Yankees' reliance on short rest is costly

Tim Brown
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Photo

The Yankees' A.J. Burnett was pulled in the third inning.

(US Presswire)

Worst World Series starts this decade

Name Team Year IP H ER
A.J. Burnett Yankees 2009 2.0 4 6
Josh Fogg Rockies 2007 2.2 10 6
Woody Williams Cardinals 2004 2.1 8 7
Russ Ortiz Giants 2002 1.2 9 7
Andy Pettitte Yankees 2001 2.0 7 6

PHILADELPHIA – And then there'd be the downside to pitching on three days' rest.

The string-straight, waist-high fastballs.

The wandering curveballs.

The baserunners and the line drives.

The inability to make any of it stop.

The uneasy trip back up the turnpike, the series still undecided, the opposing hitters back on their game, another starter on three days' rest to come, and maybe two.

They can't all be CC, as Charlie Manuel – and now Joe Girardi – would attest.

And now that we know A.J. Burnett(notes) is no CC Sabathia(notes), the New York Yankees can only hope Andy Pettitte(notes) is no A.J. Burnett after the 8-6 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies. Manuel has played this thing from the start like it was going to go seven games, and now he's got at least six, so getting there, with Pedro Martinez(notes) up next in the Bronx.

With a chance to finish the series here and not risk even one more day of Chase Utley(notes) and the rest of the Phillies' lineup, Burnett on Monday night kept the Yankees in Game 5 of the World Series for about 20 minutes.

He gave up as many hits – four – in two-plus innings as he had over seven innings of Game 2. He gave up six runs, which the Yankees would score against Cliff Lee(notes) given two games. He gave up any chance of the Yankees taking out the Phillies in four games over five nights, no mess, no mercy, just like that.

The furniture in the visitors' clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park had been carried into another room. Sheets of plastic were rolled and attached to the ceiling with zip ties. No. 27 waited, just like that, suspended over their heads.

“I just feel like I let a lot of guys down,” Burnett said after his worst start as a Yankee. “It's the worst feeling in the world, to have a chance to do something special and fail like that. … I feel like I let the city down.”

It was spectacular, give it that. A single, a walk, the requisite Utley home run in the first inning. Then, four batters in the third without an out, and a slow walk to the dugout. Philly back in it, a puncher's chance again, their season pushed out for two more days. Oh, the Yankees would rally, would get to Lee a little and then get into the Phillies' bullpen and get everybody staring at the bullpen door, wondering how Manuel would close it.

While Game 6 ended loudly (and somewhat dramatically) with Ryan Madson(notes) drawing a double-play grounder from Derek Jeter(notes) and striking out Mark Teixeira(notes), it all but died at 6-1, Phillies, in the third inning.

“I took us out of it,” Burnett said, “from the get-go.”

These starts on short rest by these men of routine, they are moving targets. Unconvinced Lee could alter his between-starts habits and be effective, Manuel withstood criticism, fell into a three-games-to-one deficit, then got a reasonable start out of Lee in Game 5. He'll hear it again if the Phillies take the series to a seventh game and Lee, who threw 112 pitches Monday, isn't much of a help in it.

Due to their schedule, Sabathia's seeming ease with short rest, and the fact they don't have any great options, the Yankees appear wed to as many as four consecutive starts by pitchers with short rest – Sabathia in Game 4, Burnett in Game 5, presumably Pettitte in Game 6 and Sabathia again in Game 7.

It's one thing to volunteer, another to produce.

Pettitte, 37, isn't the type to pass up a chance like this, a potential clincher at Yankee Stadium. Girardi wouldn't make it official late Monday night, though Pettitte threw an abbreviated bullpen session without incident.

Martinez will go on regular rest. On his way out of the Phillies' clubhouse Monday, he smiled and said, “See you manana.” And was obviously pleased there would be a manana.

The Phillies would view that as their doing. They'd see it as Lee going seven strong before softening in the eighth. They'd see it as their eight runs, their offensive energy, a refusal of defending World Series champions to go quietly.

Do or die, they said, over and over.

And then Burnett arrived, just a little off, and they took full advantage.

He said it wasn't the rest, or lack thereof. He'd gone on three days before and he'd been fine, strong, sharp. He'd been, in fact, 4-0 with a 2.33 ERA on three days' rest in his career.

“I felt good,” he said. “I just didn't get it done. I just couldn't get the ball where I wanted to.”

His fastball, he said, drifted to the middle of the plate, and into their bat barrels. His curveball, he said, “was rolling up there, kinda.”

Four days after pitching one of the best games of his life, he had nothing to rely on. And so, for the moment, neither did any of them.

He sighed. One got away. Maybe a big one.

“I never put it together, man,” he said.