By Lee Jenkins
November 03, 2009

PHILADELPHIA -- The biggest catchphrase in this World Series, besides instant replay of course, is short rest. Who's getting it? Who's giving it? Who's refusing it? Charlie Manuel did not ask Cliff Lee to pitch on short rest in Game 4 and the Phillies lost. Joe Girardi did ask A.J. Burnett to pitch on short rest in Game 5 and the Yankees lost. Both managers exposed themselves to criticism even though they made exact opposite moves.

The problem was not with their decision-making. It was with their reluctance to reverse those decisions when the circumstances changed. After the Phillies lost Game 3, they had to win Game 4 to stay afloat, but Manuel still stuck with Joe Blanton over Lee. After the Yankees took Game 4, they no longer needed Game 5, but Girardi still went with Burnett on three days rest. It was the bold call, an attempt to press the action and ride the momentum, but given the Yankees 3-1 lead, it was completely unnecessary.

Girardi could have started Chad Gaudin on Monday and set himself up for Games 6 and 7 at Yankee Stadium with Burnett on full rest, followed by Andy Pettitte on full rest and CC Sabathia available in relief. The series might have gone longer than the Yankees would have liked, but there is no imaginable way they would have lost it.

In their haste to close the door on the Phillies, the Yankees have left it cracked. Burnett gave up six runs in two innings Monday night, making the case against short rest in an 8-6 loss. Now the Yankees will likely ask Pettittte to do what Burnett could not. While Burnett is in his prime, Pettitte is 37, has not pitched on short rest in three years, and is 4-6 with a 4.15 earned run average when he has tried it in the regular season.

The Yankees are gambling heavily in a series that should have been a sure thing. If Pettitte falters in Game 6 on Wednesday against Pedro Martinez -- yes, the self-proclaimed "old goat" is back -- the Yankees will still have Sabathia for Game 7. Sabathia is more comfortable than most on short rest, but even he was not as dominant as usual Sunday night, giving up three runs in 6 1/3 innings. Short rest takes a toll on everyone.

Girardi said he considered shifting to Gaudin on Monday, but opted against it because Gaudin has not pitched in a month. Then Burnett got shelled and the questions that had been directed at Manuel shifted to Girardi. The Yankees fell behind 8-2, staged a furious rally with four runs in the final two innings, but could not complete the comeback. Burnett refused to blame a lack of rest, saying: "I let the guys down. It's the worst feeling in the world, to have a chance to do something special and fail like that."

Although the Phillies kept their season on life support, that does not mean they vindicated Manuel's choice. By declining to use Lee on short rest, the Phillies cannot bring him back for Game 7 and would have to choose between two unattractive options: rookie J.A. Happ and Cole Hamels, who admitted that he is eager to see the season end. Manuel actually acknowledged that he is hoping for a rainout in New York so he can use Lee one more time. More realistically, he might be able to call on Lee in relief. "I'll pitch whenever they want me to pitch," Lee said. "I'm ready. I don't really get that sore."

There is a time and place for short rest, the time being the pennant race or post-season, the place being a little harder to gauge. Elite pitchers are usually willing to work on short rest when their team is tied or trailing in a series, when they are desperately needed. They don't generally like to do it for no reason. The Phillies were down by one game when they had to make their decision on Lee -- definitely desperate. The Yankees were up by two when they had to make their decision on Burnett -- definitely not desperate. Manuel and Girardi both went the counterintuitive route and both lost.

Managers are creatures of 162-game schedules. They are big on advance planning and they do not often deviate just because of a win here or a loss there, even in October/November. Manuel tabbed Blanton, and Giardi tabbed Burnett, and they were not inclined to switch regardless of the series score. This is one of many ways that major-league baseball is different from college baseball. In the College World Series, decisions are predicated almost entirely on situations and stakes. If a team is nearing elimination, a coach will not hesitate to bring back his ace on short rest, and usually the ace is begging for the ball. If a team has a cushion, the coach will save the ace for a more crucial spot.

But these are the big leagues, supposedly more sophisticated. Managers are taught to take the long view, even in short series. If nothing else, Manuel and Girardi have provided this postseason with a subject for debate, which thankfully has nothing to do with umpires.

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