Andy Pettitte has made 14 regular season starts on three days’ rest. His ERA in those games is 4.36. He has made 281 starts on four days’ rest. His ERA in those starts is 4.28. This seems like an insignificant difference and it is. Unfortunately, it is rendered even more insignificant by the fact that, like Jerry Hairston’s supposed track record of success against Pedro Martinez, it all happened so long ago that we may as well be talking about another person. Pettitte last made a regular season start on three days’ rest in 2006. The time before that came in 2001. All we can really say right now is: “The Golden Age Andy Pettitte wasn’t better when he pitched on three days’ rest — though he also wasn’t significantly worse — and we don’t really know what the Silver Age Andy Pettitte will do under like circumstances.”
Even had Pettitte pitched to a 2.00 ERA in an extensive course of short-rest starts, we wouldn’t have been able to generalize about the outcome of any one game, particularly one against the defending champions. However, such a generalization would have at least provided more of a sense of comfort after the debacle that was Game 5. In most cases, there is little reason to fear a pitcher being physically unable to withstand the rigors of short rest; they do throw extensively on two days’ rest, after all. There is, though, something to be said for not asking your pitchers, particularly the 37-year-olds, to do something you have never asked them to do before in the tensest situation of the year. If you don’t have any choice about it, fine. You do what you have to do. If the general says you need to take that hill to win the war, you go try to take that hill. Yet, the Yankees did have choices, and if Pettitte doesn’t take that hill, Girardi’s decision to ask both Burnett and him (and to a lesser extend CC Sabathia) to perform new tricks at this late date will have to be questioned. This is particularly true in the case of Burnett, whose poor work at Fenway Park this year (his ERA in three starts was 14.21), not to mention Game 5 of the ALCS against the Angels, suggested that he might get twitchy in a big spot on the road. That’s in addition to the three-day element. Indeed, the three-day aspect may be irrelevant where Burnett is concerned — the problem is emotion, not fatigue.
At the risk of repeating myself (and when has that risk ever stopped me?), subtract 10 Sergio Mitre starts from the regular season and this might not have happened. Chien-Ming Wang made his last start of the season on July 4. Alfredo Aceves took his next start. The next time the spot came up was during the All-Star break. Mitre made his first start on July 21 and got creamed. He made his second start five days later and got creamed. He made his third start five days after that and got creamed. He made his fourth start… The Yankees acquired Chad Gaudin shortly after the July 31 trading deadline. At that moment, Mitre’s ERA was 7.50. Had Gaudin been immediately inserted into the rotation in Mitre’s place, the Yankees might have felt more comfortable starting him in Game 5, instead of trying to do stunts with Burnett and Pettitte. When the Yankees say that they had some tough breaks with pitching this year — Chien-Ming Wang and Ian Kennedy getting hurt — we have to remember that there were other options, like Gaudin, like Phil Hughes, like Alfredo Aceves, that they did not use. The decision to just soldier on with Meatball Mitre was as complacent as any they’ve made in recent years and has led them to build the foundation of their World Series strategy on a very risky basis.
Still, they have a very good chance of winning tonight. The bullpen is rested from its day off, so Joe Girardi can go Coffee Joe10 if Pettitte falters. They’ve got the designated hitter back. Pedro Martinez’s act may not be good enough to fool the Yankees a second time so soon after his last start. Martinez is unlikely to go all the way, and the Phillies relievers can pour gas on any fire. Mark Teixeira or Robinson Cano might actually hit something. Chase Utley might get lost in the subway on the way to the ballpark. Stranger things have happened. The 2009 season should come to an end tonight, one way or another, making Girardi’s gamble an act of genius. And if not, he still has one day to think of something else.