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New York Yankees' Joe Girardi loses World Series pitching gamble

Starting on three days’ rest, the Yankees’ A.J. Burnett fails to get an out in the third.

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Starting on three days’ rest, the Yankees’ A.J. Burnett fails to get an out in the third.

PHILADELPHIA — This is what happens when a man gets greedy. When he sees possibilities instead of pitfalls. He ends up on the mound on a cool November night, removing his starting pitcher in the third inning of a World Series.

And the rest of us wonder if he didn't just author a fateful mistake.

The World Series is going back to New York for Game 6, and an avalanche of questions is following close behind.

For instance, did Yankees manager Joe Girardi give the Phillies the opening they needed to become the first team in 30 years to recover from a 3-to-1 deficit without homefield advantage, and still win a World Series?

Has he ensured that the Yankees will use starting pitchers on short rest for the rest of the Series?

And was his decision to start A.J. Burnett on three days rest Monday night based on his confidence in Burnett's abilities, or was it a complete lack of faith in the back end of his rotation?

Today, they are all legitimate questions because the Phillies have new life after an 8-6 victory in Game 5. It's true, they are still behind in the Series. It's true, the final two games will be at Yankee Stadium. And it's true that Philadelphia's rotation is on the wrong side of ugly.

On the other hand, did Girardi screw up?

"No, I don't think there was any correlation," Girardi said, when asked if three days' rest was a factor in Burnett's performance. "He just lacked command tonight."

The issue is not that the Yankees lost Game 5. That was a pretty strong possibility no matter who was pitching because the Phillies had Cliff Lee going on full rest. The problem is how that decision impacts Game 6.

Girardi has a choice between giving Chad Gaudin the first postseason start of his career, or using 37-year-old Andy Pettitte on three days' rest. All indications are Pettitte will be handed the ball on Wednesday. Girardi said he will see how the left-hander feels this afternoon, but it's hard to imagine Pettitte passing up the chance for another World Series start.

Whether it ends up being Pettitte or Gaudin, it seems obvious that neither option would be as appealing as Burnett on full rest.

And that may be the decision Girardi lives to regret. He could have played it safe and started Gaudin in Game 5, knowing that a victory on the road against Lee was a tall order. Instead, he got greedy. He tried to step on Philly's throat, and he missed.

"This one is on me," Burnett said. "These guys put up the kind of runs that usually win ballgames. I have to take it hard. It was nobody else's fault but mine out there. It was embarrassing.

"You have to figure out ways to throw strikes. And I didn't do it."

Burnett could not even get an out in the third while pitching on short rest for the first time in more than a year. He allowed nine of 15 hitters to reach base, and gave up six runs. It was the worst starting performance by a pitcher in the World Series since Russ Ortiz gave up seven runs in 12/3 innings for the Giants against Anaheim in Game 2 of 2002.

Girardi had made the announcement about Burnett before early Sunday afternoon, but acknowledged he reconsidered throwing Gaudin after the Yankees won Game 4 on Sunday night. There was also the consideration that Burnett has pitched much better at Yankee Stadium (a 3.51 ERA) than on the road (4.59) this season.

"We talked about it a little bit," Girardi said. "The interesting thing is Chad hasn't thrown much in the last month, and that's a difficult spot to put him in."

No more difficult than Game 6 on Wednesday night.

Either way, Girardi is looking at a risky proposition. Pettitte has been effective on three days' rest in the postseason in his career (3-1, 2.88 ERA), but he hasn't done it since 2003. On the other hand, Gaudin has not made a start since Sept. 28.

No manager has used a three-man rotation in a World Series of six games or more since the Braves lost to the Blue Jays in 1992, but Girardi seems to be leaning in that direction.

"If Andy physically feels good, he's going to go on Wednesday," Girardi said. "This is something we've talked about all throughout. If he feels good, he's going"

In effect, Girardi is getting another chance at the same decision.

Does he use a fully rested Gaudin, or a veteran on short rest?

Girardi is either going to prove he was right all along, or he will be answering questions about one of the most damaging managerial decisions in World Series history.

New York Yankees' Joe Girardi loses World Series pitching gamble 11/02/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 3, 2009 7:24am]
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