The two that really stick out, though, are Nick Swisher and Bobby Abreu. Of the five players listed above, both Swisher and Abreu were available before the 2009 season. The Sox could have traded for Swisher had they desired. And Abreu was on the free agent market for what felt like a millenium. And both players make slightly more than a third of what Drew costs the Red Sox.

Look, I don't blame Theo for trying to justify signing Drew to that insane five-year deal where the Sox bid against themselves. But this is Drew's three-year average with the Sox: 129 G .276 BA 18 HR 65 RBI 118 H .875 OPS Yearly Salary: $14,000,000.

Is that production worthy of that salary? Drew is one of the 30 highest-paid players in the majors. Does he produce like one of the top 30 players in the game? I don't think that you can ever pretend to make that argument.

Drew isn't a bad player, let's make that clear. But he is paid much more than his production warrants. And for Theo to actually argue he's a bargain? That's just flat-out insulting.

When Will Girardi Learn?

Alex Rodriguez needed about five years to learn how to relax and treat the playoffs like any regular season game.

One has to wonder how long it will take manager Joe Girardi to figure out the same thing.

The Yankees rallied with a six-run seventh inning, but Girardi continued his inept handling of the bullpen as the Yankees squandered a two-run lead and lost to the Angels 7-6 Thursday in Anaheim in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series.

The Yankees lead the series 3-2 with Andy Pettitte set to take the ball against Joe Saunders in Game 6 at Yankee Stadium on Saturday with a forecast calling for, you guessed it, rain.

But nine outs from closing out this series, Girardi deviated from the formulas that had worked all season and it cost him ... again.

Until the seventh, the Yankees' offense had been lifeless, again squandering run scoring opportunities as it struggled to get back into a game it trailed 4-0.

That all changed with stunning speed.

After the struggling Nick Swisher flied out to start the seventh, Melky Cabrera breathed life into the offense with a double. Jorge Posada, who pinch hit for starting catcher Jose Molina in the fifth, followed with a walk, as Angels start John Lackey appeared to come undone after arguing balls and strikes with home plate ump Fielden Culbreath. Derek Jeter followed with another walk to load the bases.

Johnny Damon then lofted a fly to left that Cabrera decided not to try to tag on. Had Melky gone, he likely would have been safe as Juan Rivera uncorked a poor throw.

But Melky was taken off the hook when Mark Teixeira broke out of his playoff slump with a huge three-run double off Darren Oliver to make it 4-3.

The Angels, learning from the previous four games, intentionally walked Alex Rodriguez, but Hideki Matsui made them pay, lining a single to center to score Teixeira and tie it at 4. Up to that point, the Yankees had been 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position in the game.

Robinson Cano then finally delivered a big hit, smoking a triple off Kevin Jepsen to make it 6-4 and giving the Yankees the momentum.

And that's where Girardi's problems started.

A.J. Burnett had another bipolar start, allowing four runs before recording an out in the first, then settling down to keep the Angels off the board through the sixth, giving the Yankees a chance to rally.

He had thrown just 80 pitches through six, but they were intense and laborious, then he had to sit and wait as the Yankees sent 10 men to the plate in that seventh inning that also featured two pitching changes.

In the regular season -- especially in the second half when the bullpen was so strong -- Girardi would never have sent Burnett back out there. He would have turned to David Robertson in the seventh and had Phil Hughes start the eighth with a chance to get the ball to Mariano Rivera for no more than four outs.

But that's not what Girardi did. Instead, he sent Burnett back out there and got burned.

Jeff Mathis led off with a single and Erick Aybar followed with a walk and the Yankees were in trouble.

Girardi finally lifted Burnett and brought in Damaso Marte, but the Angels had the Yankees right where they wanted them. Chone Figgins bunted the runners up and Bobby Abreu grounded out to bring in Mathis and make it 6-5.

Marte did his job, but Girardi then compounded his initial mistake by bringing Hughes to get the final out of the seventh instead of leaving Hughes in the eighth-inning role he had grown accustomed to. Again you have to wonder, why not Robertson, who has done nothing but get big outs in the playoffs?

Hughes imploded. He walked Torii Hunter, then got ahead of Vladimir Guerrero 1-and-2. Posada then called for a fastball up and in -- a pitch that Guerrero loves to chase but has trouble hitting. Hughes missed and that 95 mph heater cruised down the middle of the plate for Vlad to ground for a single to tie it at 6.

Kendry Morales followed with a single to right to bring in Hunter and the Angels reclaimed the lead at 7-6.

It could have gotten worse for Girardi as he brought in the struggling Joba Chamberlain to start the eight. Joba proceed allow a leadoff double to Juan Rivera and a one-out single to Aybar to put runners on the corners, but Mariano Rivera worked his magic and got out of the jam.

Unfortunately, that would be the last of the Yankees' magic in this game as a two-out rally in the ninth came up short when Swisher popped out on a full-count with the bases loaded to end it. Swisher is now 3-for-31 in the playoffs and I have to wonder why Girardi didn't see fit to sit his right fielder for a game, giving a start to Brett Gardner.

And we are left to wonder why Girardi insists on managing these games so radically different than the regular season. Why is he messing with bullpen roles and pitch philosophies that worked so well in the regular season? Yes, the playoffs have heightened intensity, but that alone is not reason for changing how you manage the game. You can't and shouldn't manage every game as if it's Game 7. It's now cost the Yankees two games.

And had the Yankees pulled this one out, it would have provided great momentum heading into the World Series.

Jeter and Damon started the first with singles to put runners on first and second, but the Yankees squandered the opportunity to jump out quickly on Lackey and the Angles, Teixeira striking out, A-Rod flying out and Matsui grounding out.

The Angles made them pay as Burnett wasn't sharp.

Figgins led off with a walk and went to third on Abreu's double. Hunter brought both in with double to center before scoring on Guerrero's double. Morales then singled and the Angels had a big 4-0 lead.

Of course, this wouldn't be a playoff game without a blown call by an umpire, this time courtesy of first base ump Dale Scott, who called out Damon at first to end the third. Umm, Dale, he was safe!

So the series shifts back to New York, but let's stay calm. This is not '04. This team will not blow another lead.

Pettitte won't let it happen.

Runners In Scoring Position
10-for-56 (.176)
Game 5
3-for-11 (.273)
Game 4
4-for-17 (.235)
Game 3
0-for-8 (.000)
Game 2
0-for-8 (.000)
Game 1
3-for-12 (.250)
6-for-17 (.353)
Regular Season
419-for-1,543 (.272)

Up Next
ALCS Game 6
Saturday vs. Angels, 8:07 p.m., FOX

Joe Saunders (16-7, 4.60 ERA; Postseason: 0-0, 2.57 ERA in 1 start)
vs. Andy Pettitte (14-8, 4.16 ERA; Postseason: 1-0, 2.84 ERA in 2 starts)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Make The Nation's Fear Reality

Lisa Swan of Subway Squawkers and The Faster Times posted a nice piece Red Sox Nation Dreads A Yankee World Series late Wednesday night. She interviewed 10 Red Sox bloggers, including our very own Dave.

Among the things Dave said in the Q&A was: "The Yankees winning again…ugh. The fact that they look like they’ll win is bad enough. The reality of it…ugh."

Music! Sweet Music!

Of course, as Yankees fan, we all know the sweetest thing would for this nightmare scenario for Red Sox Nation to become reality. And in order for that to happen, then Yankees need five more wins, the first of which could come tonight as the Yankee look to finish off the Angels and celebrate as a broken-hearted and despondent Rally Monkey looks on.

A.J. Burnett gets the call tonight. Which A.J. will get tonight -- heck, which A.J. will get from inning-to-inning -- is anybody's guess. But he has been solid enough so far in the postseason, taking two no-decisions in his two starts, but posting a 2.19 ERA. He has, however, walked 10 and hit two batters in 12-1/3 innings.

Control has always been an issue for Burnett in his career (see his no-hitter with nine walks for the Marlins), but he is capable of throw gems and you have to believe that sooner or later he's going to come up with of those absolutely dominant, brilliant starts in playoffs.

Jose Molina, meanwhile, is likely to be back behind the plate, but Joe Girardi is facing a tough choice at DH. In Burnett's previous two starts, Jorge Posada sat as Hideki Matsui remained in the starting lineup at DH.

The numbers indicate Girardi may want to keep Posada's bat in the lineup, even if it means that Posada won't be able to enter the game defensively when Matsui pinch hits for Molina in the sixth or seventh inning.

Against tonight's starter John Lackey, Posada has a career average of .414. Matsui, though, also has had success against Lackey, hitting .344. It's a tough choice.

The other decision that is facing Girardi is whether to leave Nick Swisher in the lineup. Swisher is 3-for-24 (.125) in the playoffs and 2-for-12 (.167) in the ALCS, including several bad at-bats in big situations with runners in scoring position.

It's unlikely that Girardi will sit Swisher for this game, but I would give Brett Gardner a start here. As Alex Rodriguez continues his amazing postseason (11-for-27, 5 HRs, 11 RBI), it's becoming more and more likely that he will see fewer and fewer good pitches to hit. That means production from the bottom of the order become increasingly important. Melky Cabrera proved that in Game 4 with his four RBI on two big hits with RISP.

Yes, Gardner has struggled as a pinch runner in this series, getting caught stealing twice. But he has proven this year that he can handle the bat (.270 batting average) and is 2-for-3 in this series. He'll improve the defense and can provide a spark in the bottom of the lineup.

I'm not saying this should be a permanent switch, but Swisher is struggling so badly that this game provides an opportune time to give him a break. With a day off Wednesday and a travel day Friday if the Yankees don't finish of the Angels tonight, that would give Swisher at least three days with which to step back and rediscover his stroke.

But let's hope the Yankees finish the job tonight and that Swisher can get even more time to get back on track before facing the Phillies in the World Series.

Sorry Joe Torre, you'll have to wait another year for a trip back to the Fall Classic.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Silencing That Stupid Rally Monkey

The Rally Monkey would have no impact on this night.

CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez made sure that annoyingly cute primate wouldn't be able to whip up the Angels and their red-clad, thunder stix smacking fans into a frenzy.

Sabathia, pitching on three days' rest, allowed one run in eight innings, and A-Rod sparked the offense to lead the Yankees to a 10-1 victory over the Angels in Anaheim Tuesday in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, giving the Yankees a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

The two Yankees players who had the biggest questions about how they would perform during the postseason have put the Yankees a win away from the World Series. For Sabathia, it's clear his past struggles were the result a heavy workload in the regular season taking its toll in the postseason. For A-Rod, his struggles were purely mental.

For both players, those troubles are officially a thing of the past.

Sabathia made five starts in a pressure-free September, going 4-0 with a 1.29 ERA. More importantly, he never threw more than seven innings in any of those starts and averaged 106.4 pitches a start.

He was fresh for the playoffs and results have been astounding: Going 3-0 with a 1.19 ERA and 20 strikeouts over 22-2/3 innings in three starts. He had been 2-4 with a 7.92 ERA in six previous postseason starts.

Tuesday's start may have been his most gutsy, taking the ball on three days' rest a day after the Yankees had given a game away to let the Angels back into the series.

In addition, since 1995 pitchers have not had much success pitching on three days' rest in the playoffs. In 85 starts, they had gone 20-34 with a 4.65 ERA in 458-1/3 innings. Sabathia had one of those starts for the Brewers last season, but it should be noted that it was his fourth consecutive start on three days' rest as he carried the Brewers to the NL Wild Card.

But any affect that short rest may have had on Sabathia this year appeared minimal as he dominated from the start, using his lively fastball and devastating change to keep the Angels off-balance.

The result was an impressively efficient outing in which Sabathia allowed just five hits and two walks, while striking out five and throwing 69 of 101 pitches for strikes. He could have gone the distance in this one, but with a big lead after eight, there was no need to ask any more of the ace lefthander.

The only significant trouble Sabathia ran into came in the fifth, when Kendry Morales hit a one-out homer to left that made it 5-1. Mike Napoli followed with a sharp single past A-Rod at third before Erick Aybar followed with a single to center to put runners on first and second. But Sabathia got Chone Figgins to ground into a forceout before getting Bobby Abreu to fly out to center.

Torii Hunter walked and Vladimir Guerrero singled to start the sixth, but Sabathia got Juan Rivera to ground into a double play on a play on which Jorge Posada lost track of the outs and started to leave the field. The Angels never threatened again.

The offense, meanwhile, struggled to get started. Coming off consecutive games in which the Yankees went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position, it looked for a while as if those struggles would continue to be a major problem.

A-Rod led off the second with a walk and stole second before Posada walked. With three chances to bring a run in, the Yanks did nothing as Hideki Matui and Robinson Cano popped out and Nick Swisher flew out: RISP 0-for-3.

Mark Teixeira struck out to end the third with Johnny Damon on second: RISP 0-for-4.

A-Rod got things going again in the fourth with a sharp single and Posada followed with a double to put runners on second and third with no outs. This time, though, the Yankees would come through, but not before Matsui struck out: RISP 0-for-5.

With the infield back, Cano then hit a topper to second that Howie Kendrick fielded, but threw high to home, allowing A-Rod to slide in safely under the tag to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead, though they were now 0-for-6 with RISP, Cano reaching on the fielder's choice.

Swisher then walked to loaded the bases, but Melky Cabrera finally broke the RISP drought, grounding a single to left to bring in two, Cano just beating Napoli's tag to make it 3-0.

Then the umpires made their presence felt. Angels starter Scott Kazmir picked off Swisher from second, but second base ump Dale Scott blew the call and ruled Swisher safe. The play wasn't close. It was a hideous call.

Then after Derek Jeter walked, Johnny Damon hit a sacrifice fly to score Swisher, but on appeal, third base ump and crew chief Tim McClelland called Swisher out for leaving the base too early, ending the inning. The call wasn't close to being right and what's stranger is that McClelland wasn't even looking at Swisher when he left third, but proceeded to call him out anyway. Can you say, "Makeup call?"

The Yankees also had a 3-0 lead in Game 2 and against the Angels in Anaheim, a three-run lead is far from safe. A-Rod made sure the Yankees' offense would not relent.

Teixeira led off the fifth with a single to chase Kazmir from the game. A-Rod then greeted reliever Jason Bulger by lining an 0-and-1, 94 mph fastball over the wall in left for a two-run homer to make it 5-0. It was A-Rod's fifth homer of the postseason and the eighth straight game he's had at least one RBI, tying the record of Lou Gehrig and Ryan Howard.

A-Rod's turnaround has been nothing short of amazing. Between Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS and 2007 ALDS against the Indians, he had played 16 playoff games and had exactly one homer and one RBI, those coming in the Yankees' final ALDS game in '07. It was clear he was pressing to carry the Yankees in those games.

This season, three of A-Rod's homers have tied games. He's been very relaxed and has been playing with a supreme amount of confidence. The result has been that he has finally been able to live up to expectations and has carried this offense. A bit ironic, no?

But after A-Rod's homer, thing went haywire. Jorge Posada walked and stole second as Matsui struck out against Jason Bulger. Cano then crushed a double that should have easily scored Posada, but Posada had gone back to second to tag as Hunter put on a good deke and wound up only at third. It was yet another example of Posada's poor baserunning instincts.

But the worst of Posada's running -- and of baseball's poor umpiring -- were yet to come.

Swisher next bounced back to reliever Darren Oliver, who trapped Posada off third. Posada properly got into a run down so that Cano could reach third, but when Posada was chased back to the base, Cano took his foot off third and Posada overran third. Napoli proceeded to tag both while neither was touching the base for what should have been a double play. Somehow McClelland blew yet another call, ruling Cano safe.

The umpires have been an absolute travesty in the playoffs and something has to be done. With each blown call, the integrity of the game take a major hit. This season, that integrity has received a black eye.

Commissioner Bud Selig, other baseball officials and managers such as Mike Scioscia and Joe Girardi can fret about rhythm of the game all they want, but if umpires are botching calls, then that rhythm is useless. The public cares more about calls being right than it does about any perceived rhythm of the game.

Baseball needs to do a better job of training and instructing its umpires and it has to expand its use of replay to include all boundary calls, not just homers, as well as plays at bases, especially scoring plays. The league may also want to include a challenge system for all other non-balls-and-strikes calls.

Fortunately for the umps, the Yankees did not score that inning. They did, however, score in the eighth on Damon's two-run homer to make it 7-1. They made it 10-1 in the ninth when A-Rod doubled and scored on a throwing error by Abreu before Cabrera later smoked a two-run double.

Chad Gaudin then came on pitched a flawless ninth, much to his credit. Gaudin had been held back in reserve throughout the playoffs as the long-man for extra innings or as a potential fourth starter. Yet in his first game action, he was sharp and did the job. He had ready made excuse for a poor outing, but just went out and executed. That's all you can ask.

So the Yankees have a 3-1 lead in this series, but we, as Yankees fans, know there is still a lot of work left to be done. Fresh in our memories is that 2004 ALCS when the Yanks blew a 3-0 lead against the Red Sox to become the first baseball team to lose a series in which it was up 3-0. Until the final out of that fourth victory is recorded, we can take nothing for granted.

A.J. Burnett will get the start in Game 5 Thursday. I hope he's sharp and can avoid that one bad inning so that the Yankees can win it in Anaheim and celebrate on the grave of that hideous Rally Monkey.

The sooner this series is over, the better.

Runners In Scoring Position
7-for-45 (.156)
Game 4
4-for-17 (.235)
Game 3
0-for-8 (.000)
Game 2
0-for-8 (.000)
Game 1
3-for-12 (.250)
6-for-17 (.353)
Regular Season
419-for-1,543 (.272)

Up Next
ALCS Game 5
Thursday at Angels, 7:57 p.m., FOX

Burnett (13-9, 4.04 ERA; Postseason: 0-0, 2.19 ERA in two starts)
vs. John Lackey (11-8, 3.83; Postseason: 1-1, 1.38 in two starts)