Blogniks and the more hyperbolic writers out there have been writing since roughly about 6½ seconds after the Yankees won the AL pennant, that the Yankees Must Win Game 1! It’s the most important game!!! A Must Win!!
I disagree. I believe the most important game has already been played. It was pitched by Andy Pettitte on Sunday night.
Pettitte’s win allowed the Yankees the ability to not only start their ace, CC Sabathia, for game 1. But it allowed them to use him 3 times if necessary.
Much as the Diamondbacks rode their ace Curt Schilling in 2001 for 3 starts—Schilling pitched 21.1 innings that series, giving up 4 runs—and Randy Johnson, the Yankees should ride the hot hand they have, namely Sabathia, for 3 starts if necessary.
Had Pettitte lost, and Sabathia been forced to pitch game 7 of the ALCS, the Yankees would have been forced to perform rain dances all over Yankee Stadium and praying to Tlaloc, the Aztec God of Rain (sans the child sacrifices, of course). That’s because, without any rain outs, the earliest Sabathia could have pitched would have been game 3 on Saturday. He then could have pitched game 6, assuming there was a game 6. And that’s about it.
Nothing against A.J. Burnett—and by that I mean the Good A.J., not Bad A.J. Problem is you just never know which one is going to show up: the guy who, in his first two postseason games threw 12 innings of 3 run ball, with 10 Ks, or the guy who coughed up 6 earned runs in 6 innings his last time out—4 of those earned runs before he recorded an out.
Andy Pettitte, who has a reputation as a big game pitcher—think game 5 of the 1996 World Series—but who has occasionally been shelled when it mattered in the postseason—Game 6 of the 2001 World Series—is definitely an above average big-game pitcher. He’s been there, done that, and has generally performed with quality starts. But I would stop short of calling him a dominator and an ace on par with Sabathia or Schilling circa 2001.
No, for the Yankees to really match up against the Phillies, they needed Sabathia to take the mound against Cliff Lee tonight. Then if the Yankees are down in the series1-2 or 0-3, Sabathia can come back on short rest for game 4. If the Yankees are up 3-0, its possible Girardi could go to Chad Gaudin for 5 innings or so (he threw a simulated game yesterday at Yankee Stadium), giving Sabathia his normal rest. But that would be a luxury—and as it turns out, maybe not even that. See, Chad Gaudin is not nearly as strong against lefties as he is against righties. And guess which side of the plate the strength of the Phillies lineup saddles up to? That’s right; Gaudin would have to face lefties, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Raul Ibanez and co. in a hostile environment of Philadelphia. Feel a little scared? I do. If we see Chad Gaudin at any point except as a luxury game 4 starter, the Yankees are in trouble.
In any case, the worst hasn’t happened. Thanks to Andy Pettitte, Sabathia is available for 3 games. And with Sabathia on the mound, the Yankees are in a good position. The prediction: Yanks in 7.