Staying the Course is the Best Yankees Plan

A.J. Burnett will start Game Four because there's no better option

By Josh Alper
|  Thursday, Oct 21, 2010  |  Updated 3:58 PM EDT
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Staying the Course is the Best Yankees Plan

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The Yankees spent Sunday telling anyone who would listen that they believe in A.J. Burnett.

That sounds about as plausible as believing in Santa Claus, the Great Pumpkin or James Dolan's ability to own a winning team. Burnett has done nothing to engender such faith and, regardless of what Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi say, they don't believe in him. They believe in the Yankees and they have every reason to believe in that. 

It's become something of an accepted fact that the Yankees are already down 2-1 in this series before Game Three is even played. Cliff Lee's damn good and no one doubts his ability to go out and toss a gem on Monday night, but he doesn't yet have to the power to make actually playing baseball games moot. In that way he's no different from Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum, who linked up on Saturday night in a good, but hardly epic, matchup that was hyped into something much more.

Both Cashman and Girardi were around in 1996 and 1999 when the Braves rolled into the World Series with three of the best starting pitchers in baseball on their side and they were around when the Yankees sprayed champagne all over themselves when those Braves had gone down to defeat. 

As it happens, the guy starting for them on Monday night also remembers those two championship runs. Andy Pettitte's Game Five 1-0 win over John Smoltz -- five days after getting strafed in the opener -- is the stuff of legend and a reminder that you actually need to play the games before you chalk up the results.

And even if they are to lose to Lee tonight, both of those men know that it doesn't mean that they will lose with Burnett on the mound on Tuesday night. The Yankees didn't lose in Game Four of that '96 Series when Kenny Rogers, a paleo-Burnett if there ever was one, spit the bit because winning and losing is about more than the starting pitcher. You don't need to reach that far back in time to make this point either, Game One of this series does the trick, but the point remains that things aren't nearly as cut and dry as they've been made out to be in the last 24 hours. 

As much as Cashman and Girardi have learned from history, the present is also at work here. It's not like they have a ton of choices beyond putting the ball in Burnett's hands and hoping the team gets the job done behind him. The other option is trying to win games with a shaky CC Sabathia, a possibly fatigued Phil Hughes and a recently injured Pettitte going on short rest. Maybe you'd roll the dice if Pettitte was in line behind Sabathia, but after Hughes blew up on Saturday there's really no way that you could say the prospect of pitching him on short rest is preferable to the plan put in place before the series. 

That would be pushing the panic button and, once again, the Yankees aren't on the brink that so many people seem to think they're on. They are starting a best-of-five series where they have home field advantage, hardly the time to deviate from a path that got you this far.      

In fact, it's exactly the kind of situation that a championship team would turn to their advantage.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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