Jon Heyman
Sunday November 1st, 2009

PHILADELPHIA -- It wasn't more than one week ago that one NL scout claimed it looked like Yankees manager Joe Girardi was "managing scared, like he's afraid to lose his job'' and accusations of overmanaging were coming from all quarters (including this one). But Girardi looks Northwestern smart today.

If it's possible to manage a perfect game, Girardi may have done that in Game 3 of the World Series, and after the Yankees' 8-5 victory, they hold a 2-1 lead in games and an excellent chance to move Sunday within a game of their 27th world championship. For Game 4 Sunday night, Girardi is calling upon ace CC Sabathia, who will be opposing known Yankee patsy Joe Blanton, whose 0-3 record and 8.18 lifetime ERA vs. New York has Yankees people excited.

Girardi managed his bullpen perfectly in Game 3, employing Joba Chamberlain a full inning and resisting any temptation to call upon a left-hander to face Phillies star Chase Utley after two were out and nobody on, choosing the resurgent Damaso Marte to pitch an all-important perfect eight inning, giving struggling Phil Hughes one more chance to resurrect himself against the bottom of the Phillies' order and (more importantly) just enough rope while keeping to his promise to himself to limit Mariano Rivera's evening. Rivera rapped things up in five pitches after Hughes threw what one Yankee deemed a "dumb pitch'' to Carlos Ruiz, an over-the-plate 1-and-1 fastball to a hitter who seems to feast only on fastballs.

Girardi's best move, though, might have been to stick with Nick Swisher, who's looked lost at the plate this October and whose struggles inspired Girardi to reach for Jerry Hairston Jr. in Game 2 against Pedro Martinez, thanks to Hairston's 10-for-26 record vs. Pedro, all built five years ago or more. With no DH here at Citizens Bank Park, as much a power haven or more than new Yankee Stadium, Girardi eagerly got Swisher back in the lineup, and he responded with a rally-starting double and a home run in the Yankees victory.

Girardi's faith never wavered in Swisher through a strong of sickly swings. Yankees GM Brian Cashman said Girardi "absolutely knows he's got to put the best players on the field'' and resist the temptation to bench the cold hands. "The guys did the job all year,'' Girardi said. "I have faith in the guys. If managers benched me everytime I messed up, I would have had one very short career.''

Girardi has the advantage of a star-studded $200 million roster at his disposal, but he and the Yankees aren't brawn over brains. One scout credited Andy Pettitte, who weathered a start Saturday night in which he was "drifting ... letting his body drag'' and "missing his spots'' early, according to pitching coach Dave Eiland, to outduel 2009 postseason hero Cole Hamels. More impressively, one scout credited Pettitte with "reinventing'' himself at times this postseason by coming up with a two-seam fastball that's kept hitters off balance.

Swisher made an even more dramatic adjustment on the off day, deciding to apply a new wider hitting stance batting coach Kevin Long suggested to limit motion. The result was immediate, and while the switch-hitter Swisher looked improved from both sides, he actually did all his damage from his weaker right side. Swisher may be known as an emotional player ("he was wanting it so bad,'' Cashman said) but by all accounts he used the off day to relax and reinvent himself.

Alex Rodriguez similarly resisted pushing the panic button. A dominant American League playoffs resurrected his postseason rep and carried the Yankees to their 40th World Series, but he opened the Series with a pair of three strikeout performances that raised concerns he could be falling back into an October abyss. "I'm worried about him,'' one Yankee said about A-Rod on the off day.

But Long, a consistent A-Rod cheerleader who's connected with the superstar slugger, said, "He's had a helluva postseason. To panic after two games is asinine. He believes in his ability. There was no panic. He looked at things and determined he was chasing (pitches) in. He wanted to make sure he got pitches that were outside to hit.''

The result was a two-run homer in the fourth that broke up Hamels' no-hitter and cut the Phils' lead to 3-2. The hit -- initially ruled a double but reversed on review -- changed the momentum of the game ... and perhaps that of the Series.

Joe Urbon, the CAA Sports agent for Jason Bay, called his client "the most complete player on the market'' in a phone interview, a startling claim in that the more-celebrated Matt Holliday is also in a free-agent class that's otherwise lacking in-their-prime everyday stars.

Urbon sees Bay and Holliday as ranking high in all five major categories plus clubhouse presence but says the "seventh category'' -- the proven ability to thrive in the toughest division, the AL East -- gives Bay the edge. "Jason first succeeded on a sparse team in a spacious ballpark with no pressure and he did even better on an intense stage in the most difficult division,'' Urbon said.

Holliday's agent, Scott Boras, although he seemed shocked by Urbon's contention, declined to be dragged into a public debate about Bay vs. Holliday when reached Saturday night by phone. But Boras made his feelings clear during the ALCS when he said, "Holliday is the only young complete free agent player available.''

Boras provided statistical data Sunday to back up his claims and contended that the more apt comparison for Holliday is Mark Teixeira, who received a $180 million, eight-year Yankees contract last winter. Boras said, "[Holliday's] numbers the past three years are nearly identical to Mark Teixeira's numbers'' going into his free agency.

In the comparison of Holliday and Bay, while the power and production numbers are close (Holliday is averaging 30 home runs, 110 runs and 112 RBIs over the past four years to Bays' 31, 98 and 103), Holliday has a distinct advantage in batting average (.325 to .272). Holliday was also the cleanup hitter on a playoff team while Bay sometimes batted sixth for one (though he's good enough to bat in the more treasured 3 or 4 spots). The small knocks on Holliday are that he played most of his career in Coors Field (though he actually hit better in Busch Stadium) and wasn't as good his first two months in Oakland before adjusting to playing for an also-ran in an expansive ballpark. But Holliday's .357 second half, most of it as Albert Pujols' lineup protection in St. Louis, makes a great boost heading into free agency.

Holliday carries a sabremetric defensive edge, as well, with a UZR (ultimate zone rating) of plus 5.3 compared to minus 13.9 for Bay. Urbon discounts the defensive metrics, which he said are difficult to counter since they are based on "proprietary information'' and he believes may be biased against players manning Fenway Park's small left field. He pointed out that Bay was the first outfielder to since Carl Yastrzemski to make no errors and lead the league in assists.

Urbon's comment about Bay doing it on the big stage is a worthwhile observation after a productive season and a half in pressure-packed Boston. But to imply he beats Holliday on this score may be a reach. While Holliday's 2009 postseason included a memorable error, he was the main face of the youthful Rockies' incredible late 20-1 run in 2007 run (his all-out, head-first slide that got them into the playoffs is an indelible picture), and he did carry that young team to the World Series as an LCS MVP, something Bay has yet to accomplish.

It's fair to say both stars should benefit from a market where they are by far the two best everyday players (John Lackey is easily the best free-agent pitcher). But it's generally presumed that most teams would favor Holliday, who at 29 is a year younger than Bay, for his slightly higher percentages (his career OPS is .933 to .896 for Bay), better defensive metrics and more obvious gung-ho clubhouse personality (the Mets do favor Holliday, for instance).

Holliday would rather be compared to Teixeira and his known market value of $180 million. Perhaps a more apt comp for Bay could be Alfonso Soriano's $136 million, eight-year contract. But for now, Urbon keeps tying him to Holliday.

"Matt and Jason are going to give you the biggest bang for the buck because they are the least risk,'' Urbon said. "They are multidimensional, consistent, durable productive everyday players who are great in the clubhouse.''

Urbon contends it's not a stretch or a strategy to keep comparing Bay to Holliday. But it certainly can't hurt.

• There is progress being made in talks to return GM Dan O'Dowd and manager Jim Tracy to the Rockies, and it's possible something could be announced regarding contracts for the two men following the World Series. Tracy will almost surely be named NL Manager of the Year while O'Dowd could easily be Executive of the Year. So there was no way the Rockies wanted to let either man go.

• Manuel is taking a big risk by going to Blanton Sunday night in Game 4. "That's good for us,'' one Yankees person said. "We killed him when (Blanton) was in Oakland,'' another noted. Manuel explained that Lee had never pitched in short rest before and that Sabathia is bigger (plus, Sabathia pitched on short rest many times). But the call to bypass Lee until Game 5 would feel better if Manuel had a better option for Game 4. One Phillies person said early Saturday he could see Blanton splitting Game 4 with rookie left-hander J.A. Happ, but that was before Happ was needed in relief in Game 3.

Ryan Howard followed his huge NL playoff performance with a lot of swings and misses. He has now struck out in seven of his last eight at-bats.

• Hamels' rep has taken a hit this postseason, a year after he was World Series MVP. Not only has he posted four mediocre or worse performances, he looked foolish complaining about having to pitch during the day in the NLDS (he happened to be 0-6 in daytime games this year) and throwing a mini on-field fit after an errant Chase Utley throw cost them in Game 1 of the NLCS.

Jimmy Rollins' streak of right predictions ended when the Yankees ensured the Phillies wouldn't win the World Series in five games, as Rollins said they would.

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