In his postseason debut, the pressure's squarely on A.J. Burnett
NEW YORK --
In New York's last three postseason appearances -- all losses in the Division Series, in 2005, '06 and '07 -- its starters' ERAs got progressively worse, from 4.81 to 6.14 to a staggering 9.42. No wonder the Yankees spent $243.5 million this offseason on free agents
Sabathia has been more consistent all year and turned in a strong, walk-free, 6 2/3-inning win in Game 1. Burnett, meanwhile, has been a bit more, shall we say, combustible. He has allowed five runs or more in nearly a quarter of his starts (eight of 33) and after getting the nod over
The 32-year-old Burnett, who overall had a fine season at 13-9 with a 4.09 ERA, suffered through a wretched August. During that month, in which he went 0-4 over six starts with a 6.03 ERA, his frustration -- particularly with catcher
Then in a Saturday matinee in Boston on Aug. 22, the Red Sox shelled Burnett for nine runs in five innings en route to a 14-1 win. It was more than just a bad outing for Burnett. Most tellingly, in his final inning of work, on a 1-2 count to
After the game Burnett and Posada acknowledged that they disagreed on several pitch calls. Burnett's outburst on the mound -- replayed frequently on Fox's national broadcast -- seemed to be directed toward his catcher. That's undoubtedly why backup
And so the Yankees -- at great expense to their offense and, possibly, team chemistry -- will start Molina behind the plate on Friday and leave Posada on the bench. Posada is batting .285 with a .363 on-base percentage, 22 home runs and 81 RBIs. Molina, on the other hand, is hitting .217, with a paltry .292 OBP, just one home run (which came in April) and 11 RBIs in 52 games. Admittedly Posada hasn't been a postseason star, batting .236 with a .352 OBP and a meager .379 slugging percentage in 96 postseason games, with nine homers and 31 RBIs, but there's no reason to expect Molina can do even that well.
"They've been in a real good rhythm when they've been working together," manager
Posada was understandably terse when asked about the subject on Tuesday, saying only, "If A.J. is comfortable with Molina there's not much I can do. I just hope they go out there and win the game. That's all I've got to say."
It's not unprecedented for pitchers to have a personal catcher. Boston's
Against the Twins, whom the Yankees ought to dismiss in three or four games anyway, it may not matter that much, but Girardi, who earlier this summer said that he didn't want his pitchers to have personal catchers, ought to consider letting Posada catch Burnett in later rounds of the postseason. There's no denying that the Yankees are a better team when Posada starts behind the plate.
Burnett certainly seems more comfortable with Molina as his batterymate, but Girardi should not be shy about pinch-hitting Posada if the catcher's spot in the batting order comes up with runners on base, even if it's in the early innings. (Girardi smartly planned ahead by carrying three catchers on the series roster.) Posada's bat, particularly when he's hitting from the left side, is too dangerous not to have in the lineup, especially with new Yankee Stadium's jet stream in right field.
The team's winning percentage in Posada's 88 starts at catcher was .648, more than 60 points higher than in Molina's 41 starts behind the plate (.585). When Posada didn't catch for 24 games in May because of a hamstring injury, Molina replaced him for the first four games -- all losses -- before he went down with a quadriceps strain.
After all, Posada has caught Burnett in six home starts. In those games the Yankees are 6-0, with Posada batting .360 (9 for 25) with two homers and seven RBIs. Burnett's only 2-0 with four no-decisions but has an ERA of 3.32, nearly three-quarters of a run below his season rate.
Coolly standing in the first-base dugout during batting practice before Game 1, his newly printed MLB-issued Yankees playoff sweatshirt in stark contrast to the several days of scruff adorning his face, Burnett tried to play peacemaker, insisting that having Molina catch him was "Joe's decision."
"It's making me out to be the bad guy again," Burnett said of perception that he asked for Molina to catch him. "It comes down to Boston, when I said 'Why? Why? Why?' But over my career I've done that a handful of times. If you ask people I've played with, they'll say I'm not a bad guy.
"I even went to Joe in the past and said, 'Hey, give me either one.' "
In addition to the revamped starting pitching, the other marked difference about this year's edition of the Bronx Bombers has been the uncharacteristically relaxed atmosphere around the typically workman-like club. Reserve
In fact, at his introductory press conference, Burnett dabbled not just in the usual rhetoric, that joining the Yankee was a "dream come true" and that he's "here to win," but he also made a point of saying that he was confident he'd fit in, saying, "I grew up in this game. You don't point fingers, you take the blame like a man and be accountable."
For the sake of peace in the clubhouse -- and power in the order -- Girardi should remain flexible when making out his lineup card, and Burnett should be true to his word about throwing to either catcher.