Thursday, October 22, 2009

ALCS Game 5: To Live And Die In L.A.

Last night was the 8th night off the Yankees have had this postseason. After tonight they will have played 7 games. In a sport that averages about one day off per week or less during the regular season, it must be pretty annoying for the teams to have to play so sporadically during the postseason.

That one extra night allowed for the possibility of starting CC Sabathia three times in this series, which certainly has helped put the Yankees as close as they are, but the lull between games is something that's not natural for baseball fans and players alike. Dave Cameron over at FanGraphs is dreading the possibility of yet another week without a baseball game and is therefore (as a Mariner's fan) rooting for the Angels. I'm obviously not going to go that far, but I do think that the MLB has gone a little too far by inserting off days not necessary for travel so networks can put as many games as possible in primetime. The league is in the superior bargaining position here and should be willing to preserve the rhythm of the season to some extent over having a couple of games start at 4:00PM Eastern instead of 8:00PM.

Regardless, here the Yankees are, on the doorstep of the Fall Classic. After Game 4, it was strange to hear people say the Yanks were "one win away". It didn't quite seem real yet. However, watching the Phillies clinch last night (and coming to the realization that we made it through the TBS coverage) did drive it hit home a little bit more. The Phils' win last night was a little bit like the Yankees' the night before in that they blew the Dodgers out, but there were some sweaty palms during the 8th inning with the bases loaded, no one out and the Dodgers trailing by 5. When the last out was recorded, the city Philadelphia of course handled it with the grace and class of a team who had made the World Series just last year a crack whore at a black tie function.

Back to the game tonight, though. Of course as we all know far too well, one blowout win doesn't mean anything when the next game rolls around. Especially with the pitching match up we've got tonight.

If rest wasn't a factor and the Angels could pick anyone in their rotation to start tonight's game, it would still be John Lackey. He has a 3.03 postseason ERA in 71 1/3 innings. Although his playoff record is 3-4, he's still known as the type of pitcher that excels in October. If the Angels are to be around in November, he'll have to keep the best line up in baseball in check tonight.

One of Lackey's four losses came against the Yankees in Game 1 of this series. The Bombers' philosophy going into the game was to be patient against the tall righty, which was exemplified by Derek Jeter's at bat to lead off the game - an 8 pitch tussle ending with a single to right field. Lackey allowed 4 runs (2 ER) that night and the 114 pitches he threw weren't even enough to get him out of the sixth inning. Two errors by his teammates surely escalated his pitch count as well, but those weren't what prevented him from having a good outing - that would be the Yankees approach and execution.

Our buddy Joe Pawlikowski at River Ave. Blues took a look at Lackey's postseason resume today, specifically his performances in the two elimination games he's started, and his playoff history against the Yankees. Click over to see how much he has earned his reputation as a "big game pitcher".

A.J. Burnett will oppose Lackey this evening and look to lift the Yankees into their 40th Fall Classic. Burnett has given up only three runs in his two starts this October but hasn't been able to pick up his first postseason win. He did however, get to deliver some whipped cream to the faces of Mark Teixeira and Jerry Hairston, Jr., which I'm sure were fine consolation prizes.

While Burnett hasn't given up many runs (3) or hits (6) in his two previous outings, he's given out 7 free passes, plunked 4 and buried numerous curveballs in the dirt. It's not unexpected, since Burnett led the league in walks, was third in hit batsmen and tied for most wild pitches during the regular season. To his credit, A.J. has held on for dear life and done a good job of limiting the damage when he's gotten into trouble (i.e. the 5th inning of Game 2).

With Burnett comes the requisite baggage of having Jose Molina in the line up. So far, Molina has only got 3 plate appearances and Burnett has pitched well, so there has been no real reason to switch things up. Line ups aren't posted yet, but Hideki Matsui should retain the DH role despite his tough night on Tuesday (0-5, 3Ks), leaving Posada available for direct substitution of Molina later in the game.

The Yankees are going to be coming back to New York one way or another after this game. Whether it will be a celebratory atmosphere or not remains to be seen. We've had our eye on this song ever since the it was official that the Yanks and Angels would be meeting in the ALCS. Thankfully it isn't the Yankees who are fighting for their playoff lives tonight.

It's the City of Angels in constant danger,
South Central L.A., can't get no stranger.

To live and die in L.A., it's the place to be,
You've got to be there to know it, what everybody wanna see.

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