Things to Put in Your Pipe and Smoke

Well, I don’t know why I’m ever shocked by anything this team does anymore. I was privately telling people I expected the Yankees to win in 5, even going so far as to get into a hopeless argument with Blockie, Friend of the Blog and Sometime Fantasy Sports Antagonist, while we were watching the game last night. Blockie, Friend of the Blog and Sometime Fantasy Sports Antagonist, seemed to think that Carlos Ruiz is a better player at this point in his career than Jorge Posada, and that the gap between Derek Jeter and Jimmy Rollins is anything less than precipitous.

But let’s be completely honest here, the Phillies deserved  every bit of that win last night.

Cliff Lee and Chase Utley are the two best players on the team and they both rose to the occasion in Game 1. Chase Utley is on base ALL THE TIME. It’s gotten to the point where you don’t even have to ask if he’s on base. Chase Utley gets on base more than Sarge talks about  food. What has really gone unnoticed in all the hoopla over Cliff Lee is how well CC Sabathia pitched. Sabathia allowed 7 baserunners in 7 innings. Utley accounted for three of those times on base, including the two home runs. If not for a historic pitching performance by Lee, Sabathia pitched well enough for the Yankees to win.

But how about that Cliff Lee? I think that enough has been said about his performance already, so I’d like only to touch on two points about Lee in particular. First, where did the old Cliff Lee go? This Cliff Lee was not only pitching effectively, he was smiling, showing emotion, exchanging funny faces with Jimmy Rollins, and doing the Willie Mays Hayes can ‘o corn special on the mound. Who does he think he is, Ozzie Smith? Come on.

Second, Cliff Lee now goes into the Tom Glavine category for pitchers where I can’t intuitively figure out. Lee doesn’t throw particularly hard, doesn’t have exceptional breaking stuff. Not like Hamels, where you can see the change-up, or Rivera, with the excellent cutter. The best I can figure, Lee has AMAZING control, with just enough stuff to get by. That’s why I had original misgivings about trading for him instead of Roy Halladay (an opinion that I voiced quite vociferously at the time and one for which I have had to eat more than my share of crow), but he’s as big a reason as anyone that the Phillies are still in this, much less in the driver’s seat.

This Game 1 win for the Phillies is huge. So big, in fact, that I don’t believe that it can be overstated. First of all, we have no idea how this team would respond to having to come back from a series deficit. The last time the Phillies came from behind to win a postseason series was the 1993 NLCS, when they dropped Games 2 and 3 to the Braves and came back to reel off three wins in a row. I don’t want to have to try that again.

Second, it means that the worst likely scenario the Phillies will face is having to take one of two in the return leg to New York to close out the series. I’d be shocked if they didn’t come out of Game 5 in Philly ahead. Third, it demystifies the Yankees and CC Sabathia, which might not count for a ton, but it’s got to count for something.

The most interesting implication of the Game 1 win is how complicated it makes setting up the pitching rotation for the rest of the series for the Phillies. The Yankees are pretty much locked into the following rotation for the next 3 games: Burnett, Pettitte, Sabathia (short rest). From there, they can either go (in order of likelihood) Gaudin, Burnett, Sabathia (short rest); Burnett (short rest), Gaudin, Sabathia (short rest); or Burnett, Pettitte, Sabathia, all on short rest.

The Phillies, on the other hand, have their options open. It’s obviously Pedro tonight and Hamels Saturday, but how the rest of the rotation sets up from there on out depends on a few things:

  • Count of the series. Obviously you feel better about Joe Blanton in Game 4 if you’re up 3-0 than down 2-1
  • How Lee feels. Uncle Cholly might have backed himself into a corner by having Lee throw 122 pitches last night.
  • Most important: How Cole Hamels looks in Game 3. If you go to Blanton in Game 4, you’re married to Hamels as your Game 7 starter. Now we’ve seen the Cole Hamels who took less than 100  pitches to throw a complete-game shutout in Dodger stadium earlier this year, and we’ve seen the one who’s looked moody and distracted the past 6 weeks. If 2008 Hamels shows up, I’d be totally comfortable throwing him against Sabathia with the World Series on the line. If the post-haircut Samson that we’ve seen recently shows up in game 3, gives up a few solo homers and sulks around the mound, we’re in trouble if this goes to 7.

But if Hamels looks remotely comfortable in Game 3, I feel great about using a 4-man rotation. Let’s say that we split the next 2 games and go into Game 4 up 2-1 in the series. Then you go with Blanton vs. Sabathia in Game 4 and try to steal it. Then, worst-case scenario is that you get Lee versus either Gaudin or Burnett on short rest at home in Game 5 and go back to New York up 3-2. I’d like the Phillies’ chances under those circumstances.

I’ve realized that I’m turning into Peter King, ending every column with a series of bullet points, but I don’t really care.

Finally, some prop bets for the rest of the series:

  • Total pickoff attempts in Game 3: Over/under 75
  • Number of Major League references per game between myself and Blockie, Friend of the Blog and Sometime Fantasy Sports Antagonist: Over/under 5
  • Number of Rudy Giuliani TV appearances per Yankee home game (-7) vs. number of combined Ed Rendell/Joe Biden appearances per Phillies home game (we need to get the Veep to represent for us). I’m so sick of Rudy Giuliani. His greatest claim to fame is being there for the greatest act of domestic terrorism in American history. And people actually thought that made him qualified to direct American foreign policy.  Unbelievable. You know, I went to the Reading Air Show once, so I must be qualified to fly for the Blue Angels by that logic.
  • Number of times Joe Buck raises his voice over the balance of the World Series: over/under 2.

So that’s all. Enjoy your Game 2, and may the best team continue not to win.

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Filed under 2008-09 Season

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