11/02/09 3:30 AM EST
The rest of the story lies with Lee
Phillies' ace, on regular schedule, tries to extend season
By Mike Bauman / MLB.com
Take it, Cliff. Please.
This is the best thing going in the Phillies' immediate future. They have the single best starting pitcher of this postseason going in this elimination game. That would be Cliff Lee, who is 3-0 with a 0.54 ERA in four postseason starts. He has the only Philadelphia victory in this World Series. Tonight in Citizens Bank Park, at 7:57 p.m. ET, the Phillies must hope that he will find a second triumph.
Lee will be pitching on full rest, regular rest, four days' rest. Beyond the Yankees leading by two games, this is one big difference between these two clubs: Yankees starters pitch on short rest; Phillies pitchers do not.
Lee has been by far Philadelphia's best starter, but he has never pitched on short rest. Manager Charlie Manuel has been asked repeatedly about changing his mind on this issue, and he's getting a little testy about it. But when he was asked for his reasons for not trying Lee on short rest, he responded: "One of them was, 'We're going to experiment with Cliff Lee in the World Series?'"
CC Sabathia pitched on short rest in Game 5 on Sunday night. He left with a 4-3 lead in the seventh. In the American League Championship Series, Sabathia threw a gem on short rest against the Angels in Game 4, helping to turn that series in the Yankees' favor.
Now, the Yankees' A.J. Burnett will take his turn tonight, pitching on three days' rest. Burnett had a terrific outing in a Game 2 victory in this series. He has pitched on short rest before, and the experience was positive for him.
"Without sounding too confident, I liked it when I did it in the past," Burnett said Sunday night. "It was midseason obviously and not this late in the season, but I felt great when I did it in the past. My body felt great. It just seems like it doesn't allow you to overdo it. You feel good arm-wise and you get your work in between. But there's something about going on three days. It's hard to overthrow, it's hard to overdo it, and I enjoyed it when I did it. I loved it."
Should Lee prevail in Game 5, the Game 6 matchup would appear to be Pedro Martinez for Philadelphia vs. Andy Pettitte for New York. Martinez pitched well, but did not win in Game 2. Pettitte has twice broken the record for postseason victories and now has 17, after winning Game 3 here. But he's 37 years old and would be returning on three days' rest. This is not like taking Sabathia, in the prime of his career, and depriving him of one day of rest.
Martinez might rise to another World Series occasion. If there were a Game 7, Sabathia would pitch for the Yankees on -- what else? -- short rest. In the Philadelphia rotation, it would be Cole Hamels' turn to pitch. Hamels dominated the 2008 postseason and was the MVP in both the National League Championship Series and World Series. But he's getting battered in this postseason, and he recently said that he could not wait for this season to be over.
So, Game 7 could feature Sabathia, who appears to want the ball every day, against Hamels, who seemingly does not want the ball at all.
The edge might go to the Yankees there. But first, Game 5, in which the Phillies get their best shot, with Lee on regular rest. Why is Lee so good?
Manuel says that when Lee's command is on and he is working in rhythm at a high pace, he creates energy for his team and "keeps his team interested."
Lee is so matter-of-fact about his success that he seems to flatten it. But when you see him work, such as in the Game 1 victory, you see a master of his craft at work.
"It's about making pitches and mixing speeds and being unpredictable and stuff like that," Lee said. "It boils down to making pitches, locating and making them swing their way on base, throwing strikes, working ahead -- all the things you've got to do to be a successful pitcher.
"I don't really overcomplicate it or think, 'Man, I just faced them the other day, it's going to be different now.' It's still the same game. I've still got to go out there and locate pitches and do the things that I just said. And if I don't, bad things will probably happen. And if you do, good things will probably happen. That's how I look at it. It's really that simple."
Maybe it will really be that simple for Lee and the Phillies in Game 5. Philadelphia is at the doorstep of defeat in this Fall Classic. But that bleak short-term outlook includes one very bright spot: the best starting pitcher in the 2009 postseason, Cliff Lee, on hand and in position to keep the Phillies' hopes alive.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.