The ripple effects from suspended series opener should benefit Tigers
NEW YORK -- The denizens on the D train, fueled by enough beer but not enough baseball as it rumbled away from a soggy Yankee Stadium, didn't seem to mind. Neither did the two managers, one of whom, the Yankees' Joe Girardi, did almost as much giggling as talking in his post-"game" press conference and the other of whom, the Tigers' Jim Leyland, opened his remarks with a joke of his own ("Heck of a game. It was great."). And, if the grinning faces and shrugging shoulders of Ivan Nova and Justin Verlander, two of the players most affected by the bizarre developments Friday night at Yankee Stadium, were any indication, the players weren't the slightest bit fazed.
It was left, then, to a 71-year-old man, someone who knows a little something about the chaos of October in the Bronx, to put a straight face on a strange night. "Never in my wildest dreams with the way today was weather-wise would [you] think you were going to run into this tonight," said Joe Torre, the longtime manager of the Yankees and now Major League Baseball's Executive VP and the man who was forced to explain MLB's plans for what has now become a very different American League Division Series than first expected.
After a beautiful Friday in New York devolved into what Torre called a "deluge" in an interview with SI.com's Tom Verducci during TBS' broadcast, MLB called off Friday night's series opener between the Yankees and the Tigers in the middle of the second inning after a delay of over an hour. Only nine outs had been recorded, 52 pitches thrown and two runs scored. By the time the last batter of the night, Detroit's Ryan Raburn, stepped into to face Sabathia in the top of the second, the dirt area of home plate resembled a puddle more than a batter's box. Raburn was punched out on a called third strike and began shaking his head, not in disagreement with the umpire but because the rain drops dripping off his helmet prevented him from seeing.
By the time the next Tiger is in that (hopefully much drier) batter's box he will be looking not at Sabathia but a 24-year-old righty who will be making his postseason debut. "It's the same [as starting a regular-season game]. I don't see the difference," Nova said when he suddenly found out he would be, for all intents and purposes, starting the opening game of a postseason series at Yankee Stadium barely two months after he was pitching at Triple-A. "No pressure."
The pressure instead shifts to Torre and Major League Baseball, which has a new problem on its hands: what to do if Saturday's forecast is as bad as originally feared. Another rainout could force the first postseason doubleheader in major league history, an eventuality that would take what has been a minor inconvenience -- "Good Lord, it rained. So what?" said Leyland -- into a series-shifting dilemma. Girardi had said half-jokingly that "A doubleheader is not out of the question," a point Torre had to concede.
"If it keeps raining, you have to play games. That's the only thing I can say. Nothing is chiseled in stone here."
Then, he added, "I don't want to think about that tonight."
He'll have to soon enough. Major League Baseball was convinced it could get this game in but Mother Nature intervened with that plan after only 30 minutes of game action. If it keeps raining, MLB can't afford a similar situation: a stadium full of soggy fans, a national TV audience with no baseball and a postseason series suddenly thrown up for grabs because two starting pitchers were forced to abort their missions after throwing more pitches in the bullpen then they did on the mound.
If Game 1 can resume on time, it will happen at 8:37 p.m. ET. This time, instead of a pitching matchup between a former Cy Young winner (New York's CC Sabathia) and a soon-to-be Cy Young winner (Verlander), it will be a rookie (Ivan Nova) against a mostly anonymous third-year right-hander recently rescued from the Mariners (Doug Fister).
The issue isn't so much that Verlander and Sabathia won't be on the mound Sunday but when they will be on the mound again. Leyland has already moved his ace to Monday's Game 3 while Girardi said Sabathia might not pitch until Game 4, though he expected Sabathia would push to be allowed back on the mound Monday as well.
The central question before the series began was when will the aces pitch again? Leyland had said Verlander would not start on short rest, meaning the man who led the major leagues in wins, WHIP and strikeouts and the AL in ERA would have gotten just one start in the series if it hadn't gone the full five games. Girardi, meanwhile, had been planning on using Sabathia in Game 4 on three days' rest but after the washout would not commit to using Sabathia for a Game 3 rematch with Verlander. Just as the Yankees could have won the series without having to face Verlander more than once before the rainout, Friday's development means -- if Girardi does not bring Sabathia back on Monday -- that the Tigers could win the series without ever having to beat the Yankees' best pitcher.
A Detroit triumph in the series would have once been considered an upset, but the pitching matchups this weekend are starting to suggest otherwise. A case can certainly be made that the Tigers have the edge between the men who will now be on the mound to finish what their more widely known teammates started. Fister's 11-13 record is yet another lesson in not judging a pitcher solely by his won-loss record, for his fourth in the AL in ERA (2.83, but 1.79 after being dealt to Detroit), fifth in strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.95, but 11.40 post-trade) and sixth in WHIP (1.063). Nova's record was a much more sparkling 16-4 but his other stats (3.70 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 1.72 K/BB) were not nearly as impressive as Fister's.
There is at least one disadvantage for the Tigers now. Their righty-heavy lineup will now be facing a right-handed pitcher, which Leyland acknowledged could be a problem. But, he said, "I'm not going to change my lineup in the second inning."
Leyland's offense might be moderately affected but his pitching staff won't be at all, since he was already planning to use a four-man rotation. Girardi has the opposite problem. His batting order is deep with talent and well-balanced with righties, lefties and switch hitters to go against a Detroit staff that has only two lefties at all (middle relievers Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth).
But the pitching plans he crafted with such delicacy leading up to Friday night have suddenly been thrown upside down. In the final week of the regular season, he had treated Rafael Soriano, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera, the best pitchers in New York's bullpen, with all the care and attention of a man holding a precious gem, but that tremendous trio may now have to pitch on three consecutive days. What's more, A.J. Burnett, whose wildness and inconsistency as a starter banished him to the bullpen for this series, is suddenly a very real possibility for a start, perhaps in a game to save the Yankees' season.
Whatever other problems are brought about by the weather, one thing is certain: The ripple effect from Friday night will be felt throughout the series, perhaps moreso than the first inning and a half of any postseason series ever has before.
"It's not what either club wanted," said Girardi, "but both clubs have to deal with it."