Five Cuts: ALCS Game 6 is critical for Yankees' World Series rotation

Publish date:

1. The Phillies suddenly are big fans of the Angels and The Weather Channel. It's not that Philadelphia would rather play Los Angeles than New York in the World Series. It's that the Phillies would benefit from both teams extending their pitching and, if rain in New York washes out Game 6 on Saturday, giving the American League champion less time to set up its pitching for the World Series.

Game 6 is especially important to the Yankees when it comes to their World Series rotation. The Yankees do not want to use a fourth starter in the World Series, which starts on Wednesday. The New York blueprint has CC Sabathia in place to start Games 1, 4 and 7. But if the Angels win ALCS Game 6, then Sabathia has to start ALCS Game 7 on Sunday -- which means the earliest he could start in the World Series would be Game 2 on short rest, and he effectively would be limited to two starts. And if rain washes out Game 6 on Saturday and the Yankees need a Game 7 on Monday to win the pennant, then Sabathia wouldn't take the ball until Game 3.

If the Yankees do have to go seven games to win the ALCS, for the World Series they would have to use:

• A.J. Burnett against Cliff Lee in Game 1 (unless they chose Andy Pettitte on short rest, something has hasn't done since 2006, and only three times in the past nine years).

• a fourth starter, such as Chad Gaudin, for Game 4 or

• Burnett on short rest in Game 4 and Sabathia on short rest in Games 2 and 5.

Now do you see why the World Series looks very different if the Angels win Game 6? By the way, there's no telling what happens with the rotation of the Angels, who are in survival mode in the ALCS, never mind the World Series. We know that Joe Saunders gets the ball in ALCS Game 6. But if there is a Game 7, who gets the ball?

"We've got a lot of options for Game 7," Los Angeles manager Mike Scioscia said. "[Scott] Kazmir, [Jered] Weaver, [John] Lackey in the bullpen ..."

Lackey threw 104 pitches in Game 5, meaning he's unlikely to start Game 7 on two days' rest, the way Derek Lowe did for Boston in the 2004 ALCS. But if rain wipes out Game 6, Lackey could be the choice if there is a Game 7 on Monday.

2. In a hallway outside the Yankees' clubhouse at Angels Stadium late Thursday, cases marked "Korbel champagne" sat on one handtruck. A few steps away, on another handtruck, a steel tub the size of a bathtub was filled with ice and dozens and dozens of red and blue cans of Budweiser, freebies meant to be the ultimate in product placement. Out of sight were bottles of the good stuff, Dom Perignon. "Must be nice to be the Yankees," one stadium worker said.

There would be no popping of corks or beer tops. On a night when the Yankees had Mariano Rivera rested and ready for five outs, they were nine outs away from the American League pennant while holding a two-run lead, 6-4. So really, the World Series was only a matter of getting four outs to get the ball to Rivera.

Manager Joe Girardi entrusted the start of getting those four outs to A.J. Burnett, his starting pitcher, because Burnett had a low pitch count. Burnett gave up a single to Jeff Mathis and then walked the No. 9 hitter, Erick Aybar, after getting ahead 0 and 2. How bad of a walk was that? Aybar had walked only three times all year after falling behind 0 and 2. But that's Burnett, who led the league in walks with 97, the most by a Yankees pitcher in 24 years.

Damaso Marte entered to give Girardi two outs at the cost of one run: a sac bunt and an infield grounder. Now it was 6-5 and Girardi needed two outs to hand a lead to Rivera. Phil Hughes was his choice. Hughes walked Torii Hunter, looking as if he much preferred to pitch to Vladimir Guerrero. Hughes did get ahead of Guerrero, 1 and 2, when he tried to elevate a fastball out of the zone to get Guerrero to chase. But Hughes didn't get the pitch high enough, and Guerrero tied the game with a single. Kendry Morales put the Angels ahead, 7-6, with a single.

Since Game 4 of the fateful 2004 ALCS, the Yankees have lost four of the 12 games in which they were nine outs or fewer from a postseason win -- including three of the four times they were that close to winning the series.

"In Game 6 there is pressure on both teams," Yankees left fielder Johnny Damon said.

Both teams? He's right, of course. Even though the Yankees still lead the series three games to two and have the next two scheduled at home, they're supposed to win exactly because of those advantages.

"Anything can happen," Damon said after Game 5, "especially in the type of conditions we'll be playing in. You always want to close out a series. We had our chances tonight."

The beer, by the way, was ordered to be taken out of the ice, repacked in cardboard cases and sent back to the brewer. No word on the champagne.

3. In ALCS Game 5 Alex Rodriguez became the only player ever to be intentionally walked for the second time in the ninth inning of a postseason game with no one on base. It was the right move by Angels manager Mike Scioscia because Rodriguez, who had slammed seven home runs in his previous 29 at-bats entering Game 5 -- and then whacked one ball in the game off the wall in right center -- is that scalding hot.

But here's the question I wanted to know from Scioscia: if either Johnny Damon or Mark Teixeira would have reached base ahead of Rodriguez, would Scioscia still have intentionally walked Rodriguez, which would have put the go-ahead run on base? The answer was yes and no.

"If the runner was at first base, no, we would have pitched to him," Scioscia said. "But if the runner was at second base, then yes, probably we do walk him. Because if the tying run is already at second and first base is open, we can put him on first. But if the runner is at first, I am not intentionally moving the tying run into scoring position."

It's a very interesting answer, because walking Rodriguez with first base or second base occupied winds up creating the same scenario: first and second. But the difference to Scioscia is that he would not create that situation by his own choice.

4. One of the startling sights for the Angels has been to see Vladimir Guerrero taking pitches. The hackmaster saw 13 pitches in Game 5 and actually let six of them go by without swinging, including the first pitch of his huge seventh-inning at-bat against Phil Hughes. More importantly, Guerrero admitted after Game 5 that he has cut down his swing with runners in scoring position.

"That's the one thing I changed early in the playoffs," he said through an interpreter. "Cutting my swing down and not trying for the home run. In certain situations for a guy like myself, hard contact is good enough."

For the record, Guerrero is seeing 3.63 pitches per plate appearance in the ALCS, up from his regular-season rate of 3.24.

5. Is there such a thing as too much rest for a pennant winner heading into the World Series? As the the National League champion Phillies face six days off entering the Fall Classic, no doubt you'll hear a lot in these days about how the 2007 Rockies were cooled off by too many off-days heading into the World Series. Actually, the results of how teams fare with this much rest leads to no conclusion at all.

This is the fourth straight year in which a team will enter the World Series with six days off -- underscoring the obvious problem with the postseason schedule -- and the sixth time since the three-round format first was used in 1995. The results tell you that the extra rest means nothing in particular. Teams with at least six days off are 2-3 in World Series Game 1 and 3-2 in the Series.