Back when I was a high school tennis player in New Jersey in the mid- to late-'90s, the most grievous offense that an opposing coach could commit was to engage in what we used to call "stacking" his lineup. A team's best player was supposed to play first singles, its next-best player was supposed to play second singles, and so on. Once in a while a nefarious coach would put someone who looked as comfortable with a tennis racket as
Stacking, of course, is far from illegal in postseason baseball, but what Angels manager
Lackey, who turns 31 on Friday, also has experience pitching in potential elimination games such as this one. In 2002, when he was a rookie just four days past his 24th birthday, he won Game 7 of the World Series against the Giants, allowing four hits and one earned run over five innings. Burnett's playoff experience consists of the two starts he has made during this postseason -- both wins, yes, but both of which came after
On Wednesday, Lackey, who is at times the prototype of the laconic Texan, stressed that he would the following day face a different situation than he did seven years ago. Back then, he said, "I was just trying to help out the older guys and not mess it up, you know. Now I'm kind of one of those older guys that needs to step up and needs to help lead this team to another game. It's definitely a different feeling."
It will certainly be a different feeling for the 32-year-old Burnett, an emotional pitcher who has never before been asked to perform under this sort of pressure. Burnett can often be virtually unhittable, as he was in innings one through four of last Saturday's Game 2. But he can also fall into spells in which he struggles not only to throw strikes, but to throw the ball anywhere near the plate, as he did in a fifth inning on Saturday in which he threw 33 pitches -- 18 strikes and 15 balls -- and allowed four base runners, though only two runs.
Scioscia expressed his hope on Wednesday that innings like last Saturday's fifth will come quickly for his offense in Game 5. "We need to get out there early," he said. "Get some early runs. Get some leads, and then hold them. I think that's the only template that's going to work against a team like the Yankees."
If Burnett pitches as well as he is able, that template will prove to be as easy to follow as is the one for winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Lackey at his best is no match for Burnett at his best. When he's on, Burnett requires only two pitches -- a 94 mph fastball and an 82 mph curve (he throws one of those two pitches about 94 percent of the time) -- to be as dominant as anyone in baseball. The bone-dry, 78-degree weather in Anaheim, as opposed to the 47-degree, intermittently rainy conditions with which he had to contend last Saturday in the Bronx, should work to his benefit. "I look forward to the weather, pitching down here and breaking a good sweat, for sure," he said on Wednesday.
Still, for the Angels to have any chance in Game 5, Lackey will not only have to outpitch Burnett, but clearly outpitch him, as L.A. cannot count on a bullpen that cumulatively had the AL's sixth-worst ERA (4.45) during the regular season, and allowed six earned runs in five innings in Game 4, to hold the Yankees' ferocious offense at bay for any length of time.
Girardi, though, demonstrated that at least one part of his brain was looking past the Angels to the World Series, where the Phillies await, with the very first sentence he spoke at his press conference. "I think it's important to try to close series out when you can, because, you know, if you're able to do it, it allows you to set up your pitching," he said. Girardi is likely already envisioning a Sabathia-
One can't blame him. The thing about stacking high school tennis lineups was that it never came close to working against teams that were manifestly more talented than yours -- teams that, as
Even if Lackey outduels Burnett tonight, the Yankees would have a clear advantage in a potential Game 6, when