By Jason Keidel
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Joe Girardi addresses the press with an odd affectation. After answering a question he nods three times, as if to assure you that he has given the proper answer.
But as the Rangers’ batters battered Phil Hughes this weekend, turning his four innings (ten hits, three walks, seven runs) into a game of musical chairs, one question was left unanswered: Why didn’t Andy Pettitte start Game 2?
Sweeping the Twins wasn’t good enough? The Yankees breezed by the hottest team in the American League with one rotation and then decided to use another.
Yes, Hughes had pitched 15 1/3 scoreless innings in Texas, but not one was pitched in the playoffs. And riding the pine was a pitcher who is the closest thing to Whitey Ford since, well, Whitey Ford.
Hughes has yet to win a road playoff game, while Pettitte has “it” – the visceral, ancestral mandate of the Big Game Pitcher.
No matter the result of Game 1, it makes sense for Pettitte to pitch Game 2. If the Yankees are down you want him to even the series. If they are up you want him to essentially cement the series as it moves to New York. It was reasonable to assume the Yankees would win Game 1 with Sabathia pitching, even if they did it sans CC’s normal dominance. But if they didn’t, the team could have – should have – started the guy who has started big games since Phil Hughes was in fifth grade.
Starting Hughes in Game 2 feels timid. With Cliff Lee lurking in Game 3, the first two games were the time to choke the metaphorical life out of the Rangers when their throat was most exposed. Had the team turned to Pettitte and had the Yankees won – a realistic result from the man with more playoff wins than anyone – Hughes would pitch at home swathed in house money.
The Yankees have played 18 innings in the ALCS, and the Rangers have outplayed them in about 17 of them. Only a bullpen implosion by Texas in Game 1 allows the Yankees to return to Yankee Stadium with the series tied.
Sure, Pettitte can take Lee tonight and make my argument moot. But Lee is younger and better, a baseball buck in rut who has thrown four of the eight games in playoff history with at least ten strikeouts and no walks – including his classic in last year’s Fall Classic against New York.
The malaise of the six-day gap between series sparked chat about rest. How much is enough? Pitchers, odd creatures of rhythm, need structure, need a schedule to synchronize body with mind. Some folks think the hurler is most vulnerable of all.
“Obviously, it’s going to be 11 days for me making this start on Monday,” Pettitte told Newsday. “You’d rather pitch on three days’ rest than (10) days’ rest, I can promise you that much.”
And Joe Girardi’s answer was to give an old arm extra rest when the wrong move means too much rest and the annual banter about Andy’s retirement.
Sabathia laughed when asked if he had any advice for Pettitte as he preps for tonight’s game. CC knows no one is better prepared or has thrown more balls into autumn winds for autumn wins. Why doesn’t the manager?
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com