That is the question. Naturally, it doesn’t have an easy answer.
Leo Durocher once said, “You don’t save a pitcher for tomorrow. Tomorrow it may rain.” And, since he won about 3700 games in his career, maybe he knew a thing or two. Or maybe he never had to manage in Texas, where it never rains. It’s probably not that simple.
The Yankees find themselves down 2-1 in the series. They have Cliff lee looming on regular rest for a game seven. So, it would be in their best interest to not get to the seventh game. It makes sense to try to win the next three games, and avoid the issue. Tonight’s scheduled starter is AJ Burnett. To say he’s not a guy you can depend on in a situation like this is putting it lightly. There were some who were saying he shouldn’t have been scheduled to start in the first place. The Yankees do, of course, have another option. CC Sabathia could go on short rest. So, does it help the Yankees? Maybe.
In 1998, the Red Sox had a similar choice to make, although it was slightly direr. Pedro Martinez had, of course, won game one of the five game ALDS against the Indians. The Sox had, unfortunately, dropped the next two. So, there was a choice to be made. Do you pitch Pedro on short rest to assure yourself of a victory in game four? From there, you hope anything can happen in a game five. Of course, the Red Sox decided that since Pedro couldn’t pitch both games four and five, it made more sense to save him. Hope to win game four, and bring out a well-rested Pedro as a game five hammer. It almost worked. The Sox lost game four in a heartbreaker.
Another similar situation happened the following year, against the same team, in the five-game ALDS. The Sox were ahead in the series 1-2 (apparently) since Pedro was looming for the game five clincher. Even with the lead in the series, the Indians didn’t want to get to Pedro and an obvious Red Sox victory. So, they pitched Bartolo Colon on short rest in game four. They knew it would be a waste of Colon to have him face Pedro and lose. Unfortunately, that didn’t work either. Colon got lit up, and the Sox moved easily to game five. In game five, of course, Pedro’s amazing performance moved the Sox to the ALCS.
So, the Yankees can certainly look to the Red Sox past for help in their decision. CC can’t win the next three games on his own. So, other starters HAVE to pitch. Does it make sense to give everyone the chance to pitch on their regular rest and be at their best? Perhaps. Or, do they need to fear Lee like the Indians feared Pedro? Should they bypass AJ, and go with CC-Hughes-Pettitte all on short rest, and still have CC again for game seven? I guess I need the answer to another question. If CC pitches in game five, can he do anything for you in game seven? I’d be tempted to flip CC and AJ. Send CC out tonight. Save AJ for game five. That way, CC would be available to pitch as much of game seven as you wanted. He could either start, or be warming up as soon as the game starts to get Pettitte out at the first hint of trouble. That gives you some more options.
The flaw? If CC loses tonight. In that case, you are forced to either pitch everyone on short rest the rest of the way, or have AJ Burnett as your starter down 3-1 in a series. That’s not very attractive. Although, if CC loses his next start, whenever it is, the Yankees are in a heap of trouble anyway. So, maybe that’s not a big deal.
Yup. That’s my plan. I’d pitch CC tonight. Have AJ ready to go tomorrow, and pitch everyone else on their regular rest. Then you have CC ready to save the day in game seven if he needs to.
Of course, the Yankees didn’t ask me.