Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Defiant To the End

This is my 500th post on this blog. And my 499th, in which I said the Yankees should not be afraid of Cliff Lee, set me up to look like a fool.

In fact, I remain defiant to the end.

Yes, Cliff Lee pitched one of the best games in postseason history last night, enabling the Texas Rangers to go up 2 games to 1 over the Yankees, and take home-field advantage back.

But the truth is, after 8 innings, the score was only 2-0. Had that remained the score, Lee would have had to pitch the 9th, having thrown 82 pitches. That's not a lot, but 9 innings is still 9 innings. And 2 runs, as Yankee broadcaster John Sterling would stay, "That's just a bloop and a blast." Or a walk and a wallop.

What killed the Yankees last night wasn't Lee's stinginess -- 2 hits and a walk against 13 strikeouts, just 2 off the postseason record for Yankee opponents set by Sandy Koufax in Game 1 of the 1963 World Series -- but the bullpen implosion in the top of the 9th.

After allowing a 1st-inning homer to Josh Hamilton -- test him for drugs, steroids or otherwise -- Pettitte was fine the rest of the way, through the 7th. Kerry Wood pitched a scoreless 8th. Had Joe Girardi left Wood in for the 9th, it doesn't seem likely that he would have been worse than the double-barreled backfire of Boone Logan and David Robertson, before Sergio Mitre finally locked the barn door -- after the horse had not only escaped but knocked over a lantern that burned the barn down -- and it was 8-0. That may have been the worst Yankee inning I've ever seen.

Frankly, I don't know why Joe didn't leave Pettitte in to pitch the 8th. He'd only thrown 67 pitches. That's an average of 9.57 pitches for inning, less than Lee's exceptional 10.25. He hadn't pitched as well as Lee, but had pitched very well and was fresher. Had Andy pitched the 8th, Wood could have pitched the 9th; had they done as well as they actually did, it would still have been 2-0 Texas in the bottom of the 9th, and people would be writing different stuff today.

The back page of today's Daily News reads, "PANIC IN THE BRONX."

But, you see, that's the thing: The Yankees never panic. Never. Who wrote that headline, noted Met fan and Yankee Hater Mike Lupica?

Ranger catcher Benjie Molina, a member of the Anaheim Angels team that beat the Yankees in the 2002 ALDS on the way to winning the World Series, said, "I don't think anybody thinks this series is over. No way can you think this series is over. When you think it's over, that's when everything goes sour."

This is the 21st time that a team has held a 2-1 lead in a best-4-out-of-7 ALCS. In the previous 20, the team holding the 2-1 lead has ended up winning the series 15 times.

One of the 5 times the team down 2-1 came back was in 1998, when the Cleveland Indians had such a lead over the Yankees, and had the next 2 games at Jacobs Field, where they were really tough. The Indians didn't win another game until April, as the Yanks took the next 3.

The Yankees have had a number of postseason comebacks:

* 1923 World Series: Down 2-1 to the New York Giants, won 4-2.

* 1952 World Series: Down 3-2 to the Brooklyn Dodgers, won 4-3.

* 1958 World Series: Down 3-1 to the Milwaukee Braves, won 4-3.

* 1977 ALCS: Down 1-0 and 2-1 to the Kansas City Royals, won 3-2. (The LCS format was best-3-out-of-5 from 1969 to 1984, and has been best 4-out-of-7 since 1985.)

* 1978 World Series: Down 2-0 to the Los Angeles Dodgers, won 4-2.

* 1996 ALDS: Down 1-0 to the Texas Rangers, won 3-1. The Rangers never won another postseason game until this year's ALDS.

* 1996 World Series: Down 2-0 to the Atlanta Braves, won 4-2.

* 1998 ALCS: As stated, down 2-1 to the Cleveland Indians, won 4-2.

* 2000 ALDS: Down 1-0 to the Oakland Athletics, won 3-2.

* 2001 ALDS: Down 2-0 to the A's, both at Yankee Stadium, won 3-2.

* 2003 ALCS: Down 1-0 to the Boston Red Sox, at Yankee Stadium, won 4-3.

* 2009 World Series: Down 1-0 to the Philadelphia Phillies, at Yankee Stadium II, won 4-2.

So while the Yankees were not intimidated by Cliff Lee -- frustrated, maybe, but not intimidated -- neither are they intimidated by being down 2-1 with the Rangers having regained home-field advantage.

A.J. Burnett starts tonight in Game 4. He's been awful this season, and his last postseason start, Game 5 of last year's World Series -- also started by Lee, for the Phillies -- was awful.

But the Rangers' starter is Tommy Hunter. Who? 13-4 this season, his .765 winning percentage leading the AL. ERA 3.73, pretty good in a hitters' park in the AL. (And, like George Thomas Seaver, Raymond Thomas Hunter uses his middle name and becomes "Tom." Just like his boss, Lynn N. Ryan, uses his middle name. Not that that's particularly relevant.) But he was already beaten by Tampa Bay in this year's ALDS, and that's his only postseason experience. Contrast that with Allan James Burnett, whose postseason ERA is 5.27, but has won both a postseason game and a ring. (Two, in fact: He was with the Marlins in 2003 but was hurt and did not appear in the postseason.)

Panic in The Bronx? Perish the thought. The Yankees can come back from this. And unless Ron Washington wants to be the one to panic, and pitch him on 3 days' rest in Game 6... Cliff Lee may not pitch again this season. If so, he may never pitch for the Rangers again. Who knows if Ryan is going to shell out the cash necessary to keep Lee?

Tonight's game tells the story: If A.J. has his good stuff, the Yankees win the Pennant. If he doesn't, it's the Rangers vs. the Phillies-Giants winner in the World Series.

The Rangers have proven nothing yet. The Yankees have. And the Rangers are the Division winner facing the Wild Card winner. And they've got the home-field advantage. By all measures, they should win.

The pressure's all on them. Let's see how these postseason neophytes handle it.

The bastards.


Paul said...

Uncle Mike, you have the strike counts in your post, not pitch counts. Andy was at 110 and given how good the Yankee bullpen has been it seemed to make sense to call it a night for Pettitte. Lee was at 122 so it seemed inevitable to me that the Yankees would at least tie it in the 9th.

I agree with your defiance (to use your term) - there's nothing to say the Yanks couldn't rattle off three in a row - especially with two of them at home. The media needs something dramatic so of course they have to banter about the huge hole the Yanks are in. Funny how fast that will all change if the Yanks win tonight.

Cheers from Boston.

Uncle Mike said...

Whoops... Good catch, Paul. That means Lee was averaging 15.71 pitches per inning, and Pettitte 15.25. But that's virtually identical. Another 15 would've made it 125, which should not be a burden for a man who's allowed only 5 baserunners (all hits, no walks).

Maybe I'm too old school for today's sissy pitchers, but I still would have kept Pettitte in. After all, as good as the Yankee bullpen was (until Logan and Robertson spit the bit last night), it was the first of 3 straight nights of play. (Maybe Girardi was saving some better relievers like, oh, I don't know, Mariano.)

And, of course, in both 2007 and 2008, your Red Sox went down 3 games to 1 in the ALCS. They came back to win it in '07 and at least tied it in '08 before the Rays sucked it up and put an end to it. The '10 Rangers have just as much postseason experience as the '07 Tribe and '08 Rays, so while this is a time for concern, it is not one for panic.