11/05/09 4:25 AM EST
In the end, Girardi's pitching plan pays off
Yanks only club to complete three rounds with three starters
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
What that trio of Twins pitchers accomplished back in a 1991 Fall Classic that defined such a title, a Yankees bunch that included two New York newcomers (CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett) and one Big Apple old-timer (Andy Pettitte, of course) matched as the clock at Yankee Stadium read 11:51 p.m. ET on Wednesday night.
A three-man rotation -- almost unheard of these days with so much made of pitch counts, ample rest and protecting multimillion-dollar assets -- won the Yankees championship No. 27.
Sure, this title run featured the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui and Mariano Rivera. But it was on the backs of a $161 million lefty, a born-and-bred boy from Arkansas and a 15-year workhorse with a Texas drawl that New York ended a nine-year championship drought.
"We had three competitors -- three guys that battled," first baseman Mark Teixeira said, his eyes protected from the clubhouse bubbly by ski goggles. "That just shows how tough these guys are. They did a great job all postseason."
In 18 years, no club had gone on to win the World Series behind a rotation of three. It took a fearless manager -- Joe Girardi -- answering myriad questions and enduring a city of doubters along the way. But in following the Machiavellian mantra in which the end justifies the means, Girardi stood firm. He was going with his best, for better or for worse.
Girardi's reasoning was simple: "We thought that this gave us our best chance to win."
The manager had given his starters a bit more rest during the regular season's final month in preparation for pushing them to the limit in the end. And the three seized the challenge, challenging skeptics in return.
Whatever it takes
"We made a commitment to it," said Pettitte, who with his Game 6 win became just the second pitcher to earn the victory in the clinching game of all three series in a postseason, joining Derek Lowe of the Red Sox in 2004. "We talked to each other about it. We realized that we might have to come back on short rest, and we felt like we were all able to do it.
"Joe put it on our shoulders, and I'm just thankful we were able to come through with a championship for him and make that decision look like the right decision."
The final numbers were by no means sensational, as the three combined for a 4.98 ERA in the six-game World Series. But the outings individually -- with the exception of Burnett's Game 5 loss -- were all plenty good enough to give New York a chance to win.
"Our whole goal as a group all year was to keep our team in it as long as we could, because we knew that any time we could erupt at the plate," Burnett said. "And if it wasn't for our offense giving us that confidence, I don't think we could have done what we've done."
The last team to use only three pitchers in a World Series was the 1998 Padres, who didn't win a game in what ended as a methodical Yankees sweep. Even then, that San Diego team had not relied on a three-man rotation through the entirety of the postseason as New York did over the past month.
And while you can compare this Yankees trio to the Twins' staff of 1991, there's one critical caveat to note. Minnesota's run to the World Series championship went through just two rounds and 12 total games. New York's title included 15 games in a three-series format.
Through the Yankees' first two playoff series, their starters had combined for a 2.41 ERA and a 5-0 record. Whether it was fatigue or the opponent -- a potent Philadelphia offense -- that caused that ERA to inflate some during the Fall Classic, analysts will never know. But know this: the rest of the team respected the grittiness and effort of the starters.
"There were a lot of guys who were saying a lot of things about throwing guys on three days' rest," outfielder Nick Swisher said. "Tell all those guys that we've got the trophy now."
In all, four of New York's 15 games this postseason were pitched by a starter on just three days' rest.
It's worth noting, too, that two-thirds of the Yankees' postseason rotation didn't wear pinstripes until 2009. Just as Morris was brought in as a free agent to anchor that 1991 Twins rotation, general manager Brian Cashman set out to secure an ace after his 2008 club fell short of making the postseason for the first time since '93.
Cashman arguably got two -- and on the same day, which makes the story even better. Both Burnett and Sabathia officially became Yankees on Thursday, Dec. 18. Pettitte was re-signed slightly more than one month later.
"It seemed like everything went so quick -- from coming to Spring Training and being nervous to having these guys embrace me and make me feel comfortable in the clubhouse," Sabathia recalled amid a postgame champagne shower. "This is way better than I thought it would be. I can't really put it into words right now."
Burnett's reaction was much the same.
"It was way better than anything I expected," Burnett said. "To be able to do what we did as a staff, it's special to be a part of that."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.