Lee should have gotten Game 4 call
ARLINGTON -- Does Game 4 turn out differently if Cliff Lee starts instead of Tommy Hunter? Seeing its ace toughing it out on short rest, does the Rangers' offense get the extra boost it needs to be more productive at the plate? And considering who's on the other side, does rookie Madison Bumgarner become a more shaken, less-effective pitcher than he was in the Giants' 4-0 victory on Sunday?Maybe. ... Maybe not. "I really don't [think so], because it doesn't matter who's out there pitching for us," said Josh Hamilton after his team moved one loss away from elimination with a home defeat. "If we're not swinging the bat, getting hits, scoring runs, it's not going to matter." Fair point, of course. But it's not the point, because we can't judge decisions based on end results. It's neither rational nor fair.
The fact of the matter is this: The Giants went into this Series with a very favorable advantage in the area everyone believes is the most crucial this time of year -- starting pitching. And the only way to counteract that was for Lee -- the one legitimate ace on this Rangers staff -- to maximize himself and go as often as possible.He should've been pitching three games in this series -- Games 1, 4 and 7 -- and the Rangers were perfectly set up to do that after not needing Lee to pitch in last round's seventh game. Now, what we have is the Rangers facing a 1-3 deficit, with one more home game and just one more start remaining out of Lee -- a Game 5 matchup Monday that will pin him against Tim Lincecum and can go either way, really. We are also faced with this question: Is a pitcher who in nine years has never gone on short rest worth a max-level contract? Lee didn't speak to the media on the eve of his Game 5 start, but he did say this when asked about pitching on short rest during last year's World Series: "I'm willing to do whatever they want me to do. If they think it will help the team win, I'll do it, whether it's short rest, extra rest, whatever." He needs to. Because he is considered by all of us a legitimate ace, because many consider him the top left-hander in this game, because ace southpaws like CC Sabathia and Johan Santana have done it when their teams desperately needed it, and because it's hard to call yourself one of the best pitchers in this game if you can't break your routine. Despite pitching on three days' rest, he could've had the clear advantage going up against Bumgarner in Game 4. The Giants could've subsequently pitched Hunter against Tim Lincecum in Game 5, followed by C.J. Wilson -- on normal rest -- against Matt Cain in Game 6. Then, despite pitching on three days' rest again, Lee could've had the clear advantage against Jonathan Sanchez in Game 7, if that's the way it lined up. Would that have changed course for the Rangers in this Series and put them in a more favorable position right now? Who knows? But here's the simple math: You sure have a better chance to win if Lee is your starter three times in a seven-game series instead of two. Whether it's that his managers -- the Phillies' Charlie Manuel last year and the Rangers' Ron Washington now -- are hesitant to venture into uncharted territory, or that the meticulous Lee is basically unwilling to pitch on short rest, isn't particularly clear. But I'm not buying the notion Lee can't be dominant on three days' rest just because he's never done it before. Let me take you back to 2003. It was Game 6 of the World Series. The Marlins held a 3-2 lead on the Yankees and the Series had shifted to Yankee Stadium. Josh Beckett, then 23 and ripening, was the Game 3 loser after giving up two runs in 7 1/3 innings three days earlier. It would've made all the sense in the world to slot him in as the Game 7 starter and have him pitch on normal rest. But Jack McKeon didn't do it that way. The Marlins' old-school skipper felt he needed to win that Series right then and there. So, he started Beckett on three days' rest, even though the only other time he had done that hardly even counted (he started and threw a mere two innings on two days' rest the previous year). As you probably already know, Beckett wound up dominating the Yankees in Game 6, hurling a shutout to clinch it for his club in the Bronx. And as you may not have realized, McKeon taught us two very valuable lessons that night: Instead of waiting for things to fall according to schedule in the playoffs, you need to go with your best as soon as they are available; and just because a guy has never started on short rest doesn't mean he can't do so effectively.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Gonzo and 'The Show'. Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.