Monday, October 18, 2010
Hey, it's tough times in the Bronx
By Jim Caple ESPN.com
NEW YORK -- Darn. If this keeps up, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg may have to change his ticker-tape parade route a little. Like, perhaps begin it in Texas.
Still, New York may be down 2-1 in this series after Monday's 8-0 loss to Texas, but momentum in baseball is only as good as your starting pitcher so the Yankees can turn everything around very quickly. Here's how:
Plan A: Cliff Lee files for free agency and signs a $150 million contract with New York before Game 7.
Andy Pettitte suffered the loss in Game 3 despite allowing only two runs in seven innings.
Plan B: An infestation of bedbugs in Lee's hotel room. (Hey, the midges worked with Joba Chamberlain.)
And then there's Plan C, perhaps the most outrageous and remote possibility of all: A.J. Burnett pitches well in Game 4. Burnett is 1-7 with a 6.61 ERA in his past 12 starts and due to a combination of his recent struggles and baseball's ludicrous postseason schedule, he hasn't pitched in 17 days. Manager Joe Girardi, however, keeps insisting Burnett will pitch Game 4 no matter how many times the New York media asks him while hoping for a different response. This is basically how the line of questioning has been going before and after the past couple games and Sunday's workout:
Reporter No. 1: Do you still plan to start A.J. in Game 4?
Reporter No. 2: No, seriously. You're not really going to start him are you?
But you never know. Maybe Burnett will pitch a good game. He's certainly capable. He held the Rangers scoreless for seven innings back in April and his start against them in September (two runs in four innings) was one of his few non-losses in the past couple months. And whenever the media is so certain of one thing, you know just the opposite will occur.
Of course, it won't matter much unless the Yankees get their offense going as well. Take away the eighth inning in Game 1 and New York has three runs and 14 hits in the other 26 innings this series.
Then again, that includes eight innings against Lee, who is on the sort of superlative postseason roll seldom seen by anyone not named Bob Gibson or Sandy Koufax. You know a pitcher is going pretty well when the home fans not only give their batter a standing ovation for drawing a walk (Mark Teixeira in the fourth), they give a standing ovation for running the count full (Nick Swisher, also in the fourth). The crowd practically shook the stadium when Brett Gardner's blooper fell for a single in the fifth inning for the first hit off Lee.
"The difficult thing is you go up there saying you want to be aggressive and want to work the count but when he's locating like he was tonight, you can't necessarily do that because they're his pitches,'' New York center fielder Curtis Granderson said. "You talk about 'pitcher's pitches' and if guys swing at those throughout the game they're going to be quick, easy outs. And that's exactly what Cliff Lee wants you to do.''
The Yankees had only one scoring opportunity against Lee and that was in the sixth inning when Gardner led off with a single up the middle and quickly stole second. Derek Jeter, however, struck out to leave Gardner at second base and Swisher and Teixeira followed with groundouts to end the inning.
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The game still was tense -- Andy Pettitte, trying for his 20th postseason victory, matched Lee after allowing a two-run homer to Josh Hamilton in the first inning -- until New York's bullpen performed the neat trick of transforming Yankee Stadium into Dodger Stadium. Fans flooded out of the ballpark in the top of the ninth inning when Texas scored six runs off New York's previously unscathed relievers, five off David Robertson. By the bottom of the inning there were so few fans left that it looked as though the Yankees had raised ticket prices again.
"Traffic is pretty bad getting out of here, I'm sure,'' Texas pitcher C.J. Wilson noted wryly.
It was the 21st time the Yankees have been shut out in 360 postseason games, and the eight-run margin of defeat was the worst shutout loss they've ever had.
So the Yankees will need to win three of the remaining four games, including at least one game in Texas. Scheduled Game 5 starter CC Sabathia has allowed nine runs in 10 innings this postseason, while Game 6 starter Phil Hughes gave up six runs in four-plus innings Saturday. But, heck, somebody had to be down 2-1 after Game 3, and if they can run off three consecutive wins, they won't have to face Lee again.
"I don't think we are in trouble,'' Girardi insisted. "As I said, we are a good club and we are down 2-1. We are not down 3-0 and losing in the bottom of the ninth. We are losing two games to one. You go out and play a good game tomorrow, you feel a lot different."
Plus, there was some good news Monday. By giving up those six runs in the ninth inning to turn a tense, wonderful postseason classic into a rout, the Yankees kept Lee from throwing another inning, adding to his pitch count and potentially damaging the arm they will be bidding on so heavily this offseason. An offseason that might come sooner than they or Bloomberg planned.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.