Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Must-Win Game, starring AJ Burnett

Want to hear a horrible joke?

Q: When did the Yankees lose the ALCS?

A: July 9th.

That was the day the New York Mets played the Atlanta Braves. I went to the game with two friends. It was my first time at Citi Field, and it was a night of good, clean fun. We played pitch-and-putt golf at Flushing Meadows beforehand. We drank beer and told stories. Three guys, having a swell time at a ballgame. It's what America's all about. The Braves ended up winning, and nobody cared. It was great to just hang out, have a few laughs, and enjoy a nice summer night.

(and yet a most ghoulish specter did haunt the eve...)

Oh, and before I left for Queens, I spent the whole day at work following the impending Cliff Lee-to-the-Yankees trade. Starting at about 10am, it constantly seemed on the verge of being a done deal. The Mariners weren't talking with anyone else. The Yanks were offering Jesus Montero, their top prospect. No official word had come down by 5pm, but I walked into the gates at Citi Field feeling great. By the end of the night, Lee would be in pinstripes. In the 7th inning, I bragged to a Braves fan next to me that I was a Yankees fan, and maybe we'd see them in the World Series again, just like '96. But that Braves fan had a smart-phone. He started typing away. I had a knot in my stomach. Just tell me the good news, I thought.

"He went to the Rangers."

"No fucking way."

"Yeah man."

Well summunabitch.

Okay. I calmed down, and told myself we didn't need him. We had the best staff in baseball. We had CC and Andy. Hughes was still great too. We didn't need him.

We fucking needed him.

I can't remember watching a more frustrating game than last night's atrocity. What I wanted most was for Andy to get through the first inning scoreless. After Hamilton's home run, I stalked around the living room swearing and yelling and telling my girlfriend the game was over. Deep down, I hoped I was wrong. Aside from one spectacular inning, this whole series has been a nightmare.

As the game went along, and Andy did an excellent job, I remembered how nervous Neftali Feliz has looked all postseason. Just give us one inning against him, I thought, down two runs. Then came the 8th, and the Yanks looked like clowns again, 1-2-3, capped off by Brett Gardner, who has utterly lost the ability to hit anything but weak grounders. This time, he just watched three fastballs go by. Zip Zip Zip. Basically the same pitch. Lee had the air of a professional who felt insulted that he had to compete against someone of Gardner's caliber.

Still, that made 120 pitches. Even if he came out for the 9th, we could chase him quick. Just one more clean inning from the bullpen, and who knows? Then Boone Logan started Josh Hamilton off with 3 straight balls. Hamilton doubled, reached third, and a seeing-eye grounder made it through. The game was over, but the Rangers tacked on 5 more just to be safe. I kicked a pizza box into a wall. "You got feta cheese everywhere," my girlfriend said.

Nothing, nothing, nothing went our way. And Cliff psyched us out. I'm not saying he isn't a fucking cyclone of a human being and the best postseason pitcher since Koufax. I'm just saying we helped his cause by beating ourselves mentally beforehand. We did not believe in the prospect of topping the mighty Cliff Lee.

Come tonight, the Yanks are facing their first must-win game of the season. AJ Burnett will take the mound. He feels confident. During a simulated game last week, he hit Greg Golson and Austin Kearns with wild pitches. Buster Olney, via twitter, reported that the performance "has convinced the Yankees to do what they can to bypass him altogether."

Perfect. Remind me again why CC Sabathia can't pitch? I know it's 3-days' rest, but he did it last year, and it's not like he pitched deep into the night in Game One. Part of me loves the fact that we're turning to AJ, at least from a comedy angle. He's the absolute wild card, the guy who shows up with black eyes, who doesn't win a game in two months, but who we all know damn well can be one of the best pitchers in baseball. But if the man was a cannon, he'd be beyond loose; he'd be spinning around in circles, going downhill, and firing at will. I loved this quote from the ESPN story about his impending start:

Burnett showed up about 45 minutes late for his news conference without an explanation, but with a cursory apology.

"Sorry, dudes, that midget fuckface Iggy at the pool hall thought he knew the angles. Hundred bucks and ten 8-balls later, he ain't laughing, know what I'm saying? You don't walk away from a mark like that. Dude can barely see over the table. Looks like he's holding a goddamn battering ram with that cue. I said, 'Iggy, you oughta just use a car antenna.' Man, that little fucker can get mad. Ooo-weee. Speaking of cash, though, I'm still a little short this month's alimony. If we're going to do this thing I need about another hundred. Money for quotes, dudes, you know how it works. I'm passing around my hat. Ignore the blood, it's just about dry and most of it ain't mine anyway."

I have to be honest, I'm excited. I have this weird feeling he's going to be great. Nothing supports that instinct, mind you, and if I'm wrong I'll be pissed at AJ and doubly pissed at myself for believing. A disastrous outcome will be no more than I deserve. But sometimes you've got to throw your hands up, submit to fate, and put your blind trust in the dude whose teammates voted him "most likely to show up on the show 'COPS.'"

Topic change: remember the movie "Miller's Crossing"? It's an under-appreciated Coen Brothers joint from 1990, a Prohibition-era gangster film starring Gabriel Byrne. He plays a political advisor named Tom Regan, and at one point he's pretending to side with a rival named Johnny Caspar. As he slowly wins him over, there are some great moments of dialogue. I've always loved this one, when Tom is pulling the wool over his eyes about a murder (won't say more to avoid spoilers):

Johnny Caspar: When you're right,you're right. But you never say "I told you so."

Tom Regan: So what am I right about?

Johnny Caspar: Well, I'll tell you. But first you gotta promise not to say "I told you so."

Tom Regan: (matter-of-fact) I never say that, and I don't like people who do.

Johnny Caspar: (Explains)

Tom Regan: I told you so.

Always cracked me up. So here's my 'I told you so' moment. Remember a couple days ago when I talked about how we should stack the rotation and 'sacrifice' Game 3? Here's the Yankee version of things, followed by mine.

Yankee version:

Game 1: CC Sabathia vs. CJ Wilson - Advantage Yankees
Game 2: Phil Hughes vs. Colby Lewis - Slight Advantage Yankees
Game 3: Andy Pettitte vs. Cliff Lee - Advantage Texas
Game 4: AJ Burnett vs. Tommy Hunter - Slight Advantage Texas
Game 5: CC Sabathia vs. CJ Wilson - Advantage Yankees
Game 6: Phil Hughes vs. Colby Lewis - Slight Advantage Yankees
Game 7: Andy Pettitte vs. Cliff Lee - Advantage Texas

My version:

Game 1: CC Sabathia vs. CJ Wilson - Advantage Yankees
Game 2: Phil Hughes vs. Colby Lewis - Slight Advantage Yankees
Game 3: AJ Burnett vs. Cliff Lee - Advantage Texas
Game 4: Andy Pettitte vs. Tommy Hunter - Advantage Yankees
Game 5: CC Sabathia vs. CJ Wilson - Advantage Yankees
Game 6: Phil Hughes vs. Colby Lewis - Slight Advantage Yankees
Game 7: Andy/CC/AJ vs. Cliff Lee - Advantage Texas

The main difference between the two rotations is that mine gives the Yanks a 5-2 edge in match-ups, while the Yankee version gives only a 4-3 edge. (My pal Brian argued convincingly that the Hughes-Lewis battle is more of a draw, but in terms of this argument it doesn't matter.) Instead of pitching Pettitte in game 3, I pitched AJ. That way you save Andy for game 4, where he'll face their worst starter in Tommy Hunter. Not only does that create more advantages in the first six games, but it takes away the huge risk of Andy pitching a gem in Game 3 and being utterly wasted because Cliff Lee is too good. It also takes away the chance that we get on Tommy Hunter in Game 4, score a bunch of runs, but AJ stinks up the joint and we drop a 10-8 type game.

Well, we're halfway to the nightmare scenario. 8 innings, 2 runs from Andy, and a loss. I told you so.

Believe me, I hope AJ wins and makes the whole thing irrelevant tonight. I'm not the kind of guy who roots for bad outcomes just to be proved right. I just really, really wish someone had thought outside the box here.

There's no more to be said. Last night is over, the rotating wheel of destiny brings us to AJ, and our backs are against the wall. We need the win tonight. Texas might be the better team, but we can still scrounge this one out. If the weaknesses of the season dog us tonight, we'll be dead men walking. Bad starting pitching and poor situational hitting are the bogey men. Gotta triumph. Come on, Yanks. Don't go quietly.

1 comment:

  1. Well, considering the shenanigans in the Bronx a few hours ago, perhaps we'll be seeing more Duke coverage for SCSD.

    Win-win for me.