Off-day notes [UPDATE: Blanton in Game 4]
Greetings from the press box at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, where we will have many plagues to look forward to this weekend -- rain on Saturday night, a transit strike on Sunday night and -- something, perhaps locusts or more bad umpiring, on Monday night.
Both the Phillies and Yankees will be working out in a little while, but I don't expect a lot of news to come out of today's proceedings. The biggest question on everyone's minds -- will both teams use their aces, Philly's Cliff Lee and New York's CC Sabathia, on short rest in Game 4? -- probably won't be answered until after Game 3 late Saturday night.
[UPDATE 2:55 p.m. Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel just named RHP Joe Blanton his Game 4 starter, a bit of a surprise. Blanton gets the nod over lefty ace Cliff Lee, who now gets Game 5 on full rest, and rookie lefty J.A. Happ. One big reason for the decision: Lee has never pitched on short rest in his career. More on this later...]
In the meantime, here are some leftover thoughts from Game 2 and a look into the future:
*I made note in the game story of Mariano Rivera's steep pitch-count -- 39 -- during his two-inning stint in the Yankees' win. This is significant on at least two different levels. Rivera hadn't thrown that many pitches in a postseason game since 2004, and it comes on the heels of a 34-pitch effort four days earlier against the Angels. From a tactical standpoint, Rivera, given the off-day, should be available again on Saturday night, but with the three consecutive games Saturday, Sunday and Monday, the Yankees certainly can't count on six outs from Rivera every night.
But beyond that, the high pitch-count was indicative of Rivera's sudden inability to put away hitters the way he normally does. After the game, I heard some Phillies players chirping about Rivera looking beatable. "We can hit Rivera," Manager Charlie Manuel said. "We can hit any closer. We've proven that."
*I'm told the Fox crew absolutely crushed Manuel for the decision not to start his baserunners from first and second on the 3-2 pitch to Chase Utley with one out in the eighth -- a pitch that resulted in a double-play grounder that ended the Phillies' best chance against Rivera.
I didn't have a problem with it. The chances of Utley grounding into a double-play (something he did only five times during the regular season) were smaller than the combined chances of either a strikeout (leading to the potential of a strikeout/caught stealing double-play) or a line drive (which also would have resulted in a double-play).
And of course, as it turned out, replays showed that Utley beat the relay throw to first -- which, had the umpires called it correctly, would have validated Manuel's decision.
*Ryan Howard struck out four times in Game 2. Alex Rodriguez struck out three times. Both have K'd six times so far in the series. And yet, no one is asking whether Howard is choking. That question only gets posed -- as it was today to me on a national radio show -- about Rodriguez. Why? Because he's A-Rod.
*The Yankees' biggest strategic decision involving Game 3 is whether to play DH Hideki Matsui in the outfield -- after Matsui went the entire regular season without playing in the field. Nick Swisher's struggles at the plate give the Yankees an opening, but -- just a guess -- I suspect Matsui is on the bench.
Enjoy your Friday, everyone, and pray for no rain, transit strikes, locusts or blown calls.
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