Joe Girardi spent the entire week trying to prove that the Yankees weren’t just another first-round dropout team that collapses under pressure. Controversial moves (mostly centered around Alex Rodriguez) took center stage this week and completely overshadowed what should have been the real story: Yankee pitching.
It was difficult to read an article, watch SportsCenter, or listen to the radio without reading or hearing about the A-Rod conundrum ad nauseum. And it’s easy to see why: the Yankees have always been a team better known for their power lineup, and until recently the $30 million dollar man has been an integral part of that.
But, it would be beyond unfair to let the outstanding pitching performances of the entire starting rotation to fly under the radar. The series with Baltimore epitomized the cliché that good pitching beats good hitting. Throughout the five-game series, the Orioles did not score more than three runs in any game. Baltimore pitching was almost as good, with Game 1 being the only game the Yanks passed the three-run threshold themselves.
Without the gems spun by Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes, and CC Sabathia (twice) Raul Ibanez’s pair of pinch-hit home runs would have been moot point, if they would have happened at all. The latest beauty came in last night’s do-or-die Game 5, with Sabathia throwing the first postseason complete game by a Yankee since Roger Clemens in 2000.
The Yankee ace surrendered only four hits and struck out nine, making him 2-0 with a 1.53 ERA this postseason. His teammates never seemed to have a doubt about the kind of performance they would get out of their workhorse. “He’s the best pitcher in baseball, in my mind,” a pumped-up Nick Swisher said after the game.
Sabathia turned out to be the only starter in the Yankee rotation to garner a win in the series, despite the fact that each pitcher delivered a quality start. Pettitte started Game 2 but was outpitched by Wei-Yin Chen and ended up taking the loss in the 3-2 game. Kuroda held the O’s to two runs in Game 3, but was unduly forgotten in the twelve-inning shuffle; David Robertson earned the win thanks to his two scoreless innings. And Hughes hurled one of the best games of his career in Game 4 (6 2/3 innings, four hits, one run) but suffered from lack of run support as the Orioles finally eked a run out of David Phelps in the thirteenth inning.
Tonight the Yankees will face Detroit, a team very much like themselves in the sense that they both have the potential to be a hard-hitting team with dominating pitching. And despite two extra-inning contests in the ALDS, the Yankee bullpen is rested and good to go, in the event that a starter falters. This is especially good news when you consider that the Yankees are the only team playing in league championship series not to get a day off in between.
The focus this week was on the Yankee hitters, their struggles with runners in scoring position, and moves Girardi made and didn’t make. But the bottom line is each starting pitcher came into his game with the same mindset: give the team a chance to win. The Yankees will need them to live by the same philosophy if they want to have a chance to win the ALCS.