When things get underway in the Bronx tonight, whether that's right at 6:07 or not, both teams will send starting pitchers to the hill to make their postseason debuts.
Nick Blackburn was still in the minor leagues in 2006 when the Twins won the AL Central by one game before getting swept in the ALDS by the A's. He made a brief and unheralded debut as a relief pitcher in 2007 but was added to the starting rotation to begin '08 after the departure of Johan Santana. Since then, he has put up two remarkable similar, slightly above average seasons for the Twins. He went 11-11 and had an ERA just over 4, pitching right around 200 innings, striking out just under 100 and walking about 40 in each.
Blackburn hadn't been great leading up to Game 163. He had accrued an ERA of 5.60 over his previous 10 starts, with peripherals even uglier than usual (53 IP: 71H, 16BB, 23K, 9HR, Opponents OPS .885). However, he came up huge in the play-in game, holding the Tigers to one run over 6 1/3 innings pitched, which is probably why Ron Gardenhire has elected to pitch him on short rest tonight. He's not an overpowering guy but can obviously get the job done by changing speeds and locations.
Our boy A.J. Burnett has been in the league for 9 more seasons than Blackburn and was on a team that made the postseason - the 2003 Marlins - but started only 4 games before losing the rest of that season to Tommy John surgery. He was around the team and even played catch on the field at Yankee Stadium during that World Series, but didn't pitch in it. The only other time he's been on a second place team was in 2006 with the Blue Jays but he only made 21 starts for them and they didn't come especially close to making the playoffs. He's made the 4th most starts of any active pitcher not to appear in the postseason.
Does any of this matter? History shows that in the Wild Card era, 134 pitchers have made their postseason debut, and only 14 have had a game score higher than 70. Granted, Burnett would probably rank towards the top of the pack of those pitchers in terms of talent and previous success and 70 is a damn good game score, but the odds are against him making a big splash tonight.
As has been discussed ad naseum, his chances are theoretically bolstered by having Jose Molina as his personal catcher. I probably like Jose Molina more than I should. He makes performing the duties of a catcher look easy with his excellent framing of his pitches and effortless snap throws to first. If nothing else, he should be better at corralling Burnett's errant balls, which should come in handy considering he leads the AL in walks, wild pitches and hit batsmen. But let's remember that how A.J. Burnett fares tonight will have a lot more to do with him than him than the guy he's throwing to. I'm with Jorge, I just hope they win.
Every game in a 5 game series is an important one, but Game 2 is the biggest swing game. it always determines whether the series is even or one team is facing elimination. Depending on what happens under potentially ugly conditions in the Bronx, the Yankees could head to the Twin Cities with the luxury of having three games to get one win or needing to take one of two on the road to avoid elimination. If they lose tonight, their homefield advantage and any edge they gained by taking the longer ALDS won't mean a thing.
There's something else that makes the tune complete,
It don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing,
It don't mean a thing all you got to do is sing.
It makes no difference,
If it's sweet or hot,
Just give that rhythm,
Everything you've got,
It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing.