When the Yankees left the field victorious exactly two weeks ago, they had just clinched the AL East and the best overall record in the American League. In doing so, they rendered the season's final six games, split by another Thursday off day, as essentially meaningless. It also gave them the right to choose which ALDS schedule they wanted to play.
When the Yankees left the field victorious exactly one week ago, they had just finished the regular season. They were off the next two days, still not knowing who their ALDS opponent would be, as the Twins and Tigers needed one extra game and three extra innings to decide the AL Central.
In order to allow themselves the option to use only three starting pitchers in the ALDS, the Yankees chose the "A" schedule. So, after playing Game One on Wednesday, the Yankees sat through the extra off day on Thursday, and then enjoyed an off day for travel yesterday following Friday night's Game Two thriller.
All of which is a long way of saying that by the time the first pitch is thrown tonight, the Yankees will have played just eight games in the last fourteen days, six of them meaningless, and just two games in the last seven days. In other words, they've had a lot of idle time on their hands of late.
Tonight it will be Idle Time of a different sort at the Metrodome. Carl Pavano, infamously dubbed the "American Idle" by The Post's George A. King III during his four injury plagued years in New York, takes the hill for the Twinkies. While no Yankee fan is fond of Pavano, we may have something of a debt of gratitude to him at present. In un-Pavano-like fashion, he asked for the ball on short rest on the season's final day. While Pavano didn't have a good start (5.2 IP, 8 H 4 ER), it was enough to keep the putrid Royals at bay, and he picked up the "W" in what was essentially a must win game for the Twins, forcing Tuesday's one game playoff and further depleting the Twins' starting staff heading in to the ALDS.
The Yankees had two shots at Pavano this year, both coming while he was still with Cleveland, and both times they failed to extract their pound of flesh. In 13.1 innings of work against the Yanks, Pavano pitched to a 2.70 ERA and allowed just 12 baserunners, but didn't record a decision. Less recently, Pavano made two appearances against the Yankees in the 2003 World Series, one start and once in relief, and allowed just one run and nine baserunners in nine innings of work. Despite his reputation of lacking in intestinal fortitude, Pavano pitched 19.1 innings in that 2003 post-season, going 2-0 while posting a 1.40 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. Here's hoping those small trends get derailed tonight.
Opposing Pavano will be a far more experienced post-season starter, the third and final different starting pitcher the Yankees intend to use in this series. Andy Pettitte will make the 36th post-season start of his career tonight, all but four of them coming with the Yankees. He's 14-9 with a 3.96 ERA in those games, but has shown a knack for coming up big in the biggest games. He's made nine post-season starts (eight with NYY) with an opportunity to end a series. In those games, Pettitte is 3-2 (his teams are 5-4), with a 4.47 ERA and 1.50 WHIP. Subtract out his disastrous pitch-tipping start in Game 6 of the 2001 World Series, and Pettitte is 3-1 with a 3.58 ERA and 1.37 WHIP in those games. Pettitte faced the Twins in Game 2 of 2003 ALDS. With the Yankees in an 0-1 hole, Pettitte gave up one run and allowed seven baserunners while fanning ten in seven innings of work and earning the victory.
The Yankees return to their normal line-up tonight. For the Twins, Brendan Harris replaces the injured Matt Tolbert at third base. Tolbert has been removed from the Twins' roster all together. Jason Kubel returns to RF after DHing Friday, Denard Span slides back to center, Carlos Gomez goes back to the bench, and Jose Morales enters the line up as the DH.
When the Yankees left Minnesota in July, we bid a premature adieu to the Metrodome. The Twins were a .500 team following that Yankee sweep, and were four games back in the AL Central with a little less than half the season to play. The Twins certainly weren't out of it at that point, but it did take a historically unlikely late season comeback for them to reach the post-season. They now return home with their backs to the wall. While the Metrodome has been lauded as one of the biggest homefield advantages in all of baseball, the Twins have lost seven straight post-season games there, four of them against the Yankees. With any luck, the Yankees will give the dome its final send off tonight.
A game like Friday's has the potential to suck the life out of the losing team; I'm hopeful the Yanks can put them to sleep for good tonight. With the Angels completing an improbable sweep of the Red Sox this afternoon, they have the luxury of being off until Friday, when the ALCS begins. As such, they'll be able to rest up and set up their pitching as they see fit. It would behoove the Yankees to wrap up their ALDS business tonight as well, as it would allow them the same benefits the Angels are currently enjoying. Another four days off would be quite boring, and wouldn't exactly be ideal after all the down time in the past two weeks. But those would be awfully nice problems to have right now given how the Yankees' last three Division Series played out. Time to shake out the pain of the past three post-season series and ensure a little more idle time.
I might need some assistance if I don't get my pass
Looking for some time off to shake this pain out of my past
That island's not too far away, I think that I can swim
Maybe I'll just stick around and sift through this trash bin
Let 'em dance, let 'em sing
There'll be time enough for me
Daylight colors off the shore, I lay silent on the floor
Slowly sipping on my tea
Idle time brings idle wind
Ease your mind
Fall asleep again