“Good” A.J. To The Rescue

October 30, 2009 – 11:40 am

NYY 3, Philadelphia 1. In another very good pitchers’ duel, this time the Yankees came out on top. In fact, it was almost a mirror image of Game One but with the outcome reversed. This time it was “Good” A.J. Burnett with the nasty stuff, and Pedro Martinez trying to match up with him. But like CC Sabathia the previous night, Pedro gave up two solo home runs that ultimately were the difference. Mark Teixeira briefly emerged from his post-season slump to tie the game in the fourth with a lead-off homer. And then two innings later, Martinez had struck out Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez to start off the inning, and was one pitch away from striking out the side when Hideki Matsui hit another solo shot that would ultimately prove to be the game winner. Matsui has quietly been one of the most consistent parts of the inconsistent post-season offense, now having at least one hit in 8 of the 11 games so far.

Good A.J. Shows UpThe real hero of the game, though, was certainly A.J. Burnett. Having lost the home opener, this was clearly a “must” win, and with the Yankee offense still AWOL for the most part, A.J. came through with one of his best outings of the year. His stats — 1 run on 4 hits with 9 strike outs over 7 innings — really don’t do justice to the way he was dominating the Phillies. Just ask Ryan Howard, who struck out all four times. And most importantly, Burnett was able to get through seven innings and thus hand the game off to Mariano Rivera for yet another 2-inning save. With the Yankee bullpen unpredictability of late, that was yet another big key to winning this one.

And let’s not overlook Joe Girardi’s managing. It also has been erratic, but this time he pulled all the right strings. With the Yankee offense struggling, he was under at least some pressure to use Jorge Posada rather than Burnett’s preferred catcher, Jose Molina. But the post-season is all about pitching — you need no better evidence than the first two games of this series — and so you always tilt any decision towards what will give you the best pitching. And sure enough, it was Burnett who turned out to be the key to this win, not the offense. And let’s not overlook the fact that the only time the Phillies got the lead-off batter on base when Jason Werth singled to start the fourth, Molina quickly picked him off.

And there was also the decision to sit down Nick Swisher and play Jerry Hairston instead. That one caught a lot of flack as well, but sheez, look at the stats. Swisher’s post-season BA is all of .114. And as Girardi pointed out, Hairston had a good history against Martinez (8-for-24 with a .907 OPS). And sure enough, in the seventh Hairston got a lead-off single that eventually turned in to a valuable insurance run. Playing Hairston was a good decision, and sure enough it paid off nicely.

So now it’s off to Phillie, where it’s now a 5-game series with home field advantage to Philadelphia. From an optimistic perspective, the Yankees overcame a loss in an unbeatable performance by Cliff Lee and got two excellent starts from their first two pitchers. Of course the Phillies can pretty much say the same thing — losing only because of an unbeatable performance by Burnett and getting great starts from their top two. So far it’s been all about the pitching — in spite of the fact that these two teams led the MLB in offense this year. At some point, one team is going to break through offensively, and that could end up being the deciding factor. Could that break through come from none other than Alex Rodriguez, who is so far 0-for-8 with 6 strike outs? All of a sudden the spot light is going to be back on poor A-Rod, I suspect. Let’s see how he does this time.

Photo: Yahoo Sports

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