Saturday October 16th, 2010

ALCS Game 2: Phil Hughes (1-0, 0.00 ERA; 18-8, 4.19 ERA) vs. Colby Lewis (0-0, 0.00 ERA; 12-13, 3.72 ERA)

The Yankees needed to win Game 1 of this series, and despite trailing 5-1 heading into the eighth inning, they did just that, rallying to a 6-5 victory that had to have been utterly demoralizing for a Rangers team that jumped on CC Sabathia in the first inning, bounced him after four frames, and had C.J. Wilson dominating for seven. Friday night marked just the fifth time in postseason history that a team came back to win a game after trailing by four or more runs heading into the eighth inning. The Yankees have made a habit of that kind of thing this postseason, having won all three of their road games in this postseason with the winning scoring in the seventh inning or later each time. That's a credit to the Yankee offense, but also to the Yankee bullpen, which has allowed just one run in 12 innings this postseason. It's also a credit to Yankee skipper Joe Girardi, who has thus far called the right names at the right times and showed a willingness to go to his closer in the eighth inning.

That stands in direct contrast to how Ron Washington managed the disastrous eighth inning on Friday night, making four pitching changes, but never getting his closer, Neftali Feliz, into the game. The performance of the Rangers' pen has to be a concern at this point. Eight of the 12 runs the Rangers allowed in the Division Series were charged to the pen, and three more, plus one inherited runner, scored on Rangers relievers on Friday night. Not counting the inherited man, that's 11 runs in 15 2/3 innings, or a 6.32 bullpen ERA after six games. Primary set-up man Darren Oliver has struggled in his last two outings. Both he and Feliz have retired just four of the nine men they have faced this postseason. Washington has shown a continued reluctance to go to Alexi Ogando, using him for just two batters this postseason (though the first did double in the tying run in Game Three of the ALDS), and the remaining four men in his pen are Michael Kirkman and Clay Rapada, a pair of inexperienced LOOGies (left-handed one-out guys), a match-up righty (sidearmer Darren O'Day, who has been effective against lefties as well but won't get much chance to face them with Kirkman and Rapada around), and repurposed sophomore starter Derek Holland.

The bullpens could well come into play again Saturday as neither Colby Lewis nor Phil Hughes allowed a run in their Game 3 ALDS starts. (In fact, none of the four pitchers starting tonight's two LCS games allowed a run in the ALDS. Add in Wilson and of the six pitchers starting in the LCS last night and tonight, only Sabathia allowed a run in the Division Series.) Hughes has never allowed a run in the Ballpark in Arlington either, though he has only made two starts, the last coming in May 2009, and a single-inning relief appearance there. In Hughes' second major league start, he threw 6 1/3 hitless innings in Arlington before a hamstring injury forced him to leave the game, no-hitter intact. Only Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, and Nelson Cruz remain from the lineup he faced that night.

That history might be slight, but it along with his home/road splits (3.47 ERA and just five of his 25 home runs allowed away from Yankee Stadium) reinforced the Yankees' decision to start Hughes in this game. Hughes' last two road starts were poor, but he has since started three times at home, facing the Rays, Red Sox, and the Twins in the ALDS, and has posted a 1.86 ERA and 1.09 WHIP while allowing just one home run in those 19 1/3 innings, albeit with the benefit of some luck on balls in play.

Lewis, meanwhile, has gone 3-1 with a 2.04 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 35 1/3 innings over his last six starts, including his no-decision in the ALDS, which saw him keep the Rays off the board for five innings despite uncharacteristically walking five men. Lewis, who spent the last two years pitching for the Hiroshima Carp, has only faced three members of the current Yankees, and only one of them, Lance Berkman, whom he faced as an Astro during interleague play this year, more recently than 2003.

With Cliff Lee and A.J. Burnett lurking in the next two games, there's still pressure on the Yankees to win this game, but it is not nearly as great as it would have been had they lost Game 1. Meanwhile, the Rangers are still searching for the franchise's first home playoff win and hoping to avoid the accumulating negativity that dropping the opening two games at home, one in a devastating manner, would heap upon their shoulders and spirits. The Yankees seemed to get inside the Twins' heads by taking the first two games on the road in the ALDS. After Friday night's fiasco, one wonders if they've already done so to the Rangers.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.