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Yankees' rotation ready for ALCS
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10/09/2004 11:37 PM ET
Yankees' rotation ready for ALCS
Experience, strong performance vs. Twins help out
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The decision to not use Mike Mussina in Game 4 against the Twins paid off. (Julie Jacobson/AP)

MINNEAPOLIS -- Whatever urges the New York Yankees had toward starting Mike Mussina in Game 4 of the Division Series, they resisted them successfully -- and wisely, it now appears.

The Yankees, with their victory over the Minnesota Twins Saturday, return to New York and their much-anticipated American League Championship Series meeting with the Boston Red Sox. The victory served a dual purpose because it kept the Yankees from having to use Mussina in a Division Series Game 5.

Mussina, after coming back from an elbow injury, closed the regular season with six straight quality starts, three of which were more like superb starts. And he had a solid, although not victorious, performance in the opener of this Series. He appears, at this point, to be the Yankees' best bet in the starting rotation. He is likely to face Curt Schilling in Game 1 of the ALCS, with Jon Lieber facing Pedro Martinez in Game 2.

Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees
 GAME LOCATION DAY DATE TIME TV SCORE
Game 1 at New York         NYY 10, BOS 7
Game 2 at New York         NYY 3, BOS 1
Game 3 at Boston Fri. Oct. 15 8:00 p.m. FOX  
Game 4 at Boston Sat. Oct. 16 7:30 p.m. FOX  
Game 5* at Boston Sun. Oct. 17 7:30 p.m. FOX  
Game 6* at New York Tue. Oct. 19 8:00 p.m. FOX  
Game 7* at New York Wed. Oct. 20 8:00 p.m. FOX  
 * If necessary

For a time, the Yankees were having difficulty creating a postseason rotation of any sort, what with Kevin Brown's back problems, Orlando Hernandez's shoulder problems and the general level of uncertainty regarding how effective Javier Vazquez would be. There was a temptation to start Mussina on short rest, but the Yankees didn't give in to it. And now, the veteran is fully available at the top of the ALCS rotation.

"You know, we have done the three-day thing before, and there are a lot of times when you really set it up that way because you feel comfortable with it that way, but Mike has had some physical problems before, and we don't want to really push that envelope, basically," said manager Joe Torre.

"We felt that, you know, if we did go to a Game 5, I would rather have him on full rest, and the fact that if he pitched on short rest in Game 4, then I'm going to have to have [Lieber] pitch on short rest in Game 5. That certainly wasn't attractive or appealing to me."

Conventional wisdom suggests that the Yankees are in a rare and not exactly advantageous position in this postseason. They don't have anybody with a 2004 regular season record that leaps up and shouts "Ace!" Therefore, the Red Sox, with both Schilling and Martinez landing in this category, would have the obvious edge.

That handy analysis ignores the fact that the Yankees treated Martinez roughly in their recent meetings. Beyond that, the Series against Minnesota suggests that the Yankees' rotation is not in the state of near-collapse that some had suggested.

The Yankees got three solid starts in four games, and Vazquez was not a complete washout in the fourth. The Yankees' rotation was supposed to be the problem in this Series, but it ended up being more like the solution. One way or another, manager Joe Torre says that experience plays a large part. Nobody has quite the postseason experience that the Yankees have.

"I think that's the key, the experience," Torre said Saturday. "Kevin Brown, I know he's walking around like a robot today. He's obviously stiff and sore, but normally a pitcher will be stiff and sore anyway. He's had a history of problems with his back. It magnifies the problem. I think it's just been basically experience that has gotten us there.

"Some experience, we've gained here this week, because Jon Lieber had to pitch this postseason and gave us a huge game in Game 2, and Javy (Vazquez) today, this is his first postseason start.

"I think the fact that there are a lot of players in that clubhouse that -- I don't want to say 'settle people down,' but I think they're there as a safety net or a security blanket for the guys who haven't done it before. That clubhouse is pretty calm, comfortable and confident -- not overconfident. That's one thing, I think; when you have the experience, you realize how things can get away from you very quickly. We certainly try to guard against that."

Given the circumstances of Mussina's availability, and given the level of performance the Yankee starters had against Minnesota, the suggestion of a starting pitching mismatch in favor of Boston is an overheated notion. The Yankees will come into the ALCS with a more settled and less uncomfortable situation in their rotation than the one they had one week ago, before they beat the Twins.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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