The real Burnett stands up
My friend and colleague Stephanie Bee suggested that I write up World Series Game 2 as follows:
1. Mo was a bit over-used
2. Jeter shouldn’t have bunted
3. Burnett was brilliant
4. Umps still [expletive]
That seems like a fair rundown to me, though while my temptation is to cavil about numbers two and four, it’s probably best to stick with one and three. Actually, four is just a fact of life, and will be until Major League Baseball accepts that replay in baseball games need not be the Supreme Court hearing that is replay in the NFL and opts for having the most accurate baseball game possible, we’re going to have to live with cloddish umps. There are fewer things happening at once in most baseball replays than in football. Balls are caught or not, fair or foul. It’s not “did the wide receiver have his toes in bounds as he was/was not juggling the ball and did it cross the plane of the goal line or didn’t it?” One replay umpire stationed off the field could have overturned Ryan Howard’s non-catch in 10 seconds.
As for Jeter’s non-bunt, although the Old Captain is top-20 in double play percentage (17 percent of his chances, worst on the Yankees) giving away outs, as opposed to gambling on the better than 80 percent chance that a very good hitter WON’T hit into one, is not good managing. It was a poor decision by Joe Girardi which Jeter doubled down on by bunting foul with two strikes.
Those two items dispensed with, on to the better stuff. On A.J. Burnett’s loss/no-decision days this summer, he walked 4.8 batters per nine innings. When he won, it was only 3.4. Therein lies the sign of a happy curveball or an unhappy curveball. On Thursday night, the curveball was happy, and thereby were the Phillies made unhappy.
It’s the most basic of all human relationships. If only Burnett could be the pitcher he was Thursday night a tad more often, and had had more health — well, never mind. If your grandmother had wheels she’d be a wagon, and if Burnett had health and consistency he wouldn’t be what he is, and that’s plenty good in six starts out of 10. You just have to hope that the other four don’t come at important times.
With the help of umpire Jeff Nelson’s roomy strike zone, Burnett walked just two and struck out nine. In the game’s Nelson umpired this year, the number of strikeouts were average or even a bit below, so it’s puzzling that he gave the pitchers so much room off the plate. Still, he was consistent in having a wide zone for both teams, but for a pitcher like Burnett that little bit of generosity goes a long way. I’m not trying to diminish what Burnett did — he saved the World Series from getting out of hand — but the confluence of umpire and pitcher could not have been more perfectly timed.
During the YES postgame, one of the Yankees’ players (Jeter, I believe) was asked how it felt to know that Girardi had the “confidence” to use Mariano Rivera for two full innings. The choice of term was ironic, as Girardi was really expressing a lack of confidence in any of his other relievers. Insomuch as Game 2 was a must win, it wasn’t a bad call, but you have to question how long Rivera can keep this up. He threw 39 pitches, another high for the year, and though Girardi said in his postgame press conference that he didn’t ask Rivera to do this all year precisely so he could do it now, I’m not sure that that reasoning makes very much sense.
You’re talking about a 40-year-old guy who averaged 16 pitches per appearance this year more than doubling up his pitch counts. Given the lack of an off day between Games 3 through 5, can you really expect him to keep that up? Moreover, can you expect Rivera, a one-trick pony — it’s a wonderful trick, but it’s still just one — to keep fooling the Phillies at that rate of exposure? Andy Pettitte averaged 102 pitches per start this year and his 6.1 innings in each of his ALCS starts were the deepest into a game he’s pitched since August, plus there’s pinch-hitting for pitchers to consider in the National League park.
All of this means that Girardi is going to have to confront his bullpen problems as soon as Saturday. Rivera won’t be able to carry the whole load in Game 3, and maybe not in any of the games in Philadelphia. We will see if anyone else stands up to shoulder his burden.