During last night’s chat, I made an off-hand comment that CC Sabathia had just pitched one of the best postseason games in Yankees history. This is undoubtedly true, but I had forgotten just how many Yankees had gone out and pitched shutouts in World Series play. Whitey Ford had three, Allie Reynolds two, and then there were one-offs by Waite Hoyt, Carl Mays, Vic Raschi, Ralph Terry, Spud Chandler, and (oh yeah) that Don Larsen guy. Going down to the League Championship level, there’s the nigh-obscene game Roger Clemens pitched against the Mariners in 2000, in which he held them to one hit, two walks and 15 strikeouts.
Still, if Sabathia’s night isn’t in the top echelon, it was close enough. The game lacked any tension once the Yankees took the lead, in large part because Sabathia didn’t allow them to build any momentum. He also set a terrific example for the occasionally twitchy A.J. Burnett to live up to in Game 2, assuming rain delays don’t knock him out after an inning or two.
I wish I had stats that showed how Burnett has fared pitching in freezing rain, but given that he spent most of his pre-Yankees career in the warmth of Miami or under a dome in Toronto, doubtless he hasn’t too much experience in that regard. Whatever the conditions, he’s made six starts against the Scioscia-men and has gone 2-2 with a 4.43 ERA. The overall line, 40.2 innings, 43 hits, 22 runs, 20 earned, five home runs, 11 walks, 39 strikeouts, doesn’t look all that bad; sometimes the little white ball just takes a funny bounce or two and things go all pear-shaped.
As you know, Jose Molina is catching again today, while Mike Napoli is in the battery for the Angels, so shift a little offensive advantage the Angels’ way, at least for the at-bat or two that goes to Molina before Joe Girardi pulls him. He did so well with this in the last round that I don’t see the point in worrying about it. The only point to raise, as I did last time, is that the manager should be aggressive — if Molina bats in a key situation early, it might be worth sacrificing the defense for a chance to put some crooked numbers on the board. That’s Casey Stengel speaking through me on that one, and he got seven rings out of thinking that way so I believe him.
A couple of quick notes:
? No matter how many times the announcers say that Bobby Abreu somehow turned the Angels into a team of Ed Yost-ian walking men, it just ain’t true. With the exception of Howie Kendrick, who was threatened with professional extinction if he didn’t get wise to himself and his impatient approach, most of the improvement shown by the Angels is down to Abreu himself. As with so many things, like the Angels “creating havoc” on the bases, it just ain’t true. They were third in the league in stolen bases and got caught more than anyone else. If this be havoc, the Yankees should say, let us have more of it. This should work to Burnett’s advantage. Note that even when the Angels beat him, it wasn’t because he went walk-crazy, as he sometimes does. In fact, his walk rate against the Angels is about half of what it is normally.
? Second point about “havoc.” It’s just one bloody base. If Team A steals three bases and Team B hits three home runs, guess which team is going to win? As with the sacrifice bunt, the stolen base is a situational tool, and that’s all. Babe Ruth changed that in 1920. At the end of his career, after Lefty Gomez was let go by the Yankees, he had a tryout with a National League team. Asked the difference between the two leagues, Gomez said, “Over here they play like they don’t know John McGraw has been dead for ten years,” by which he meant that Dead Ball-era tactics were still being employed in the Senior Circuit. That Gomez was incorrect to cite McGraw notwithstanding — the Little Napoleon was among the first to realize the strategic implications of the lively ball and to change his ways — he was correct that many in baseball did not know that those old weapons had diminished in value, and even today there are many who do not know.