TEMPTED, BUT THE TRUTH IS DISCOVERED
With the Phillies in place for the World Series, the temptation is to jump ahead and crank up the head-to-head comparison with the Yankees. That would be premature. A.J. Burnett can be a riddle wrapped in an enigma decorated in squid ink, and when he’s off he’s really off. Yet, it would be wrong to think of him as truly unpredictable, because he gave the Yankees a quality start roughly two-thirds of the time. This was just a bit better than John Lackey (who did suffer from a strained elbow this year).
The great break that Burnett gets in this series is that when he’s off his game, he’s wild, but the Angels, by nature of their offensive approach, are not inclined to let him be wild. Despite all the talk that Bobby Abreu has made the Angels more successful by his example, if you remove him — along with Chone Figgins — from the equation (and they’ve pretty much removed themselves in this series), and they remain a team that likes to hack. The Yankees have nearly doubled them up on walks, 23-13. Arguably, they are also putting better pitches in play, as they’ve struck out more than the Angels but have gotten far better results when they have made contact.
As I write this, Coffee Joe is still mulling his lineup, which one assumes will be sans Jorge Posada. Melky Cabrera’s solid showing in the previous game probably bought him another start, whereas before it seemed likely that at some point Girardi would go to Brett Gardner for a game. We’ve seen the manager navigate the Jose Molina/Posada switch a couple of times now, and it hasn’t cost the Yankees. However, it remains to be pointed out that if there’s a high-leverage situation early in the game, he must pull the trigger on a pinch-hitter.
All of his fooling around with pinch-runners and incessant pitching changes doesn’t have half the potential to change the game’s outcome as putting a good hitter up with two runners on. Maybe Burnett’s comfort level is affected after such a switch, maybe not, but if you’re up by a few runs instead of trapped in a game where the score is just a run or so apart, you can pay a lot less heed to that particular issue. Plus, with the possibility of getting a nice rest before the World Series as part of the payoff for winning today, you can throw the bullpen at the Angels — which, let’s face it, Girardi was going to do anyway.
BYE BYE BLACKBIRD
Joe Torre has gone home again, and it was a bit sad to watch him try to hold back the tears at this latest disappointment. More than ever, it seems like he’s never going to get another chance to live down the 2003 World Series. Or 2004. Or Joba’s 2006 Attack of the Insect Kingdom.
Give Torre credit for surviving to manage, and manage relatively well — at least in the regular season — to the age of 69. As I said last night, not too many managers are working successfully at his age, or working at all. Unfortunately, Torre has never been a great in-game manager, and while it’s hard to pin too much of the blame on him for a series in which his pitchers had an ERA of 7.38 and his hitters put up a .287 on-base percentage, he still made numerous decisions, from starting Ron Belliard ahead of Orlando Hudson (reminiscent of his benching Tino Martinez for Cecil Fielder in the 1996 postseason) to casting Chad Billingsley into the bullpen. He emphasized a player’s short-term struggles or hot streak over longer-term results.
He didn’t show the same kind of manic hand in the postseason that Coffee Joe has displayed this year, but he never did. He just made his choices, picked his loyalties and stuck with them. This was a great asset in the days when George Steinbrenner was inclined towards a more impulsive leadership, but it’s a serious detriment when you have to shift gears on the fly, which the postseason demands. With luck, he’ll get to try again next year, assuming the strained ownership situation with the Dodgers doesn’t curtail their offseason efforts to get what they’re missing: one more starting arm, one more starting bat.