Game 5 gameplan backfires on Yanks

A.J. Burnett was atrocious last night. There’s no other way to describe it. He settled down in the first after Dave Eiland gave him an earful, but he fell back into his wild ways before long. With none out in the third inning the Yankees found themselves in a tough spot. They’d have to piece together the game from a bullpen that has failed in the postseason where it thrived during the regular season.

That’s on Burnett. He wanted the ball on short rest in Game 5, and the Yankees decided that was the best tactic. Yet it was clear from the first inning that Burnett didn’t have what he had in Game 2. He left fastballs up in the zone, signaling a mechanical issue. We’ve seen it plenty of times during the 2009 season. Against a lesser team, maybe Burnett gets away with it and makes his way through six innings. Against the Phillies, that wasn’t happening.

In the New York media market, the blame will flow. Some will blame Burnett for not being mentally tough enough to put away the Phillies. Most will blame Girardi and the Yankees organization (because I don’t think Girardi made the decision alone). There was an alternative tactic which would have led to the same result, but would have left the Yankees with their top three pitchers ready to pitch in the final two games. In terms of results, the decision didn’t work out. There’s no denying that.

Does the bad result mean the Yankees made a bad decision? While that’s a question that requires thought and reflection, I’m sure many people already have an answer in mind. It’s either yes, the Yankees made the right move and it backfired, or no, the Yankees made a poor decision and paid for it. In scenarios like this the answer is never black and white, though the result points towards the Yankees making a bad decision.

In order to determine if it was a bad decision, however, we have to rewind to Sunday, before the start of Game 4. That is when the Yankees made the decision to start Burnett in Game 5. The decision was made without knowing that the Yankees would take a 3-1 series lead that night. That’s a wrench in the argument that the Yankees should have started Gaudin when up 3-1 — they would have had to decide it before they had that information.

Since there was time to run an end around after Game 4, let’s explore that path. The Yankees take Game 4, going up 3-1 in the series. Next up is Cliff Lee, followed by Pedro Martinez and then J.A. Happ or Cole Hamels. If the Yankees changed plans after Game 4, they would have lined up their worst starter, Chad Gaudin, against the Phillies best. They then would have had Burnett on five days’ rest against Pedro Martinez on the same, with both Andy Pettitte and CC Sabathia ready for a possible Game 7. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

Here’s a statement I think we can all agree on: Chad Gaudin could have done what Burnett did in Game 5. We’re able to agree on this statement because we have the benefit of hindsight. But let’s say Gaudin did post the two-plus innings, six-runs line, and the Yankees still lost 8-6. The results would have been the same, except under that scenario the Yankees are going back to New York with their three best pitchers ready to go. Put that way, it sounds like a better scenario.

Mike put it well in the postgame reaction. “AJ Burnett completely crapped the bed, which had little to do with short rest and almost everything to do with the fact that he’s AJ Burnett.” What if Burnett had this kind of game in Game 6? That could force a Game 7, something the Yankees surely don’t want to face after being up three games to one. If they had punted Game 5 and then Burnett folded in Game 6 as he did last night, that’s where they’d find themselves.

Coming into the playoffs, it was clear the Yankees had a strategy, and that was to ride their best arms as long as they could. Until Game 5, it had worked. The Yankees had used Sabathia, Burnett, Pettitte, and Rivera to cover 84 percent of the team’s postseason innings. Going with Burnett was a tactic consistent with that strategy. If they’d gone with Gaudin, it would have been altering the strategy because they felt comfortable with a 3-1 lead. In the World Series, no team should feel comfortable.

As the game played out, the tactic backfired. The strategy, however, remains strong. They knew that losing tonight was a possibility, but it was a possibility they’d be able to stomach knowing that their other two best pitchers, Pettitte and Sabathia, are waiting to take the ball. That’s the point. Even if the Phillies win a game or two, the Yankees still have their best guys waiting.

I know a lot of smart people who endorsed Gaudin for the Game 5 start, so I’ve given serious thought to the tactic. Each time I think about it, though, I’m less and less convinced. Even the morning after, I still think it was the right call to go with Burnett. Altering a strategy that works is hardly ever a good idea, especially when the alteration makes your team weaker. The Yanks made the right call. Unfortunately, as happens many times, it didn’t work out. Thankfully, the Yankees had planned for this.

(There’s obviously a question of Pettitte pitching on three days’ rest, but that’s another story, one we’ll surely discuss in the next two days.)

Playing the blame game as late rally falls short

With two on and out, with the top of the order up and the Yanks facing just a three-run deficit, we wanted to believe that the World Series would end on Monday night. But while the Yanks whittled away the Phillies’ six-run lead to just a two-run gap, they couldn’t overcome those final two runs.

And so as the World Series heads back to New York for a Game 6 match-up against two unannounced pitchers probably named Andy Pettitte and Pedro Martinez, let’s play the blame game.

A.J. Burnett
Staked to a 1-0 lead in the first, A.J. Burnett could not hold the Phillies. Pitching on short rest, he had no command early, and Bad A.J. reared his heard. He gave up a hit to Jimmy Rollins, and then he hit Shane Victorino with a fastball flush on the right index finger. The next pitch was a fastball, 94 miles per hour and right down the middle of the plate. The ultra-hot Chase Utley deposited it into the right field seats, and the Phillies had a 3-1 lead.

“It was supposed to be a sinker away,” Burnett later said of this key pitch, “but it ran right back over the middle.”

Not only did it not sink, but it wasn’t close to being outside of the strike zone. Burnett settled down for six outs, but in the third, he fell apart. Walk, walk, single, single. The Yanks found themselves down 5-1, and Burnett found himself on the bench. After just 53 pitches, Burnett’s Game 5 was over. Because he threw so few pitches, he could be available for bullpen work on Wednesday or Thursday. Whether the Yanks would go to him is another question altogether.

After the game, Burnett talked about the Yanks’ braintrust’s decision to start him on three days’ rest. The short rest, he said, had no bearing on his stuff. “I felt strong,” he said. “It’s just a matter of locating pitches. I didn’t throw strikes, there really isn’t much else to say.”

The results bore him out. His velocity was there; his break was there; the results were not. On a night when Cliff Lee didn’t have his best stuff, when the Yanks tagged him for five runs and ten baserunners, A.J. could not get the job done. Goat Number One.

Phil Coke
We didn’t know the Yanks would mount a last-gasp rally in the 8th and 9th. We didn’t know the Yanks would twice send the tying run to the plate in the 9th. And so, down by six runs, Joe Girardi did during Game 5 what he almost did during Game 4: He gave the ball to Phil Coke.

Coke was flat out awful. Chase Utley hit a 3-2 fastball — another 94-mph job right down the middle — over the fence in right-center field for his Reggie Jackson-tying fifth home run of the World Series. After retiring Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth, Coke faced Raul Ibañez. Although Ibañez hits lefties better than righties, although Joe Girardi manages by his ever-important Book, Coke stayed in the game. Ibañez, a non-factor so far this series, belted a 420-foot home run deep into the night. It was an 8-2 game, and Coke was gone.

Later, Coke would seemingly shake it off. “I want the ball again tomorrow,” he said. “That’s all I’m thinking about.”

He can have the ball tomorrow for the Yankees do not play tomorrow. On Wednesday, though, if the Yanks have a lead or are within striking distance of the Phillies, you can bet that Damaso Marte, Joba Chamberlain or the seemingly redeemed Phil Hughes will be handed that baseball.

We could argue the fallacy of the predetermined outcome all night long. If the Yanks mount their comeback and if Phil Coke gets the job done, then the Yankees tie the game on Derek Jeter‘s ill-timed double play. Instead, Phil Coke struck back. Goat Number Two.

Derek Jeter
Dare I suggest that Derek Jeter deserves some criticism for his play tonight? Dare I throw the Captain under the Game 5 bus?

As a leadoff hitter, Jeter went 1 for 5 and saw just 16 pitches. With two on and no out in the top of the 9th, he was the tying run. He got ahead of Ryan Madson 2-0 and then took a pitch he should have shellacked. On the next ball, he bounced into a tailor-made 6-4-3 double play. Although a run would score, the Yanks could not overcome that failure. We saw “past a diving Jeter” twice on key plays, and we saw the captain, a former Mr. November, not come through when he was needed the most. While Mark Teixeira left four runners on and struck out as the tying run to end the game, Derek deflated us when we were at our highest. For that, he gets the Goat Number Three hat.

And so here we are. The Yankees come back home for one final home stand. They were the best team at home this year, and all they have to do is win one game. Let’s put this one behind us, sit out an off-day and go get ‘em on Wednesday.

World Series coming back to the Bronx after Yanks drop Game Five

Our full recap will be up a little, so this will have to hold you over.

AJ Burnett completely crapped the bed, which had little to do with short rest and almost everything to do with the fact that he’s AJ Burnett. Phil Coke was somehow worse in garbage time. At least Al Aceves and Phil Hughes got some work in.

Cliff Lee wasn’t as good as he was in Game One, but he was still pretty good. The Yanks did their best to rally late, but fell just short. It was a valiant effort boys, now go get ‘em on Wednesday.

Oh, and the O”Neill Theory is in full effect.

World Series Game Five Spillover Thread V

Time to just stop pitching to Utley all together. Howard’s been completely useless this series.