Monday, November 2, 2009

World Series Game 5: So Close, So Far Away

For the first time in almost one month, the Yankees will play three games on three consecutive days. We've become so used to having to wait in between games that what is the standard during the regular season - the three game series - now feels a little strange.

Those last three straight games were of course the final trio of the regular season down in Tampa Bay. Since then, the Yanks have played just 13 times in 29 days. They've won 10 of those games but the end goal at the beginning of the season and especially since the end of the regular season has been to snag that 11th victory that has evaded them for nine long years.

After last night's thrilling victory, the Yankees are one win away from the winning the World Series. Twenty seven outs away from their 27th Championship. Unfortunately for them, in addition to getting those outs from the Phillies, they also have to score some runs in a game started by Cliff Lee, the most dominant force thus far in October (and into November).

Charlie Manuel made the decision to hold back Lee from a Game 4 start to make sure he was well-rested. In exchange for that extra rest, Lee has been entrusted with forcing a Game 6 back in New York. The Phillies' ace said he wasn't nervous when he started Game 1 and certainly didn't act like it, but we'll see if that same nonchalance is there when his team's season is hanging in the balance.

We all know that Lee has been all but invincible this postseason, but it's worth looking at his stats with his dominant Game 1 performance factored in: 33 IP, 2 ER, 20 H, 3 BB, 30K, 0 HR, an 0.54 ERA, a WHIP of .690 and an opponents' line of .171/.192/.214.

One thing that the Yankees have going for them is that it would be awfully tough for him to be as good as he was in Game 1. A complete game with no earned runs, six hits, no walks and 10 strikeouts is about as good as it gets against this line up. And the fact that they have seen him recently should help them anticipate some of his tendencies. On the other hand, this time the bottom of the order will consist of Brett Gardner, Jose Molina and A.J. Burnett, at least at first.

Another thing the Yankees have going for them is A.J. Burnett. The owner of the best starting pitching performance for the Yankees in this World Series, Burnett will be making a start on short rest for the first time in the postseason and only the fourth time in his career in general.

In Game 2 against the Phillies, Burnett was outstanding, throwing seven innings of one run ball while striking out 9 and allowing only 6 baserunners. Mariano Rivera threw two innings in relief that night to hold the Phillies to one run total, but it remains to be seen if Girardi will feel comfortable asking Mo for two innings should the need arise. Likely, Burnett will need to be every bit as good to beat Cliff Lee and the Phillies.

The Yanks are tantalizingly close to a World Series victory. But the toughest game they are going to face will be tonight. Burnett's last start was at home as opposed to the unfriendly confines of Citizens Bank Park. And this time he'll be hitting behind his personal catcher, Jose Molina.

Should the Series head back to New York, the Yankees will have to wait two days to start a 37 year old Andy Pettitte on short rest in Game 6. This one isn't over. Not by a long shot.

Let's go Yanks.

(This song doesn't have any lyrics, but if you listen to the main theme that Derek Trucks repeats on his guitar as a chorus of sorts, it sounds like the title of the tune)