Burnett roughed up in Game 5 after quick turnaround
PHILADELPHIA -- In this World Series, the Philadelphia Phillies are 2-0 when Cliff Lee is the starting pitcher and 0-3 when anybody else has that assignment. A subtle trend may have emerged.
After what occurred in Game 5 of the World Series, there is going to be a renewed debate about the issue of pitching on short rest. But short rest or regular rest, a little nap or Rapid Eye Movement, the more important issues are who is on the mound and how he is throwing.
On Monday night, the mound matchup was the Yankees' A.J. Burnett (short rest) against the Phillies' Cliff Lee (regular rest). Burnett was hit hard. Lee was not at his best, but he did not have to be in an 8-6 Phillies victory. With his team facing elimination, he pitched well enough to win. He is now 4-0 in five postseason starts.
Maybe Burnett's problem was the three days' rest, although he had pitched before on three days' rest and pitched very well in those circumstances. Perhaps Lee was the beneficiary of getting his regular four days of rest. But his performance may have more to do with the simple fact that he is Cliff Lee and he has pitched better than anybody else on the planet this autumn.
When Yankees manager Joe Girardi pitched CC Sabathia successfully on short rest in both the American League Championship Series and the World Series, he was congratulated for his aggressive handling of his rotation. Now, presumably, he will be criticized for becoming greedy.
Pitching being something other than an exact science, it is more than difficult to determine what percentage of Burnett's problems Monday night arose from short rest. If he had pitched with the brilliance he demonstrated in Game 2, this would not have been a pertinent issue. But instead, he gave up six earned runs in two-plus innings. Girardi said that Burnett's problems, primarily lack of precise location, had no direct correlation to short rest.
Long odds on short rest
The numbers haven't been very good for starters pitching on three or fewer days' rest in the postseason since it expanded to three rounds in 1995.
Source: Elias Sports Bureau
In the other clubhouse, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel had been second-guessed because he had not pitched Lee in Game 4 on short rest. But with this Game 5 result, Manuel appeared to be a man of patience and discretion, somebody who had not panicked under the pressure of trailing the Yankees in a World Series.
Lee wasn't as unhittable as he had been in his Game 1 start against the Yankees. But it tells you how well the guy is going when he isn't at his best, yet he defeats baseball's best offense in the biggest game of the year.
It was win or take a hike for the Phillies. Their pitching was good enough to win. The Yankees' was not.
"If we would have pitched today, we probably would have won," Girardi said. "That's the bottom line. A.J. struggled today. He felt good, he just struggled today. That's something that happens in the game of baseball."
Girardi's use of his starters has been aggressive, but it may also be the only reasonable option that he has. There has been a lot of talk about Chad Gaudin getting a start, but you don't see Gaudin out there on the mound, do you? He has pitched one inning in this postseason. The Yankees are not going to start him in this situation. He has been a decoy in this postseason, which is not that bad when you consider that this April he was released by the Chicago Cubs.
It is also distinctly possible that this short-rest obsession would have never occurred if the Yankees had the services of Chien-Ming Wang, who had already become a rotation staple before he was sidelined by a foot injury in 2008 and a shoulder injury this year.
"Chien-Ming Wang was excellent for the Yankees, and it's unfortunate that he got hurt this year and what he's been through the last two years," Girardi said. "Here's a guy that had won 19 games in '06 and '07 and was on his way last year to winning 19, I believe, before he hurt his foot. It's been tough for him going back to the foot injury."
Joba Chamberlain's role, more debated than health care in America, might still be in the rotation for the long term, but for this postseason, he was back in a setup role. In any case, the Yankees may be in a three-man short-rest rotation because it is Girardi's calculation that this is all he reliably has.
The Phillies could use one more starter, too, preferably a Cliff Lee clone. Lee has essentially taken the part that Cole Hamels played in the 2008 postseason: the lefty who could not be beaten. But Hamels has not come close to that performance in this postseason, and instead of being the solution, has become part of the problem.
Lee finally ran out of gas in the eighth inning in Game 5, giving up a single and two doubles, leaving with an 8-4 lead. This had no bearing on the eventual outcome and served only to take a little luster off Lee's postseason ERA, which rose from 0.54 to 1.56.
"I don't think my command was as good as it has been," Lee said. "It was a game where I had to battle a little bit. Fortunately, we scored a lot of runs and made things easier as far as that goes."
So the Phillies remained alive in the Series and unbeaten in Cliff Lee's postseason starts. Part of their problem right now, in this November, is that it doesn't appear that Cliff Lee will have any more postseason starts.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.