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Charlie, Can We Talk About Your Pitching Plans?

Charlie, Charlie, can we talk?

I know, the last thing you want to do is listen to me. Or anybody. You know what you're doing. You've won four division titles in eight years of managing, two league pennants and one World Series. I've watched and thought about more baseball games than ninety-nine percent of all American men; you've watched and thought about four or five times as many as I have.

I know what you're thinking. I understand why you'd think it. You've gotten your team this far.

Let me take it from here.

So let's talk about your pitching.

It's been a long season, and a tough Series. Cliff Lee's been spectacular. Pedro Martinez gave you a solid start, but A.J. Burnett was better that night, and that happens.

Besides those two? It's been like a plane piloted by Wile E. Coyote, falling apart as it goes along, first a wing, then the tail, then the fuselage and the cockpit, until it's just a helmet-and-goggles-clad coyote in a chair the moment before gravity takes hold.

You've got a daunting task, coming back to the Bronx down three games to two. And I know the old saws about climbing a hill one step at a time, playing ‘em one game at a time, you can't worry about game seven until you've won game six, blah blah blah.

That's fine for the players, Charlie. They've got to focus on the one game tonight. But you and me, we know better. The task is to give yourself your best chance to win two games, tonight and tomorrow night.

You're starting Pedro tonight. If anybody's going to rise to the occasion and meet the challenge of pitching at Yankee Stadium in front of that hostile crowd, it's him. And that's why you need him for game seven.

I understand Pedro pitches best in his normal rotation, and tonight he'll be going on four days' rest. Since 2005, he's been 18-6 with a 3.20 ERA with four days' rest, and 12-15, 4.05 with five. But c'mon - this year there's no such thing as normal rest for him. Since September 1, here's the number of rest days he's had before his starts: 4, 4, 5, 10, 15, 12, and now 4. There's no routine there, especially not now. Giving him an extra day to recover from the 107 pitches he threw in game two of the Series makes sense.

Who starts tonight? I'd go with J.A. Happ - he's a rookie, but he's not a kid - to get a lefthander out on the mound. You may need a cast of thousands out of the pen tonight; this is a game you're going to have to win with your bats. Tomorrow, against C.C. Sabathia, that's a different story. But tonight, you've got some options.

Andy Pettitte is starting on three days' rest. He's 37, and he hasn't pitched on short rest in three years. The postseason results for older pitchers on short rest haven't been so strong lately. Since Jack Morris went ten shutout innings in the last game of the 1991 World Series, there have been sixteen postseason starts on short rest by pitchers age 35 or older. They're 5-7, with a 5.56 ERA. On average, they haven't gotten out of the fifth inning.

You can win this game without getting a quality start.

Say you do start Pedro tonight. Who's going to start game seven on the road? Cole Hamels? The way he's looked this postseason? Yeah, I know about dancing with them what brung ya, but there's a time for prudence too. You know that; you showed it in the ninth inning Monday night, when you left Ryan Madson out there to get the save. I won't make you say it; you know who pitched, and who didn't.

You probably will need a low-run seventh game against Sabathia. And that's why you start Pedro. And after you get five or so out of him, it's time for Cliff Lee. Two days' rest? So what? He's got all winter to recover. This is why someone becomes an athlete: to be out there at a time like that, not to sit on the sidelines and say, "Hey, I did my job."

Remember, the task really is to win two games, not one. It's like the guy in the Old West showdown who's about to draw, and the sheriff reminds him, "Don't forget - if we tie, you're dead." One-and-one won't get it done.

I'm glad we had this talk.

And if your plan is to start Cliff in the seventh game... well, it did work for Derek Lowe in the ALCS in 2004. Against the Yankees. In the Bronx. Hmmm...

 

Jeff Neuman is a sportswriter and editor, and co-author of A Disorderly Compendium of Golf. His columns for RealClearSports appear on Monday and Thursday.

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