Dominance not always about perfection
Game 4 illustrates why Yankees always find ways to win
ANAHEIM -- The New York Yankees can do a number of things wrong and still be within an arm's length of unbeatable.
That is one definition of a truly substantial baseball team. And this is what is going on in the 2009 American League Championship Series, in which the Yankees have taken an imposing 3-1 lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim without being at their collective best. The winning equation on Tuesday night could be stated very clearly: The Bombers had CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez, and the other guys didn't.
The Yankees had an 0-for-26 streak with runners in scoring position stretching from Game 1 to the fourth inning of Game 4. That kind of thing would be fatal to the chances of a less talented crew. In the midst of its drought, though, New York was winning three of four against the team with the second-best record in baseball.
Game 4 was a 10-1 Yankees victory, a dominant performance on the scoreboard, although the New York club was not without gaffes. On one play that had comic entertainment value, the Yankees had two runners in the immediate vicinity of third base at the same time in the fourth inning. Jorge Posada and Robinson Cano were tagged out by Angels catcher Mike Napoli while off the bag, but only one was ruled out by third-base umpire Tim McClelland.
McClelland admitted in a postgame statement that replays showed both runners should have been called out. On the other hand, in a separate play, McClelland had called out Nick Swisher for leaving third too early, and what should have been a sacrifice fly turned into a double play.
"In my heart, I thought he left too early," McClelland said.
But the umpire admitted that replays indicated that his call was incorrect.
The umpires are human, and so are the Yankees. But the Bronx Bombers are at a point where they can absorb some human frailty and still win.
It helps when they accomplish the basic function of outpitching the opposition. On Tuesday night in Game 4, Sabathia was once again in charge of this area. For the third straight time in this postseason, he was more than up to the challenge.
There had been considerable speculation about how Sabathia would function in his start, working on three days' rest. It is now safe to say that his effectiveness was not reduced in any way. His performance in Game 4 looked a lot like his other two performances in this postseason. He pitched eight innings, giving up just one run on five hits, striking out five and walking two. His efficiency on the mound made his short-rest situation even more plausible. He needed 101 pitches to go eight innings.
"I didn't feel any different at all," Sabathia reported.
If there is any difference, it is that he is better than ever. Earlier in his career, Sabathia had some troubles in the postseason. Now on three days' rest or four, he has moved beyond that.
"I never had any doubt about me being able to perform on this stage and to pitch well late in October," Sabathia said. "But it seems like some people did."
Tell us who those people were and we'll have them arrested. Now, rather than giving Sabathia additional rest, let's give the speculation about him a rest. He can pitch on three days' rest. The record says he can do this three times in a row with great effectiveness. The fourth time might be a problem, but that's not going to be an issue this October/November, because unless the World Series goes to a best-of-15 format, Sabathia will not have to make all that many more starts on less than full rest.
And a word must be said on behalf of A-Rod, a rather recent addition to the pantheon of Yankees postseason greats. He is also working successfully on the total transformation of his postseason image.
Far from the October disappearances that characterized his earlier work, A-Rod is hitting with frequency, for distance, and in critical situations. He homered in his third straight postseason game on Tuesday night. He has five home runs over the seven games the Yankees have played vs. the Twins and Angels. He had one home run over three previous postseason series. This is the Rodriguez the Yankees hoped they were supposed to have.
Asked if he had "vanquished" questions about his October shortcomings, Rodriguez replied with admirable candor: "Well, I'm not sure about that. I will say that in other postseasons I failed, and sometimes failed miserably. It certainly feels good to come through for my team and help the team win."
Rodriguez has scored nine runs in seven postseason games. He has driven in 11. He has 27 total bases in 27 at-bats. The postseason is not over, but to date, he is having a superstar's October.
And the Yankees are getting enough truly dominant performances from their leading men to be 6-1 in the 2009 postseason, one victory away from the World Series.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.