PHILADELPHIA - The Phillies got their split in New York and are back home for the next three games. So why does it feel as if this World Series could be shifting the Yankees' way?
The answer lies in the starting pitching matchups — or, at least in the Yankees' case, the potential matchups, as manager Joe Girardi didn't formally announce anything beyond Andy Pettitte in Game 3 on Saturday night.
But no matter how you shuffle the possibilities for the rest of the series, it keeps coming up Yankees.
Maybe it's simply a matter of whose ace will get to pitch three times instead of two. And half of that equation was answered Friday by Phillies manager Charlie Manuel.
There will be no Game 4 start on three days rest for Cliff Lee, who dominated the Yankees in Game 1, and is on arguably the greatest postseason pitching run in history: 3-0, 0.54 earned-run average, two complete-game victories in four starts, 33 1/3 innings pitched, 20 hits, three walks, 30 strikeouts.
So why not bring back Lee on short rest for Game 4 — and potentially again in Game 7 — especially considering the other possibilities (more on that later)? Just because Lee never has done it before? Apparently, that's enough of a deterrent in Manuel's mind — even though Lee said he would do whatever is asked.
"He's thrown 265 innings (this season), and he's never pitched on three days rest," Manuel said. "And I like him in Game 5, because with the off-day (on Tuesday), if the series goes seven games, that would be his bullpen day, and he might be able to pitch (in Game 7 for a couple of innings). But I don't think he's ready for it on three days' rest. That's really pushing him because he's never done it before."
If Manuel had looked it up, the record shows pitchers on three days' rest in the postseason for the most part have been terrible. But the Yankees saw those same numbers — 20-34, 4.65 ERA — ignored them and decided to throw CC Sabathia on three days' rest in the American League championship series. The result? A dominating victory for Sabathia. So there is no official announcement yet, but the full expectation is that Sabathia will be back in Game 4 after pitching with a week's rest in Game 1.
"CC pitched consistently on three days' rest last year (actually, four times)," Manuel said. "There's a big difference. Plus, CC is big, and I think that plays a part in it. But Cliff never has done it."
But first things first — the matchup of Cole Hamels and Andy Pettitte in what could be the series' pivotal game. Last year's National League championship series and World Series MVP against the pitcher with the most postseason wins in history (16). But last year's Hamels has only shown up on occasion in 2009, and not at all lately. His postseason numbers: 1-1, 6.75 ERA, .328 opponents batting average in three starts.
Meanwhile, Pettitte has done this a few times before. This is World Series No. 8 for him. And this postseason has been exactly the kind Yankees general manager Brian Cashman brought Pettitte back for: 2-0, 2.37 ERA in three starts. In other words, there will be nothing that surprises or rattles him on the Citizens Bank Park mound.
"I know that if you give up more than a couple — two, three runs — you're going to take a loss, or you're going to get a no-decision," Pettitte said. "You just figure that's the way it's going to be."
And if the Yankees win Game 3, the Phillies fall into a big hole.
Rather than another showdown with Lee in Game 4, Sabathia will face right-hander Joe Blanton (12-8, 4.05), who you can argue wasn't a better choice for this start than rookie left-hander J.A. Happ. Those two were the most consistent starters all season for Manuel, with Happ putting up numbers (12-4, 2.93) that could win him the NL Rookie of the Year award.
But with Lee and Pedro Martinez around, Happ and Blanton have been relegated to the bullpen this postseason, with Happ being little more than a situational left-hander. Blanton has been here before — 2-0 last postseason, including a World Series victory — and Happ hasn't. But left-handers match up more favorably against the Yankees, as managers most often turn around switch-hitters Mark Teixeira and Jorge Posada to the right side.
Manuel's explanation: "Blanton fits for us because I think we want to keep Happ in the bullpen, especially in the middle where he could go some innings. Plus, Joe pitched in the World Series last year, and has a bit more experience."
A 2-2 series still looks favorable from the Yankees' point of view because no matter what happens in Game 5, the Yankees will be going home for the final two games, and won't have to face Lee any more (other than in a potential Game 7 relief appearance).
And up 3-1, the Yankees can tinker with their rotation and set it up even more to their advantage. They could drop in Chad Gaudin in Game 5 in an unfavorable matchup with Lee, but that would set up this scenario for the final two games:
A.J. Burnett on regular rest in Game 6 (likely against Pedro Martinez again), then the option of going with Sabathia on three days' rest or Pettitte on full rest in Game 7 (likely against the struggling Hamels).
"It all depends on what the starter does,'' Pettitte said. "In my eyes, that's what it all comes down to."
And the starting pitching matchups appear to favor the Yankees at this point.
Q: What do you think of the new managers hired this week — Manny Acta in Cleveland and Brad Mills in Houston?
— Robbie Smith, Kalamazoo, Mich.
A: The two hirings were tied together, as Acta turned down the Astros' offer of a two-year deal — rightfully, in my opinion — because he wanted three years instead. And that's when the Indians stepped in and gave Acta what he wanted, and the Astros in turn chose Mills.
A two-year deal just isn't enough security for a new manager, as he will be facing potential lame-duck status in only his second year on the job. Fortunately for Acta, the Indians were willing to make that three-year commitment.
Acta has been highly regarded in baseball circles since before his two-year tenure in Washington, where he had little chance with a talent-short roster and two GMs — the first (Jim Bowden) who made a mess for the second (Mike Rizzo) to clean up.
So don't let Acta's 158-252 record fool you. He is regarded as a strong communicator, and despite his young age (40), gained plenty of managing experience in the minors and in the Dominican Republic before the Nationals gig.
Mills is a detail-oriented, highly organized veteran baseball man who managed in the minors for three different organizations before joining former college teammate Terry Francona in Boston.
He is legendary for plotting entire spring-training workout schedules, right down to the last detail, and should bring a more-professional and improved-fundamentals approach to the Astros.
After all he has done in the majors and minors, he deserves a shot at this point in his career.
Q: I'm assuming the Cardinals will let Rick Ankiel go in the offseason. Do you agree, and do you think he'll find another team?
— Aaron Krawitz, Columbia, Mo.
A: I'd say chances are better than 50-50 that Ankiel has played his last game for the Cardinals. And those odds will increase if the Cardinals are able to convince Matt Holliday to stay put, rather than take what certainly will be a bigger offer if the New York or Los Angeles teams enter his free-agent picture, as expected.
Ankiel lost at-bats after Holliday's acquisition from the A's, and he wasn't happy about it. He really never appeared to be the same hitter after he injured his shoulder running into an outfield wall in early May and spending time on the disabled list. So a change of scenery may be the best thing for him.
He's only 30, and given his solid 2008 numbers (.264-25-71 in 413 at-bats) and a return to full health, Ankiel could become a regular center fielder in the right place.
He has 30-homer power and arguably the strongest throwing arm among big-league center fielders. Those two tools will get him an opportunity elsewhere, even though he probably never will hit much for average, and isn't a very patient hitter.
Q: In your opinion, in the 1986 World Series, do you think Mookie Wilson beats Bill Buckner to the bag if Buckner had made the play cleanly? And has a poll of major-league players ever been conducted on this play? A dinner rides on your answer.
— Steve Whitfield, North Plainfield, N.J.
A: Keep in mind I wasn't covering major-league baseball at that point, wasn't at that game, and only can recall it from the nine zillion times the replay has been shown on television.
But I was able to ask two writers who did cover that game, and their recollections matched up perfectly. Buckner was playing at normal depth, and had he cleanly fielded the ball hit near the line, he would have had time to beat Wilson to the bag. And if not, the pitcher should have been able to get over and cover.
In other words, the play wasn't anything out of the ordinary to make — and it should have been the final out in what turned out to be a fateful inning.