"It ain't over 'til it's over" is the ultimate baseball truism, but regardless of its veracity or its origination (it was coined by Hall of Fame Yankee catcher Yogi Berra), it no longer applies to the 2012 New York Yankees. Whatever slim, practically imperceptible hope the slumping Yankees might have had of coming back from a 3-games-to-0 deficit in the American League Championship Series was washed away on Wednesday night when a controversial rain-out pushed CC Sabathia's Game 4 start to Thursday and eliminated the possibility of him coming back to pitch a potential Game 7 on Sunday.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman confirmed after the postponement became official that the team would not ask Sabathia to start a potential Game 7 on just two days' rest. Given that, the Yankees only options to start that game would be Phil Hughes, David Phelps, Derek Lowe or an injury replacement (either Ivan Nova or Freddy Garcia) for Hughes, who left his Game 3 start in the fourth inning due to back pain.
There are pros and cons for each of those options.
Hughes has pitched well this postseason and said his back felt better on Wednesday, but the injury, which stems back to a herniated disc suffered in 2004 and flared up again last September as well, is a huge red flag on a pitcher who was fourth on the Yankees' depth chart to begin with.
Phelps was New York's fifth starter in late September, but is also a rookie who has allowed four runs (three earned) in three relief appearances this postseason and has just 11 major league starts under his belt. Lowe is a veteran who actually started and won Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS for the Red Sox, the only time in major league history that a team overcame a 0-3 deficit in a best-of-seven series. Still, the 39-year-old hasn't started a game since July, after which the Indians released him for going 8-10 with a 5.52 ERA as a starter during the first four months of the season.
Taking Hughes off the roster would render him ineligible for the World Series (ha!) for the privilege of having Nova, who went 2-4 with a 7.87 ERA in his final eight regular-season starts, or Garcia (0-1 with a 7.15 ERA in his last seven appearances, four of them starts) start Game 7.
None of that is encouraging for New York, but the kicker is that whichever of those options the Yankees choose, they'll have to put it up against a fully-rested Justin Verlander in a double-elimination Game 7. Just as a reminder, Verlander has not only been the best pitcher in baseball over the last two years, but is pitching some of the best baseball of his life lately. He has allowed just two runs, both on solo home runs, in 24 1/3 innings across three starts this postseason (0.74 ERA), one run in his last 23 1/3 innings (23 of which were scoreless, the one run came in the one-third) and has posted a 0.69 ERA over his last seven starts. That is what awaits the Yankees if they can win their next three games with an offense that has hit .187/.243/.292 over its last seven games.
Speaking of the Yankee lineup, given that performance, it's hard to blame manager Joe Girardi for what might otherwise have been some questionable decisions over the last two days. Sabermetricians were outraged when Girardi let lefty Raul Ibañez hit against Detroit lefty Phil Coke in the ninth inning of Game 3, citing Ibañez's miserable platoon splits against same-handed pitching. Girardi's primary alternatives, though, were Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher, who have struggled so mightily this postseason (Swisher is 4-for-26, .154, with eight strikeouts; Rodriguez, who would have wound up facing righthander Joaquin Benoit, who was ready in the bullpen, is 3-for-23 with 12 strikeouts and all three hits having come against left-handed pitching) as to render their larger track records momentarily irrelevant.
Giving Brett Gardner his first start since April 17 in place of Swisher in Game 3, and then putting him in centerfield in place of Curtis Granderson in the Game 4 lineup despite his going 0-for-4 in Game 3 might seem crazy on paper, but Swisher and Granderson (3-for-29, .103, with 15 strikeouts) have reached the point at which any alternative, particularly one as capable in the field and on the bases as Gardner is a welcome one. Girardi is making desperate moves because the Yankees are desperate. Is that any worse than calmly doing down with the ship?
The Tigers were a popular pick to win this series before Derek Jeter's season-ending broken ankle in Game 1, before Hughes' back injury in Game 3, before those hitting slumps deepened and Girardi started benching his starters out of a completely valid sense of desperation, before the Yankees fell behind 0-3, and before the rain eliminated Sabathia's ability to make a second start in this series, resulting in the above list of options for Game 7. In the wake of all of that, even Yogi Berra would have a hard time convincing people that this series isn't over.