Misguided AJ-enda

One of the most ballyhooed decisions by a manager in recent World Series history was made in 2003 by ol' Jack McKeon. Up 3 games to 2, Trader Jack wanted to put two feet on the Yankees throats before they ever caught their breath at Yankee Stadium. He tabbed Beckett to pitch Game 6 on three days rest, rather than take a shot with either Mark Redmond or Dontrelle Willis and turn back to a rested Beckett if the Series went seven.

As we well know, McKeon's faith in Beckett was realized in a five-hit shutout. It was one of the best performances by a pitcher in a decisive game in baseball history, no question, yet by the way people waxed poetic about the bold move since you would think McKeon had pitched himself. The great Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated wrote a profile on McKeon the next month. The manager himself embraced it in one of many others. He proudly told Cigar Aficionado: "It took about 15 seconds to decide to pitch Beckett."

Here's the thing: McKeon's decision was misguided. It worked, yes. The Marlins won, yes. They danced on the infield at Yankee Stadium, yes. But had it failed, McKeon would've proven a miserable flop, sending his team into a Game 7 duel at the most hallowed venue in sports with a squirt gun (Redmond) or an 18th century revolver (a broken down Willis). Today we'd talk about championship No. 28, not 27.

In his aim for that elusive No. 27, Joe Girardi has strategized the Yankees onto the same one-lane highway. His decision to pitch A.J. Burnett in Game 5 tonight on short rest is equally misguided as the one made by McKeon and it could lead the Yankees to the verge of another collapse. Here's why:

Burnett has been splendid on short rest: 4-0, ERA in the twos, terrific strikeout rate. I understand that. But should he lose to Cliff Lee — the man with the lowest ERA after this many starts in postseason history — the Phillies will return to Yankee Stadium armed to force a Game 7.

The real fear isn't Burnett, who could pitch well tonight and still lose to a locked-in Lee. It's Andy Pettitte, Mr. Reliable, who has performed like a man 10 years younger this October but cannot disguise these facts: He is 37 and hasn't pitched on short rest since 2006. And in the instances he has, Pettitte has appeared pedestrian.

Imagine this scenario and consider the odds, because it is the Phillies' path to win this World Series:
 Game 5: Lee outduels Burnett — very plausible, if not expected
 Game 6: Pettitte tries, but fails — again, plausible as long as Pedro Martinez pitches reasonably close to how he pitched in Game 2
 Game 7: CC Sabathia pitches for the third time in nine days — think the Phillies can't win?

Sabathia showed a few cracks in Game 4. Even the staunchest Yankee supporter would agree he pitched his worst game this postseason, ducking in and out of early trouble to allow three runs in 6.2 innings. How much has the big man kept reserved for Game 7?

The key in the above scenario is how Martinez and Cole "No Mas" Hamels pitch at Yankee Stadium. Should one of them (or JA Happ, in a spot start) falter, A-Rod and co. could punish them, saving the media from giving Girardi its Sonny Corleone-at-the-tollbooth treatment for years to come.

In fact, like Jack, a win tonight turns Girardi from goat to hero. But not here. He's already hopped in the car, mad as hell, and is off to teach Carlo another lesson.

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