Yankees closing in on title behind short-rested starters
By Tim Britton / MLB.com
PHILADELPHIA -- With their dramatic win on Sunday night, the Yankees are now one game away from completing a straightforward equation: nine regulars multiplied by three starters equals a 27th World Series title.
If the Yankees can close out the Phillies, they will win their first World Series title in nine years. In the process, they will do something no team has done in twice that long: win a championship while using a three-man rotation in the postseason.
Not since the 1991 Minnesota Twins rode the right arms of Jack Morris, Kevin Tapani and Scott Erickson has a team won the World Series using only three starting pitchers. Eighteen years later, the Yankees will try to accomplish the same feat with southpaws CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte sandwiching right-hander A.J. Burnett.
The last Yankees team to win the World Series with a three-man rotation started Mickey Mantle in center and was led by ace Whitey Ford to the 1962 title. And even then, a series of rain delays gave Ford, Ralph Terry and Bill Stafford some extra rest.
Despite the continued late-inning heroics of Alex Rodriguez, it has been the trio of starting pitchers that has carried the Yankees to within a win of the championship in 2009. Sabathia, Burnett and Pettitte have combined to go 7-1 this postseason, with the one loss coming at the hands of Cliff Lee -- perhaps the only pitcher who has outperformed any of New York's starters this postseason.
The Yankees' starters have pitched at least six innings in all 13 of their postseason games, and only twice have they allowed more than three earned runs in a game.
The consistency provided by Sabathia, Burnett and Pettitte has more than validated manager Joe Girardi's initially controversial decision to stick with his trio, first for the American League Championship Series and now for the World Series.
A.J. hopes to follow CC's lead
The numbers haven't been very good for starters pitching on three or fewer days' rest in the postseason since it expanded to three rounds in 1995. But CC Sabathia has done it twice this postseason, giving A.J. Burnett hope for Monday's Game 5.
Source: Elias Sports Bureau
Of course, it was an easier trick for the Yankees to pull off in the ALCS. With an extra off-day between Games 4 and 5, Girardi only needed to call on Sabathia to go on three days' rest in the Yankees' six-game series victory. And Sabathia, like Morris in 1991, appears to be a pitcher ideally suited to the demands of pitching on short rest.
"You can't help but to be somewhat inspired when he throws," Burnett said of Sabathia after Game 4. "He goes deep in the game every time, and just the big presence that he has on the mound. And he's a workhorse. When you are the No. 2 guy behind a guy like that, you have to step your game up a little bit, and I think it pushes me to be better."
The Yankees have won both games that Sabathia has started on three days' rest, each a pivotal Game 4 that gave them a commanding 3-1 series lead.
"At this point in the season, in these situations, physically, you feel fine," said Sabathia, who earned a reputation for pitching well on short rest while carrying the Brewers to the playoffs last September. "I definitely think it's more mental, just not having the days' rest to be able to come back and pitch a good game."
Girardi decided to stick with the trimmed-down rotation for the World Series, even though it would call on all three of his starters to pitch on short rest. Burnett admitted it was the manager's decision.
"They told me I was [pitching on short rest]," Burnett, Monday's Game 5 starter, said on Sunday. "They told me just to be heads up, that it could be a possibility, and that they'd let me know for sure."
While Burnett and Pettitte have yet to pitch on three days' rest, their career numbers doing so suggest it isn't a major issue. Pettitte has pitched on three days' rest 14 times. Although his record is only 4-6, his ERA is a respectable 4.15. Two of his most memorable World Series starts -- Game 5 of the 1996 Series in Atlanta and Game 2 of the '03 Fall Classic vs. Florida -- were on three days' rest.
Burnett, meanwhile, has made four starts on short rest in his career, and he has won all four, with an ERA of 2.33 in 27 innings. He turned the feat three times last season with the Blue Jays, including 8 1/3 terrific innings against the Yankees in July.
"Well, without sounding too confident, I liked it when I did it in the past," Burnett said. "There's something about going on three days' [rest], it's hard to overthrow, it's hard to overdo it, and like I said, I enjoyed when I did it."
In order to close out the Phillies on Monday, Burnett will have to outduel Lee, who is in the middle of one of the greatest runs in postseason history. But that would be a fitting culmination for these Yankees. After all, the '91 Twins needed 10 shutout innings from Morris in Game 7 to beat John Smoltz and the Braves, and the '62 Yanks were led by Terry's four-hit shutout in their 1-0 Game 7 win over the Giants.
Heady territory, indeed, for Burnett and this year's Yankees. But that's the territory that comes when you're one win from a title, one win from etching your name on a trophy and in history.
Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.