Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Yankees' Backs to the Wall

Backs-to-the-wall games are never fun. Winning them is, but playing them is not.

The rain-suspended Game 1 meant that last night's Game 3 had the 2 aces back on the mound, CC Sabathia for the Yankees, and Justin Verlander for the Tigers at Comerica Park in Detroit.

The Yankees started off fine, with a Curtis Granderson triple and an RBI groundout from Alex Rodriguez making it 2-0 to the Pinstripers before the Tigers even came to bat. But CC didn't have it: He allowed 4 runs on 7 hits and 6 walks before Joe Girardi took him out in the bottom of the 6th, trailing 4-2.

He picked a hell of a time to have a bad game, just as Randy Johnson did in Game 3 of the ALDS in 2005 against the Whatever They Were Calling Themselves That Year Angels of Anaheim and in 2006 against the Tigers. At least CC, unlike the Big Unit, has the goodwill of having helped the Yankees win a World Series (2009), rather than stopping them from doing so (as Johnson did in 1995 and 2001).

The Yankees tied the game in the 7th on a 2-run single by Brett Gardner, but Girardi put the wrong man on the mound to take CC's place: Rafael Soriano. Soriano gave up a home run to Delmon Young, and a 9th-inning comeback fell short, as Derek Jeter -- seriously denting his "Captain Clutch" aura -- struck out with the tying and go-ahead runs on.

Tigers 5, Yankees 4. WP: Verlander. SV: Jose Valverde. LP: Soriano.

This being Tuesday night, NCIS night, I'm thinking there ought to be a Gibbs Rule about this: Never let a man named Soriano play for the Yankees in the postseason. True, Alfonso Soriano hit what could have been the World Series-winning home run in 2001, but his strikeouts in the 2003 World Series foreshadowed the rest of his career, which has been a horrendous disappointment for a man who was touted as a possibility for the first 50-50 season: 50 home runs and 50 stolen bases in the same season. (He peaked in 2006 with the Washington Nationals: 46 homers and 41 steals.)

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So tonight, Game 4, and it's win and go home for Game 5, or lose and go home for the winter.

And who is the Yankee starter, because Girardi didn't trust Phil Hughes with the ALDS rotation or Bartolo Colon with the ALDS roster at all?

Allan James Burnett of North Little Rock, Arkansas.

Who, the last 2 seasons, postseasons included, has been 21-27, with an ERA of 5.24 and a WHIP of 1.473.

Oy vey.

For most of the last 2 seasons, he has been "Bad A.J." Tonight, more than at any time in his Yankee career, except for Game 2 of the 2009 World Series (when we were down 1-0 and he won, although he lost Game 5), we need him to be "Good A.J."

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The history of the Yankees in backs-to-the-wall postseason games is mixed, as you would expect anyone's to be:

1921 World Series: Lost Game 8. (It was a best-5-out-of-9.)
1922 World Series: Lost Game 5.
1926 World Series: Lost Game 7.
1942 World Series: Lost Game 5.
1947 World Series: Won Game 7.
1952 World Series: Won Games 6 and 7.
1955 World Series: Won Game 6, but lost Game 7. (More on this later, as it's the anniversary.)
1956 World Series: Won Game 7.
1957 World Series: Won Game 6, but lost Game 7.
1958 World Series: Won Games 5, 6 and 7 -- only the 2nd 3-1 comeback ever ('25 Pirates).
1960 World Series: Won Game 6, but lost Game 7.
1962 World Series: Won Game 7.
1963 World Series: Lost Game 4 (got swept).
1964 World Series: Won Game 6, but lost Game 7.
1976 ALCS: Won Game 5.
1976 World Series: Lost Game 4.
1977 ALCS: Won Games 4 and 5.
1978 AL East Playoff: Won.
1980 ALCS: Lost Game 3.
1981 ALDS: Won Game 5.
1981 World Series: Lost Game 6.
1995 ALDS: Lost Game 5.
1997 ALDS: Lost Game 5.
2001 ALDS: Won Game 5.
2001 World Series: Lost Game 7.
2002 ALDS: Lost Game 4.
2003 ALCS: Won Game 7.
2003 World Series: Lost Game 6.
2004 ALCS: Lost Game 7.
2005 ALDS: Lost Game 5.
2006 ALDS: Lost Game 4.
2007 ALDS: Lost Game 4.
2010 ALCS: Won Game 5, but lost Game 6.

So that's an overall record of 20-22, including 3-9 in the Jeter/Rivera era. Not good, even since 1996.

Two things to keep in mind, though: Most of the Yankees' postseason series, both before and since 1996, have been wrapped up without the need for a Game 7 (or Game 5 of an ALDS or a pre-1985 ALCS). And those 22 wins in backs-to-the-wall games? That's as many postseason games as the Florida Marlins and Houston Astros have won in their entire histories; and more than the Toronto Blue Jays, Kansas City Royals, Seattle Mariners, Arizona Diamondbacks, San Diego Padres, Texas Rangers, Tampa Bay Rays, Colorado Rockies, Milwaukee Brewers and Washington Nationals. In fact, the Yankees have won more backs-to-the-wall games than the Rockies, the Nationals (who have never reached the postseason and only did so once as the Montreal Expos) and, until this season, the Rays and Brewers had even played in.

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But all that History, Tradition, Mystique, Aura, whatever you want to call it, means very little. As Joe Torre taught us, "Momentum is tomorrow's starting pitcher."

If A.J. Burnett isn't Good A.J. tonight, tomorrow's starting pitcher is CC Sabathia -- and tomorrow is April 6, 2012.

If he IS Good A.J., tomorrow is actually the day after tomorrow, and Ivan Nova will go in Game 5 at The Stadium II.

Another backs-to-the-wall game.

Tonight is not going to be a night to watch the game with Uncle Mike. Tonight is going to be a night to leave me alone.

I have no problem with losing to the Detroit Tigers. They're a class franchise and their fans are not especially obnoxious. And, for all that the City of Detroit, the State of Michigan, their economy and their sports teams have gone through the last few, or even the last 40-odd years, God knows they deserve a World Championship.

No, my problem isn't losing to this particular team. My problem is losing. At all.

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