Sunday, November 1, 2009

World Series Game 4: Gimme Three Steps

After dropping the first game of the World Series to the untouchable Cliff Lee, the Yankees have ridden a brilliant pitching performance by A.J. Burnett and Mariano Rivera in Game 2 and a breakout offensive effort in Game 3 to a 2-1 series lead. Having lost the edge of homefield advantage by splitting the two games at Yankee Stadium, the Bombers have wrestled it back. They hold the better hand in tonight's game as well because CC Sabathia is available to make his start on short rest, but the man who handily out-dueled him in Game 1 is not.

The Phillies and Charlie Manuel have decided that instead of asking Cliff Lee to start on three days rest for the first time in his career, they will ask Joe Blanton to make only his second start since October 2nd. Lee said he was willing to give it a shot, but Manuel passed. Going to Blanton also means that Cliff Lee won't be able to start a potential Game 7 either. In fact, it's tough to find any level on which this decision makes any sense.

As Will from IIATMS points out, they Yankees match-up quite favorably with Blanton's pitch repertoire. The righty has a marginal fastball that sits in the high-eighties or low-nineties, and the Yankees are an excellent fastball-hitting team.

Blanton was slightly above league average in the regular season this year, which is valuable, but doesn't make him a particularly strong option to start a postseason game. He showed this in the NLCS against the Dodgers, when gave up 4 runs (3 ER) and walked as many as he struck out in 6 innings. The Phillies ended up winning that game, but needed a two run double by Jimmy Rollins with two outs in the bottom of the 9th inning to do it. And in that Game, they were facing Randy Wolf, not CC Sabathia.

CC's start in Game 1 of the World Series didn't look very impressive. He walked as many batters (3) and gave up more home runs (2) than he did in his previous three postseason starts combined. But the end result his performance wasn't nearly as bad as those tidbits would seem to indicate.

I think most fans would cheerfully sign up for 7 innings of two run ball from Sabathia tonight given who he is opposing, but I think the Big Fella is aiming a little bit higher. Regardless, the fact that he is capable of pitching on short rest - which is easy to take for granted at this point - means that the Yankees don't have to support Chad Gaudin against a lefty heavy line up in a park known for its tendency to give up the long ball. The value of that is difficult to understate.

Cliff Lee has never pitched on short rest in his career, which surely played in Charlie Manuel's decision to go with Joe Blanton tonight. But unless Manuel has a specific reason to think that Lee isn't able to pitch effectively four days after his last start, and he's pretty damn sure of it, this seems like a mistake.

Just as we learned in Game 2, not all bad decisions are doomed to fail. Should the Phillies steal this one from the Yanks whether it be by a solid start from Joe Blanton, a poor one by CC Sabathia or a failure by the Yankees bullpen, the advantage will shift right back to Philly with the series tied a fully-rested Cliff Lee waiting for the Yanks in Game 5. As is always true in baseball, it only takes a couple of pitches, bounces or swings of the bat to change the complexion of the game.

As a team works it way through the playoffs, each game almost always becomes more important than the last. The Yanks took advantage of a favorable pitching match-up in Game 3 but that will soon be forgotten if they fail to capitalize in Game 4. But Manuel and the Phillies have given the Yankees the opportunity to get their third win in this Series which is precisely the break they were looking for.

Time to take advantage. Go Yanks.

And that's the break I was looking for.
And you could hear me screaming a mile away
As I was headed out towards the door.

Won't you give me three steps,
Gimme three steps mister,
Gimme three steps towards the door?
Gimme three steps,
Gimme three steps mister,
And you'll never see me no more.

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