Understanding arbitration

PARTY ARBY
The list of arbitration-eligible players is out, a fine subject for scrying the future, for hidden somewhere in the list is a group of unexpected free agents, players whose teams will not send them contracts so as to escape the expensive “heads I win, tails you lose” business of arbitration. How appropriate that it is Friday the 13th.

The depressing thing about arbitration is that no one ever takes a pay cut. The player submits his desired salary and the team submits what it wants to pay, lower than the player’s figure, but still more than he made the year before. Either way, a young player tends to get a bump from six figures to seven, and those who have been through the process — all players between three years of Major League service time and those under six years (the six-year guys get to be free agents), plus a handful of so-called “Super-Twos,” players who qualify despite less than three years of service — go from one seven-figure salary to a higher seven-figure salary.

pujols_275_111309.jpgMost of these cases settle before an actual hearing, but those that actually go before an arbitrator are depressing for everyone, as a team has to slag the reputation of a player it wants to keep and the player has to listen to it. “Let me tell you why Arnold Smoof is not worth a quintillion dollars. Sure, he drove in 187 runs on 43 home runs, sure, he batted .387, but he’s still completely lame compared to Albert Pujols. Also, he’s a total klutz in the outfield. And he smells. Bad.” As Tom Hagen said, “This is business, not personal,” but you can’t help but take it personally when people who have formerly professed to love you are telling a total stranger what a loser you are. It’s like a divorce hearing without the divorce — there’s no coming back from that.

The list is long, containing 209 players, including what seems like the entire Dodgers roster. Teams have until December 12 to tender these players a contract. If they do and the player doesn’t dig the proffered salary, the player can opt for arbitration. At that point, everyone negotiates with a gun to their heads, trying to compromise before the actual hearing, and most of the time they do. Even then, a big raise is inevitable, so with some players, teams would prefer to avoid the subject altogether. Those players never even get a contract. The deadline passes and they’re set free. Their teams can still negotiate, but at that point they’re fair game for anyone. This makes perfect sense. To pick a player at random, Ryan Church is a useful outfielder, but you don’t really want to pay him the gross national product of Luxembourg for his services, which is what you’re going to end up doing if you send him a contract. Better to gamble on losing the player than blowing the budget on someone who is basically replaceable.

wang_275_111309.jpgThe Yankees have five players on the list, and four of the five probably shouldn’t be tendered a contract. The no-brainer is Chien-Ming Wang, who made $5 million this year. He pitched in 12 games, was pounded like Berlin in ’45, and underwent shoulder surgery. He could be out until 2010 All-Star break, perhaps longer. There is simply no reason to commit anything to Wang right now, let alone a figure north of $5 million. You could make a similar argument about Brian Bruney, who gets hurt often, pitches well sometimes, and is “just” a right-handed reliever, a breed of player which is (1) highly variable in its performance, and (2) available in huge, heaping numbers. However, the Yankees apparently plan to make him an offer.

More troublesome is the case of Chad Gaudin, a pitcher who obviously has some ability but rarely got to demonstrate it with the Yankees, who were always holding him back for an emergency that never came. I’ve been calling him “The Fireman of Atlantis.” It’s a novel role, but it might not be worth paying for. On the other hand, the guy could probably be a league-average starter, and you never know when your staff is going to be kneecapped by injuries (or the Joba Rules), so Gaudin could be handy.

The remaining players are Sergio Mitre, who can’t be non-tendered fast enough as far as I’m concerned, and Melky Cabrera, who is going to get an offer above this year’s $1.4 million base salary and should, players who can field his position and hit (sort of) being in short supply. More importantly, the Yankees have to hold Cabrera at all costs until their Sally League prospect Melky Mesa is ready, so that they can play the first two-Melky outfield in Major League history, sell T-shirts that say, “Got Melky2?” and so on. It might be awhile — Mesa has a whole lot of learning about the strike zone to do before a dual-leche pasture can become a real possibility.

As for the non-Yankees players on the list who might actually have use to the Yankees and could conceivably bet set free, there’s the platoon outfielder Matt Diaz, a career .347/.384/.537 hitter against southpaws; Conor Jackson, who missed most of the season suffering from Valley Fever but would be a decent left field candidate if healthy; power-hitting center fielder Cody Ross; and Rays fourth outfielder Gabe Gross. Chances are there will be many more non-tendered, and perhaps some top-quality players will be in there, but it’s tough to anticipate what teams will do in this depressed economy of ours. If teams are in more of an austerity mode than anticipated, it’s possible that some very good names will be available for signing in a month. Until then, alas, things will go slowly.

5 Degrees of Bacon Bacon

Jeter_275X235.jpg
On my own and on the road at dinner hour this evening, I stopped at
a National Sandwich Chain. Upon reaching the counter, I was greeted by
a fresh-scrubbed American male of the youthful college variety. “How
may I help you?” he asked rabidly. I jumped back.

“I would like the turkey sandwich,” I said, “but hold the bacon, please.”

“Well,” he said, obsequiousness giving way to consternation, “That’s a
problem. See, the sandwiches, they’re premade in, I think, Eastern
Europe, and we just stick them in a panini press to heat them up. So if
you don’t want the bacon, you need to give us permission to go in and
get it.”

“Go in?”

“Break ‘er open.”

“That sounds invasive. How about you just give it to me as is and I’ll pull of the bacon myself.”

“Why don’t you want it?”

“What?”

“Why don’t you want the bacon?”

“It’s just not my thing.”

“Just personal taste, or…”

“It’s part cultural, part nutritional, it’s — I’m not discussing this with you. Can I just have the sandwich?”

“You don’t want us to remove the bacon? Because we can just excavate that sucker –“

“No!”

“You don’t want the sandwich?”

“I do want the sandwich. I don’t want you to touch it anymore than is strictly necessary. I will remove the bacon myself.”

“You see this button?” He pointed to the register. “It’s the bacon button. I’m going to press it.”

“Okay. You do that.”

“It’s a shame to let it go to waste.”

“Then make your sandwiches fresh and don’ t have them shipped over the Silk Road with the ingredients soldered in.”

He ignored me. “Well, that’s done. Now … What would you like to drink?”
I steeled myself for a debate about the merits of diet vs. regular. The
rest is a blank. I might have blacked out from the stress. I
half-suspect that I’m not really writing this. I’m still there, trying
to get a little poultry and two slices of bread and failing miserably.

The AL Gold Gloves
I’ve never tasted a Gold Glove, but I bet they have that same chewy consistency and flavor as a Cadbury Easter egg. I normally get frustrated with
pundits that pompously pout about awards, crying that they’re so
watered down as to be ludicrous, because while it’s mostly true that
(a) the awards validate their recipients in the eyes of the mainstream,
and it’s important to keep speaking up for quality players when the
awards pass them by, and (b) this is the lame, corrupted world that we
live in, so engage with it already.

The need to joust with the Gold Gloves is particularly acute, since so
much perception of defense seems to be based on how many times the
hometown announcer shouts, “Great play!” There’s more to it than that,
and while zone-based rating systems aren’t foolproof, they take some
of the subjectivity out of defensive appraisals by providing us facts
that at their most basic level show how many balls were hit towards a
fielder and how many he picked up. If you don’t cope with these figures
when ranking defensive players, you’re left with cases made on the
basis of “I thought he looked pretty good.” Your friend Barney could
say that about his wife, and he wouldn’t be any more right or any more
wrong than someone who held a contradictory opinion (Sorry, Barney, but
we’ve gotta be straight with you about this).

That said, in this sense, the Gold Glove award voters didn’t
necessarily err in giving Derek Jeter his chocolate-y citation, number
four. Jeter was at his best this year, and made his usual quotient of
heady plays. But the days of “past a diving Jeter” have hardly
vanished. Jeter deserves credit for somehow improving his fielding at about the time that most shortstops are being banished to other
positions or retiring, and if he wasn’t the best defensive shortstop in
the league, he gave a championship club what it needed. This was also
not a great year for defensive shortstops in the American League, and
while Elvis Andrus of the Rangers probably deserved a shot at the
award, he made 22 errors in 145 games — the second most in the
league. He’ll trim that down as he gets older and the Cadbury Gloves
will come his way.

The big oversight, which everyone with two nostrils has pointed out, is
the omission of Mariners center fielder Franklin Gutierrez from the
awards. Gutierrez has been the best outfielder in the league for a few
years now, and having gotten away from Cleveland he finally got to show
what he could do in the central pasture. It’s not clear how the voters
missed this, given that you don’t need the stats (which support
Gutierrez) to prove his excellence. It was there on the field and in
the nightly highlight reels. This might be the biggest miscarriage of
justice in these awards since Rafael Palmiero was given one for being
the best-fielding DH.

A quick to the mats with reader comments: Defending Branch (Who Doesn’t Need it)
Keep the team intact. Replace the parts when they weaken. And with all
respect to Mr. Rickey, his teams were wonderful, but they were not
World Series Winners, literally or metaphorically. Ultimately, they
were the Pittsburgh Pirates. So, to sum up, let us not, even in print,
be so all knowing and arrogant that we wish to destroy the unit that we
all admire.
— Barry

Barry, you’ve been misinformed. It is true that Branch Rickey was
General Manager of the Pirates from 1951 to 1955 and couldn’t do much
with them. However, the Buccos were a very small part of his career.
The two teams for which he did the bulk of his work, the Cardinals and
the Dodgers, were crazy successful. Rickey ran the Cardinals from 1919
through 1942. In that time, the Cards won six pennants and four World
Series. In two of those series the Cardinals defeated the Yankees. In
the immediate aftermath of Rickey’s departure, the team he built added
another three pennants and two more championships. The Dodgers
franchise he took over had had some recent success, but had been
derailed by the War and needed to be rebuilt, and rebuilt cheaply,
because as much as the Dodgers were beloved in Brooklyn they were not
that successful in the revenue department. The necessity, combined
with Rickey’s strong morality, created the conditions in which the
color line could be broken. Rickey remained in Brooklyn through 1950,
winning two pennants. He also deserves a large share of the credit for the
other pennants won by the Dodgers in the 1950s, as well as the 1955
championship. Let us also throw in his last job, as the power behind
the throne for the World Series-winning 1964 Cardinals, another team
that beat the Yankees.

The word genius is tossed around far too lightly, but Rickey was a
baseball genius, and was responsible for as many pennants as any
executive not named Ed Barrow or George Weiss. If his advise was to get
rid of a guy too early rather than too late, we have to heed what he
said. The issue is not whether or not Rickey was correct, because he
was; the issue is whether or not the Yankees can find the replacements
that allow them to pass on their soon-to-be old timers.

A sticky situation in LF

damon_pb250.jpgTHE MAIN EVENT
The main focus on the Yankees’ offseason seems to be on the big free agent decision, namely Hideki Matsui but not Johnny Damon, or Johnny Damon but not Hideki Matsui, or neither Hideki Matsui nor Johnny Damon and please hold the onions.

This seems like a complicated knot for folks to untangle, and I admit to struggling with it myself, but only because the Yankees have a paucity of replacements in this area. On a basic philosophical level, this isn’t complicated at all: you let both of them go for the simple reason that they’ll be 36 next year, and older still in however many contract years they will require to sign. The problem is that hewing to that old Branch Rickey philosophy of, “better a year too early than a year too late” requires that you know the answer to a subsequent question: “And then what?”

The Yankees are not deep in outfield prospects at the higher Minor League levels. In future years, we may be discussing the merits of Melky Mesa, Neil Medchill, Kelvin De Leon and Zach Heathcott, but for now, Austin Jackson is the only game in town. Hitting .300 with four home runs and 40 walks at Triple-A is better than not, but it isn’t starting corner outfield material and possibly not starting anything material. Jackson, 23 next season, is almost obligated to take a big step forward if he’s going to play regularly for the Yankees, even in center. Suffice it to say that neither Melky Cabrera nor Brett Gardner is qualified to carry left field, a position at which the average cat hit .270/.341/.440 this year.

There are useful outfielders available on the free agent market, but they all have some flaws. Matt Holliday will be only 30 next year, but he will be expensive, cost his team a first-round draft pick, and doesn’t provide the kind of left-handed power which is more important to the Yankees than ever. Jason Bay will be 31, which gives him a year’s head start on Holliday in the decline-phase derby, is a defensive millstone, and like Holliday, he ain’t a southpaw. Rick Ankiel, who will turn 30 in July, does have left-handed pop and as a player who was a bit stretched in center field might prove to have pretty good range in left. He also hit only .235/.285/.387 and rarely walks, so the acquiring team would be hoping for a rebound, but given that Ankiel has only had two seasons as a regular, “Rebound to what?” is a valid question. Jermaine Dye has certainly hit in his career, but he’s 36, wasn’t particularly impressive this season, hasn’t played left field in about a century and a half and is range-challenged in right. Of this group, only Holliday qualifies as an “all-around” player.

Word to the wise: no one had better mention Garrett Anderson if they know what’s good for them.  

Another alternative is to pursue a trade, but that’s going to cost the Yankees pitching resources that Brian Cashman has preferred to hoard, or just money, if he wanted to take on a bloated contract like that of Vernon Wells — not that there’s any reason to do that. It’s hard to know exactly who the Yankees might get, and if they could trade into someone young instead of a veteran as flawed as the free agents above.

If the Yankees prefer to limit their choices to Damon or Matsui, the argument for one vs. the other comes down to which you believe will better bear up at an advanced age. The answer just might be Matsui, compromised knees and all. Damon had a swell year, but a good deal of his power production was due to his becoming adept at poking the ball down the left field line for home runs at Yankee Stadium. His ability to hit on the road, which necessarily is exactly half his job, was less certain. He hit a respectable .284/.349/.446 with seven home runs. Matsui hit 15 home runs on the road, having not taken advantage of Yankee Stadium to the same extent that Damon did. He’s far more likely to adapt to the ballpark next year than Damon is to start hitting on the road.

The downside to Matsui is that while Damon’s days as a defensive asset seem to have gone the way of the economy, at least you can stick him in left field as needed, whereas to have Matsui available at all you have to restrict him to designated hitting. That’s a serious problem, as it clogs up the roster and prevents the Yankees from resting other players in the DH spot. However, it could be a blessing in disguise. The problem with a DH rotation is and always has been who the on-field subs are. If Alex Rodriguez spends ten games next season DHing, then who plays third base for those ten games? If it’s Ramiro Pena, then you’ve taken a huge offensive hit. Ditto any Jorge Posada/Frankie Cervelli DH/catcher combo, or Derek Jeter/Ramiro Pena. If Matsui is on the roster, then subs will play only as needed, whereas with Damon around, Joe Girardi might feel liberated, even obligated, to give players rest.

The best answer remains “neither” and “Get some guys between 22 and 27!” but this is easier said than done in this age of baseball in which “young” is synonymous with “cheap.”

CHRIS SNYDER IN THE WIND
The Arizona Republic (with a h/t to MLB Trade Rumors) reports that the Diamondbacks have been talking about moving catcher Chris Snyder, who lost his job to Miguel Montero this year, for Toronto first baseman Lyle Overbay. The deal has apparently fallen through, but that’s good news as this is a player the Yankees should very much be in on if they expect Jorge Posada to spend significant time as the designated hitter in 2010.

Snyder, 28 next year, missed a good chunk of the season due to a nerve problem in his lower back and was no fun when he did play because of it. However, from 2005 through 2008, he hit a combined .251/.346/.438 with a home run every 24 at-bats (or 21 in a 500 at-bat season). Those are strong numbers for a part-time catcher. Now, he did have some flaws during that time. He disappeared versus right-handed pitchers (.222/.314/.374 vs. .273/.374/.460 vs. left-handers) and on the road (.229/.323/.405 vs. 247/.344/.394 at home), though he did maintain his power away from the hot, dry air of Phoenix. In his career, he has caught 32 percent of potential basestealers, which is a bit better than Posada, four or five more caught per 100 attempts, assuming Posada has another year at 2009’s 28 percent in him.

As in the previous section, the Yankees’ ability to live without Hideki Matsui is directly connected to their commitment to upgrading the bench. If you have real players to step in and perform for the stars, great. If you only have Angel Berroa, well, the current world champions were 4-8 in games in which Berroa started. Basically, the Yankees face a Darwinian choice when it comes to going after solid second-string players.

Looking back, looking ahead

THIS QUOTE COSTS ONLY FIVE CENTS
jeter_rivera_300_110609.jpgThe Yankees clubs for which Lefty Gomez pitched (1930-1942) went to seven World Series and won the first six. Thus, when the Yankees dropped the 1942 World Series to the Cardinals, he was less than excited to have “just” won a pennant. “The Yankees’ victory celebration,” he said after the fifth and final game, “will be held at Horn & Hardart. Don’t forget to bring your nickels.” Despite all the rings, Gomez never got a tickertape parade, so perhaps he had cause to be jaded. On the other hand, Derek Jeter will never get to eat at an automat, so you win some, you lose some.

COFFEE JOE’S NEW NUMBER
My pal Colonel Lindbergh suggests that “Coffee Joe” Girardi should perhaps now be called “Champagne Joe,” but I think not — it sounds too much like “champagne chicken.” Besides, “Champagne Joe” describes some toff who appears on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Indolent,” not a manager who is often thinking not two steps ahead of the opposition, but 42 steps with a half-twist to the right (in the Olympic thinking event, Girardi gets high marks for difficulty of routine). Perhaps he should be called “Calculator Joe,” and were this the 1920s or 30s, when sportswriters were all about bestowing nicknames like “The Little Napoleon” and “The Tall Tactician,” perhaps he would be.

In any case, I am sticking with my Girardi nom de baseball, even though Girardi is not going to be sticking with his uniform number, trading up from No. 27 to No. 28 to symbolize the quest for the next championship. Fortunately for Joe and his motivational techniques, No. 28 is not one of the many numbers the Yankees have nailed to the wall, though one very prominent Yankee, a Cy Young winner, did have a long hold on the digits.

Courtesy of the book, “Now Batting, Number…” by Jack Looney, select Yankees who have worn No. 28: outfielder Myril Hoag (1931, 1934-1935), pitcher Atley “Swampy” Donald (1938-1945), pitchers Tommy Byrne (1948-1951) and Art Ditmar (1957-1961), famously busted outfield prospect Steve Whitaker (1966-1967), relief ace Sparky Lyle (1972-1978), first basemen Bob Watson (1979-1980) and Steve Balboni (1983), southpaw Al Leiter (1988-1989), future pitching coach Dave Eiland (1991), pitcher Scott Kamieniecki (1993-1996), outfielder Chad Curtis (1997-1999), and DH David Justice (2000-2001). The current holder is Shelley Duncan.

Perhaps the Yankees could bring Sparky in for the ceremonial change of jerseys. He did a lot for the team and deserves the nod.

BEFORE THE PARADE PASSES BY, A TO-DO LIST
In no particular order, and without going into detail just yet, just a few of the matters that Brian Cashman and pals will have to grapple with in the coming days. Let me know if I missed anything:

? Derek Jeter is going into the last year of his contract. Do the Yankees try to offer an extension now, so as not to have the matter be a distraction throughout 2010? How will baseball’s post-downturn economic realities — for the most part, players are not getting $20 million a pop any more — affect negotiations?

? Mariano Rivera is also going into his walk year and expressed a wish for an extension in the giddy, celebratory moments after the World Series. He had a great season and was a key factor in the postseason, but he turns 40 in about three weeks. As with Jeter, the lack of a contract post-2010 might be a distraction.

? What roles will Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes have next year? Will they be starters? Relievers? Swing men?

? Does outfielder Austin Jackson, who hit .300 at Triple-A (but with only four home runs) have a role to play on next year’s club?

? How to approach aging but important free agents Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Andy Pettitte?

? How about lesser free agents like Xavier Nady, Jerry Hairston, Jose Molina and Eric Hinske?

? Are any members of a weak free agent class worth bidding on? If Damon or Matsui departs, do the Yankees want to take a shot at Jason Bay or Matt Holliday? Instead of trusting in Joba or Hughes again, do they want to bolster the back of the rotation with a veteran starter like John Lackey?

? Do they offer Chien-Ming Wang a contract and thus get tied into an arbitration situation with an injured player?

? What about other arbitration eligible types like Chad Gaudin, Melky Cabrera and Brian Bruney?

? Do they pick up the club option on Sergio Mitre?

? Coffee Joe is also going into the last year of his contract. Does the World Series win earn him an extension as well?

Man, do the Yankees have a lot to talk about, and so do we. If I’m Cashman, I don’t linger at the parade. I get right back to the office and start working this stuff out. After all, yesterday the Red Sox picked up outfielder Jeremy Hermida (career .276/.359/.456 outside of Florida, and still only 26 next year), so the opposition is already hard at work trying to knock the Yankees off their perch.

I met my old lover on the street last night

BOMBERS-250.jpgHey, beautiful. It’s been awhile. Can I say, you look really, really good? You haven’t aged a day. Don’t feel the obligation to say the same thing, even just to be polite. I know I’ve seen some dents and scratches. There have been a few accidents along the way in getting to this little reunion. Mistakes were made, I know that. Innocence is not a concept I cling to. Sometimes it seemed like there would never be a safe harbor, and yet, here we are at last. It’s so good to be with you again. Thank you, I really mean thank you, for letting me feel this way one more time. I heard Jorge say you never know when you’re going to get another chance. I know that you don’t have a lot of time to stay, but Jorge was so very right, and he would know, wouldn’t he? All I’m trying to say to you is, kid, let’s not rush it. Let’s just enjoy the moment. Let it breathe, because all I want to do is feel this way a little longer. And when it stops, give me one last look before you go, so I can make up another dream.

THE LORDS OF THE RINGS
Given that the Yankees won four World Series in the span of five years not terribly long ago, it is somewhat shocking to consider that there are fans–Yankees fans, baseball fans–now 18 years old who were only nine when the Yankees last hosted a championship trophy. This is not long by the standards of some teams; there are some Cubs fans who are now on their second or third afterlives since the last time their club got to dance on the field. Nor is it long by the standards of my own youth, when the Yankees got a little lost, a little tragic, and a little angry on their way to defending the 1978 championship and gradually disappeared, first from the postseason winners’ circle, then from the playoffs, and finally even from the list of .500 teams. Eighteen years went by, each one of them more difficult and bizarre than the last. The Yankees only waited half as long this time, and yet, but the standards of expanded postseason baseball and the changed economic environment of the game, and the obvious effort the Yankees organization put in to winning, eight years seems like a very long time. Throw in painful lose-from-ahead defeats like the 2004 Championship Series against the Red Sox, throw in the midges that ate Joba Chamberlain, throw in Jeff Weaver, and (especially) throw in the last ten minutes of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, and nine years seems like a very long time indeed. Derek Jeter turned 35 this summer. He was a youthful 26 the last time he earned a new ring.

Many congratulations are due to Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman, the latter of whom was strangely and undeservedly absent from the winner’s podium. They made smart offseason acquisitions, certainly the best of Cashman’s entire run. No Tony Womack this time, no Carl Pavano. They bought the best in Mark Teixeira, and had the perceptivity to see that the White Sox had badly undervalued Nick Swisher. They were also lucky in getting big rebound years from Jorge Posada (injury), Robinson Cano (inexplicable slump), Derek Jeter (uncharacteristic malaise), Melky Cabrera (wholly explicable slump), and Hideki Matsui (injury). Johnny Damon contributed his second solid year in a row, which also wasn’t a sure thing, and Alex Rodriguez came back reinvigorated from personal scandal and surgery, which also didn’t have to happen. All of these elements, when combined with a new ballpark that seemed to favor raw power (“seemed”  because the jury is still out on YS II’s true nature), gave the Yankees one of the best offenses in club history, one which would be able to hold its own if it ran into any other great offense in club history, 1927 and 1998 Yankees included.

With four switch-hitters and three left-handers in the lineup, opposing managers couldn’t match pitchers with them, and even the weakest spot in the lineup was a short distance from average (center fielders hit .273/.338/.400; the average AL hitter averaged .267/.336/.428). All those comeback wins aren’t surprising given that kind of depth. There have been years in the past when the Yankees have gone to the ninth inning down a run or two, and when I looked ahead to see who is coming up to try to pull the game out of the fire, I would see Andy Phillips and Miguel Cairo, or Bubba Crosby and Kelly Stinnett. “Oh great,” I might sigh to myself. “Here comes Ruth and Gehrig.” You knew the game was almost certainly over. There were very few moments like that in 2009, because in a lot of cases, Ruth and Gehrig, or some very reasonable facsimiles, were in fact coming up to the plate.

On the pitching side, the team also bought at the top of the market, bringing in CC Sabathia and the oft-dominant but erratic A.J. Burnett, as well as re-signed Andy Pettitte. Just as significant is what they did not do, which was hurl loads of cash at name-brand relievers, who rarely reward the investment. Instead, they were satisfied to stand pat with their improvised pen of late 2007, all balanced on the Rock of Panama, Mariano Rivera. When the relievers faltered, they didn’t trade the farm for veteran help, as the organization almost certainly would have done in the past. Instead, they reconfigured the relief staff once again and emerged with the best bullpen in baseball–at least in the regular season, but the Rock was always there in the postseason to set things right. 

Not every string that Girardi pulled, not every move that Cashman made was perfect, and as in any year there is a lot that you can argue about (as we often did in this space). As we’ll discuss in the coming days and weeks, there were a few moves that they’re unlikely to get away with twice. Still, as the old saying goes, flags fly forever, and for now those disputations are reduced to mere quibbles. They organized this team almost as well as a team can be organized, and I cannot wait to see what they do for an encore. Congratulations to the brains trust, to the coaches and scouts, to ownership and executives and interns, and, most of all, the players. Well played, gentlemen.

STAY TUNED–ALL WINTER LONG
Even though the lights have gone down on the 2009 baseball season, the Pinstriped Bible will be maintaining its usual five-day a week schedule, plus more when there’s breaking news to discuss. Baseball never stops, and we’ll immediately light up the hot stove and start talking about the path to championship No. 28 and all the other doings around baseball. It’s going to be a fascinating winter, especially for the Yankees. I look forward to passing the cold months with you, and I hope you’ll stay and be part of the discussion.

As I always do at this time, I’d like to thank you for reading the Pinstriped Bible. It has been my privilege to write the PB for about ten years now, and I never feel less than blessed to have the opportunity to (I hope) entertain you, challenge you, and learn from you. Even if your only contact with me was to register a compliment or a disagreement, I appreciate the fact that you took the time to give me your thoughts. I have the best job in the world, and it’s all due to your support. Once again, thank you so very much, and may you enjoy this championship as much as I have enjoyed writing about it.

Three days

pettitte275.jpgAndy 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.

Sights and sounds from Citizens Bank

COUNTING OUT TIME
You ever see everything wrong with a team come out in one game? There isn’t a lot wrong with the Yankees. The team won 103 games in the regular season and 10 more in the postseason so far. They’re one win away from a World Series title. And yet, no team is perfect, and most of the weaknesses that the Yankees have bit them all at once in Game 5:  

? Last winter, the Yankees were perceived to have paid too high a price for A.J. Burnett, because at times he fumbles on the mound like a schoolboy on his first date, and at others he has not been available at all. Given those negatives, only the Yankees were willing to pay a premium for all the good stuff in between. Last night, they got the schoolboy, the guy who can’t find the zone. As Peter Gabriel sang in “Counting Out Time,” “Better get [his] money back from the bookstore right away.”

I don’t think this was Burnett on short rest (something he hadn’t done this year, though he had a few times in 2008); I think it was just Burnett being Burnett. Still, let us say this: If we say Burnett, or (in the future) Andy Pettitte, or CC Sabathia did not pitched well on short rest for reasons other than the missing day, we’re making an assumption — we can’t know the real answer one way or another. No one can. That said, can we ask if the decision to change the pitchers’ routines was inevitable based on the talent the Yankees have on hand? Heck yes, we can ask, and heck no, it was not inevitable. The “rise” of Sergio Mitre coincided with the infliction of the bizarre and ever-changing Joba Rules II. Had the Yankees been less interested in giving Mitre chance after botched chance, and more alert to other options, such as pulling Alfredo Aceves and his low-leverage innings out of the bullpen (there is another righty long reliever out there) or (dare I say) stop worrying about the eighth inning and let Phil Hughes start, and the Yankees might have had another rotation option now. As things are presently constructed, Girardi has no choice but to push. Had different avenues been pursued beginning three months ago, it might be different now. It is precisely because you cannot precisely anticipate the contingencies that future events might require that I go on and on about seemingly insignificant matters like the Yankees throwing away every fifth start on a punching bag — that punching bag could have been a postseason contributor. Complacency, as the saying goes, sucks.

coke220_110309.jpg? Phil Coke is exceptionally home run-prone. In the regular season, he had the 12th-highest rate of home runs allowed per nine innings in the big leagues, relievers who pitched 50 or more innings. Even with Damaso Marte hurting, the Yankees had other options in the Minors. They didn’t try them. Coke’s inability to retire left-handed hitters Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez gave the Phillies the cushion they needed. Remember, the Yankees didn’t need to beat Cliff Lee, they only needed to keep the game close enough that they could beat the Phillies’ relievers. That is almost what happened but for Derek Jeter’s ill-timed double play (with Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui on the bases, Ryan Madson’s mild ground-ball tendencies, and Jeter’s own high percentage of ground ball double plays, this was pretty much as close to an inevitability as you can get) and Coke’s largesse. A home run is a home run, but Ibanez’s shot, one of the longest I have ever seen in person, really sums up the problem with Coke.

? There’s a flipside to Coke’s performance, which is that the fellow has pitched 2.2 innings in the last month, having been pushed to the back of the reliever line by Girardi. I’m not making excuses for Coke, who as I pointed out above, has a tendency to get hit for airline-like distance. Still, it is hard to believe a pitcher can stay sharp on that basis. I also felt — and as for everything here, this was something I first-guessed at the ballpark — that the Yankees could have used a bit more Coffee Joe on Monday. Burnett gave up three runs in the first inning, walked Jimmy Rollins in the second, and opened the third with two walks. We’ve all been down this road with Burnett before; it was spectacularly unlikely that things were going to get better before they got worse. Burnett should have been pulled right after ball four to Ryan Howard. Instead, he remained to pitch to Jayson Werth, giving up a ground-ball single. He also pitched to the next batter, Ibanez, which was two batters too many. By the time Girardi got out of the dugout, the inning was out of hand.

ONE OTHER NOTE, WHOLLY SARCASTIC AND GREATLY BITTER
It sure is too bad that Mark Teixeira was too injured to play in this series and the Yankees had to play some nameless Triple-A guy at first base, Doug Miranda-something. Doug has a good glove, but man, he can’t hit at all. I know Teixeira is trying his best to get back into the lineup before the series ends, but he’s running out of time.

TOMMY’S HOLIDAY CAMP

I had the good fortune to attend Game 5 in the company of a cadre of Yankees employees, who did their level best to root the Yankees on in a highly hostile environment, one marked by a state of denial inhabited by approximately 45,000. It’s fair to chant “A-Rod sucks,” if not particularly original, but if A-Rod sucks, how the heck do you characterize Ryan Howard? Gamesmanship is swell, but let’s maintain at least a slight tether to reality.

employees320.jpgLet it not be said that the Yankees’ staff lacks a sense of humor. If you’ve been to the new Yankee Stadium, you’ve seen those ballpark flight attendants carrying “May I help you?” signs with the Yankees’ logo on them. The staffers appropriated these for the ballgame, and frantically waived them whenever the Yankees came to bat or took the field (the photo is from the top of the first). The Phillies fans loved this and chuckled kindly at the New Yorkers’ amusing antics. Or something like that. One Phillies follower shouted, “Go back to your apartments!” I think might have been an attempt at class warfare, though not a very wise one. Does he know what those apartments are worth? There were other comments, some wholly inappropriate in any venue, and mostly went to underscore why I rarely attend games as a civilian — drunk people say and do stupid things. I got to my seat at about 5:50 p.m., or two hours before game time. The beer vendors were already working the stands.

Human beings, tough to tolerate anywhere, aside, I enjoyed Citizens Bank Park. The interior design is industrial, featuring brick, high metal catwalks, and exposed girders. The effect is of going to see the world’s most highfalutin factory team. This is both sad and amusing, as America distinctly lacks factories these days. In that sense, CBP isn’t a throwback ballpark, it’s throwback Americana, the playground of Ozymandias the Industrialist. It’s as if Rome had a team and they built a replica Colosseum, complete with missing walls and fractured statures. “Celebrate the grandeur that was the empire! Have a hot dog!” As I walked through this memorial to Philadelphia’s receding industrial past, down concourses that would have been wide had they not been stuffed with choke points due to various vendors, displays, and a sit-down restaurant, I kept imagining a sign that said, “If you worked here, your job would be in China by now.” There has always been a school of thought that criticized America’s predilection for creating faux experiences in place of actual ones. Disney architecture, with its miniaturized versions of actual places, is supposed to be th
e height of this tendency to vulgarize the real, creating facades that  trivialize and sanitize without providing any illumination. I never felt that way before. CBP made me empathize for the first time.

hopp250_110309.jpgJust as I was mulling these things over, two men in business suits pushed past me. One was tall and heavy, the other short and thin. It was kind of a Mutt and Jeff cartoon come to life. The taller one was carrying a huge, overstuffed cheesesteak sandwich in his giant paw. The shorter man looked down at it. “How can you do that in this economy?” he asked. The big man strode away, the shorter one hastening to keep up. At that moment, the ballpark PA system blasted a cover of John Lennon’s “Instant Karma:” Instant Karma’s gonna get you… Gonna knock you off your feet… Better recognize your bothers: Everyone you meet… My favorite moments in life are the ones in which the universe acts as your iPod.

I spent a few minutes at the Phillies’ MLB-authenticated collectables booth. An autographed Jayson Werth ball (regular season) will set you back $60. Brad Lidge will bite you for $125. Happy people in red drifted past, holding hot dogs the size of my forearm.

On the whole, though, CBP seems like a fair place to see a ballgame, and probably a friendlier one on days in which the championship is not at stake and fewer Yankees are waiving “Can I help you?” signs around. You can see a few things not evident at Yankee Stadium, like fans standing along the railings during batting practice. Also, note the woman in the lower right-hand corner. Is her jersey:

A)    A tribute to Phillies pitcher J.A. Happ, misnumbered and misspelled?
B)    A tribute to 1940s outfielder/first baseman Johnny Hopp who never played for the Phillies but did play, briefly, for the Yankees?
C)    A tribute to rabbits, who both hop and breed frequently, hence the high number?
D)    Just a boring personalization?

I never did find out. I should have approached her with a “Can you help me?” sign. Finally, I never did find McFadden’s Restroom, but it sounds enchanting, the Fiddler’s Green of bathrooms.
mcfaddens200_110309.jpg

 

The spine

teixeira_300_110209.jpgAs the old saying goes, momentum in baseball is only as good as your next day’s starter. The Phillies have a very good starter going in World Series Game 5, so perhaps it is premature to say that the Yankees may have broken their opponent’s spine. Yet, the dramatic action of Game 4’s eighth and ninth innings, which wrapped an entire “Yankees Classic’s” worth of action into about 20 minutes, suggests that conclusion.

Let’s review. The Yankees took a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the eighth. CC Sabathia, looking a bit frayed around the edges, pitched just that much better than Joe Blanton. The fifth inning was particularly tough, with the Phillies putting two on with none out for Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and the deadly-to-lefties Jayson Werth. Sabathia induced pop-ups from Utley and Howard, and struck out Werth to end the threat. In many games, that might have been the end right there.

Regarding the Sabathia- Utley relationship: I am reminded of Don Mattingly vs. Don Aase, who was the Orioles closer for a couple of years during the center of Mattingly’s career. Aase was often a good pitcher, but he could do nothing with Mattingly, who went 6-for-7 with two home runs against him. After Mattingly hit his second ninth inning homer off of Aase in a year, Orioles manager Earl Weaver was asked if he would ever let Aase pitch to Mattingly again. “Not even to intentionally walk him,” Weaver said. It’s getting to that point with Sabathia and Utley.

Utley’s home run in the seventh chased Sabathia, so Joe Girardi bringing in Damaso Marte’s fresh arm to go after Howard. Marte again rewarded Girardi’s faith in him this series. The Yankees stranded two runners in the top of the eighth, and Girardi decided to roll the dice on a new eighth inning man… Firpo Marberry! Actually, with Werth due up, he went for Joba Chamberlain with Phil Hughes being too scary and David Robertson having left the stadium to pick up some Chinese take-out. Joba is right-handed and has pitched a good inning in this series, so the manager was entitled to his fantasies of 2007.

Chamberlain seemed set to pay those off, as the old Joba was suddenly back, back for perhaps the first time all year, pumping 97 mph fastballs at the Phillies hitters. Unfortunately, Pedro Feliz took one of those 97 mph fastballs and made a souvenir out of it. Joba came back to get Carlos Ruiz on off-speed pitches, striking out the side around the game-tying home run. Baseball is a punishing game. For a moment, Joba had turned back the clock, and yet he still was punished. It’s like something out of Greek myth.

That sets up the ninth. With the game tied, the Yankees finally got their first look at Brad Lidge, the lost-then supposedly-found closer. Lidge looked very tough in retiring Hideki Matsui and Derek Jeter, but then came Johnny Damon’s terrific, nine-pitch at-bat. As Lidge threw fastball after fastball trying to get the elusive third strike, you could see Damon getting his timing down. We’ll never know why Lidge didn’t go back to his slider in any of his last five pitches to Damon given that the fastball wasn’t fooling the left fielder. Damon finally singled to keep the inning alive. If Lidge wasn’t unnerved at this point, he surely was after Damon — who didn’t run much in the regular season (and why would you if you’re on base in front of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez?) — promptly stole two bases on one play, one by taking advantage of the Phillies’ defensive alignment to swipe an unguarded third.

That was all it took for Lidge to turn into the pitcher who went 0-8 with 11 blown saves this year. He hit Teixeira, grooved a pitch to A-Rod for an RBI double, and couldn’t retire Jorge Posada despite getting ahead 0-2. By the time Posada retired himself on the bases, the Yankees were up 7-4. Now, here is where I think we find the broken spine. Girardi called on Mariano Rivera to close out the game. The Phillies have now seen Mariano more times than I’ve seen “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” That’s about a bajillion times, for those keeping score at home. Nonetheless, the Phillies did not battle, did not make it tough on the Yankees’ Father Time. They went out on eight pitches — two to pinch-hitter Matt Stairs, three to Jimmy Rollins, three to Shane Victorino. Some of that economy is due to the greatness of Mo, but it also, I think, reflected the mood of the moment, that this was too high a mountain to climb.

As I said at the outset, Lee is a terrific pitcher, and if the Phillies chose the better part of valor in the ninth inning, there is nothing in that to indicate that they won’t come out fighting in Game 5. These are, after all, the reigning champions. If they don’t get up off the mat, though, no one can blame them — they’ve had to overcome a great deal of adversity this year, much of it at the hands of Lidge and their manager’s loyalty to them. If this loss is one cut too many, it will be understandable. No team in the history of baseball has ever had to work harder to overcome one of their own relievers than the Phillies have had to work to overcome Lidge.

Instant replay classic

arod275.jpgTHE SHOT HEARD ‘ROUND THE CAMERA
I’m not sure how we ever had baseball without replay. I’m not sure how we can continue to have baseball without replay. Pennant races worth millions of dollars to the teams and a great deal of emotion to the fans are resolved on the whim of umpires — any time a team loses a race by one game, you have to ask, “Did they earn that, or did a blown call earn it for them?” And we have had World Series games decided by poor calls in the past, going back at least as far as the 1922 World Series between the Yankees and the Giants when umpires decided to call Game 2 for darkness in the middle of the afternoon. As far as pennant races altered by umpires, they go all the way back to the very beginning — just ask Fred Merkle. Wherever you are, Fred, we’re sorry.

Alex Rodriguez’s timely camera-shot would have been reviewed whether it occurred in the regular season or the postseason, but all calls should be reviewed. Baseball shouldn’t be a game that is sometimes accurately refereed and sometimes not. As I’ve suggested in previous installments, it wouldn’t have taken a booth umpire much longer than 30 seconds to change Rodriguez’s double into a home run, whereas there had to be a complaint by Joe Girardi, followed by a near-minyan of umpires conferring on the field, followed by the long march off the field, the review, the long march back on — what the heck is this, Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow? Baseball is famous for being a retrograde institution, but let’s get on with it already. Baseball games are slow enough without the March of the Penguins added for no good reason.

That said, the games aren’t too slow for instant replay properly handled. On Saturday, my Baseball Prospectus colleague Joe Sheehan wrote at Sports Illustrated:

The most common objection to this system is that it would cause delays, but both pro and college football have survived, in part by selling additional television ads during the breaks. Delays would happen, but the improvement in accuracy, especially on high-leverage, high-profile plays, would be worth the time investment. You may even save time by eliminating the long arguments and conferences that currently occur.

Actually, the best way to save time would be to have umpires vigorously enforce pace-of-game rules. Doing that would more than make room for the occasional replay. Batters don’t step out. Period. Batters don’t get time called when the pitcher is already in his wind-up. Period. The pitcher holds the ball more than a set number of seconds — less than it is now — then it’s a ball to the batter. Period. If the plate umpire or the base umpires can’t manage a ten-second countdown between pitches, then the aforementioned booth umpire can do it.

Pant. Pant.

…There isn’t much in the way of deep analysis to do with Game Three. Andy Pettitte didn’t pitch well by his standards, but the offense helped him out, including Andy himself. Phillies pitchers were wilder than they’re accustomed to, both with walks and hit batters, and the Yankees finally got a look into the bullpen, and they saw that it was good — looking into it, that is, not the bullpen pitchers themselves. Nick Swisher came back to himself. Jorge Posada stranded a bunch of runners but got a key single. We’re still waiting on Melky, Robbie and Teixeira. Joba Chamberlain pitched his first solid inning in recent memory. Phil Hughes didn’t. Girardi seems convinced that Damaso Marte is back to his pre-injury, 2002-2007 form — I will never cease to be bugged that the Yankees were smart enough to sign Marte as a free agent (out of the Mariners system, where he was a starter), smart enough to move him to the bullpen and make something out of him, and dumb enough to trade him for Enrique Wilson, one of the worst hitters ever to wear a Yankees uniform, worst even when you cut him some slack for being a utility infielder.

When Hideki Matsui came up to pinch-hit for Chamberlain with two outs in the eighth, I said, “This is a kind of low-leverage situation to use Matsui in, but then at this point in the game, a high-leverage probably isn’t going to come up. Girardi might as well just go for it and hope for a solo home run.” Moments later, Matsui made the move pay off, giving the Yankees an extra bit of cushioning which would make Hughes’ failure to contain postseason superman Carlos Ruiz a bit less of a cause for tension. The only drag about THAT was that it momentarily pushed Girardi into Coffee Joe mode and he got Mariano Rivera into a game that he should have been kept out of.

On the topic of subjects for another day, if the Yankees are determined to keep just one from the expiring Johnny Damon/Hideki Matsui duo of imminent 36-year-olds, I’m beginning to wonder if the right answer isn’t Matsui, regardless of the roster limitations a pure DH brings.

BLANTON TO START GAME FOUR
This is how chess is played: the Phillies have a paper advantage on the Yankees in starters because Joe Blanton > Chad Gaudin, but CC Sabathia > Joe Blanton. Move and countermove. Of course, it could have been CC Sabathia ? Cliff Lee, but Charlie Manuel didn’t feel comfortable with that. Maybe with tonight’s loss he’ll rethink that decision, but I’ve not heard anything of the sort. Thus Sabathia goes on short rest, and he’ll have to perform to make the chess move good. It might not matter: in four career starts against the Yankees, Blanton is 0-3 with an 8.18 ERA. The last time was in June, 2008, so we probably shouldn’t become over-stimulated by this particular bit of trivia.

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.

burnett_275_103009.jpgThose 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.