Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hurricane Cliff Strikes the Bronx

For those of you left homeless and/or hopeless by the devastation Hurricane Cliff caused last night, it's probably no consolation that the sun is shining today. No consolation that yes, the Series will go on, at least for a few days more. No consolation that there's still a chance to even up the Series, no consolation that last night might be the last time we see Brian Bruney in 2009.

All you can think about is the horror. The sight of the Yankees never really being in the game, all on account of a pitcher they used to kick around pretty regularly for most of his career. Suddenly, last year he went from fringy finesse lefty to combine harvester of doom (as a professor of mine used to say), and last night he was so locked in that everything--crowd, drizzle, batters, batted balls--was just a nuisance.

As I said on Twitter, it was a lousy feeling. It made me recall the last time I felt so bad about Game 1 of the World Series--back in 1996. Like this time, we were facing an NL team touted for its starting staff. Like last night, there was a player who looked like we wouldn't be able to get him out all series--that year Andruw Jones, this year Chase Utley--hitting a pair of dingers. And, I worry that, like the 1996 World Series, it may get worse before it gets better. AJ Burnett is going for the Yanks tonight, and unless the boys manage to show Pedro Martinez who his daddy is early and often, it'll be a night where I'm chowing down on antacids like they're tic tacs.

Still, the 1996 World Series turned out OK for Yankee fans. Keep the faith, and let's go Yankees.


Aside from Cliff Lee turning into an unstoppable creature from legend, the worst development last night was the continued downward spiral of Phil Hughes, whose postseason has been a completely different creature from his regular season in the pen. Hughes walked both batters he faced and barked at the umpire, even though he didn't come close to the plate with the majority of his offerings. Part of the problem, as Brother Joe notes today at Baseball Prospectus, is that Girardi changed the way he used Hughes, and it's not a fashion that complements Phil's style. Another issue is that Hughes looks like his mechanics are coming apart and his confidence is shot. They say George Steinbrenner was in the house last night, but I can't believe that's so. The George I grew up with would have gone to the clubhouse and fired Dave Eiland immediately after the game, if not earlier.

Not saying it would have been the right thing to do. Just saying that's what would've happened.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Last Minute World Series Preview*

* weather permitting...

I was there on Sunday, the beneficiary of a friend feeling under the weather, when the Yanks clinched American League pennant #40. It was made all the tastier because of the measure of payback the Yanks got against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in California of the West Coast of the United States, who'd sent the Yanks to some early October golfing in 2002 and 2005. Andy Pettitte, who's pretty much been Good Andy full-time since mid-July (he's 8-3 with 12 quality starts in his last 17 games) was on the money once again. A Yankee rally in the fourth gave him the lead, and in the eighth, everyone was surprised to hear the opening notes of Enter Sandman as Girardi took no chances on the last six outs. There was some excitement that inning, because a gork and a Vlad Guerrero single shaved the lead down to one against Rivera. However, Angels deadline pickup Scott Kazmir literally threw that momentum away in the bottom of the inning, when he couldn't throw a strike to the plate or to the first baseman. Boogie down time in the Bronx.

But pennant number 40 means that now it's time to worry about what could be championship number 27--and it's going to be a grind. The Phils won 93 games to the Yanks' 103, playing in a weaker league and arguably weaker division, but that's all out the window right now. The Phils remind me a bit of the 2002 Yankees, a team that was built on big peak performances which were meant to cover for some soft spots in the lineup. However, the starting rotation matches or betters anything the Yankees have put out there since 1998. (Even though the Yanks and Phils were neck-and-neck in SNVAR this season, the mid-season acquisitions of Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez, and the mid-season degradation of Joba Chamberlain, pushes the Pennsylvanians over the top.) The Yankees' bullpen is an off-setting advantage, so I see this as close to a 50/50 series as possible. The keys to this series:

Starting Pitcher: CC Sabathia and Cole Hamels -- These two aren't likely to hook up in any one game of this series, but each shoulders a great responsibility for his team's success. CC should start three games if this World Series goes the full seven, something we haven't seen since Curt Schilling against the Yanks in 2001. Again, this is what he got the big money from the Yanks for. Meanwhile, Hamels was the ace of last season's World Champions, and a big part of the Phils' rotation superiority is the idea that he can snap back to that form, which he showed intermittently this season. In three postseason starts, however, Hamels was nothing special, and seemed to push everyone's frustration threshold--he got pulled in the fifth inning of the NLCS clincher against the Dodgers. Good Cole versus Bad Cole is a big swing for the Phils.

Right Field: Jayson Werth and Nick Swisher -- With the Yanks possibly starting lefties in five of seven games, Werth is going to have to pick up whatever slack the power lefties in the Phils' lineup (Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Raul Ibanez) leave behind. In his first season as a full-timer, Werth was the righty counterpart to Howard, punishing lefties to the tune of a homer every 13.4 plate appearances. Meanwhile, in the Yankees' more balanced lineup, a functional Swisher is the difference between the Yankee lineup being a relentless on base machine that drives pitchers up the wall, or not.

Relief Pitcher: Mariano Rivera and Brad Lidge -- We've seen already in this postseason that Joe Girardi is going to lean on Mariano Rivera like there is no tomorrow--it's one of the few things Joe's done in the playoffs we approve of. The question is whether the Sandman, a month shy of his 40th birthday, can continue to answer the call if Girardi loses faith in Phil Hughes and needs him for extended appearances night after night. Meanwhile, Lidge's issues are well-documented (7.21 ERA this year!) but Charlie Manuel has staked a lot on trying to get him back on track. The Yanks have made a lot of their hay against bullpens this year, so it's unlikely that Lidge will go untested.

If I have to make a call, it's Yanks in six, but I think that overstates how close this series is, and is going to be. Happy baseball, everyone!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Joe Girardi: Super Genius

Game 1, which I attended, was a pure delight--chilly and a bit wet, but damn near perfect. Game 2 was a test of endurance for all involved. With a healthy assist from Alex Rodriguez, and despite the fact that Joe Girardi managed himself into a Chad Gaudin-or-bust situation at the end of the game, things turned out well. Then there was Game 3, where Joba Chamberlain, Girardi, and the Yanks in general managed to spoil a Mariano Rivera performance for the ages. And it only got weirder from there.

To some extent, Yankee fans are going a little hard on Girardi. At worst, he can only claim partial credit for the many machinations that turned Joba Chamberlain from the Yanks' most promising young starter since Andy Pettitte* into...whatever the heck he is right now. The Master Plan of converting Joba from pen to starting rotation, now in its second year, was a top-down organizational decision. Since August, at the very least, it's had a whiff of fiasco to it, and in common-sense terms, it seems like something doomed to failure from the start: start his season in the starting rotation, then just when he seems to have gotten a rhythm going, make his rest between starts long and random, then put him on a strict five-day schedule, but shorten his appearances so that in September--when perhaps a starter should be building his endurance for the playoffs--he's making 3- and 4-inning starts. Then, in the last week of the season, put him in the bullpen as a short reliever. Finally, act surprised when Joba, who hasn't been consistent since all the experimentation started more than two months ago, craps the bed in a playoff game.

So, the whole organization gets to take a bow for Joba's debacle in the seventh inning of Game 3. The whole lineup--the 7-8-9 batters in particular--screwed the pooch, limiting the offense to just the runs that the Captain, A-Rod, Johnny Damon, and Jorge Posada could produce on solo homers. But Girardi gets sole credit for the Tony-LaRussa-on-crack way he's been overmanaging since the regular season ended. The game was lost in the bottom of the 11th inning--an inning which in which Dave Robertson took over for Rivera, got two outs, and was inexplicably replaced with Alfredo Aceves, who allowed a single to Howie Kendrick and a double to Jeff Mathis to blow the game.**

As Pete Abraham put it, it looks like Girardi's being paid by the pitching change, given the nutty and senseless way he's been playing matchups even in games that have no set end point. The Yanks have had three extra inning games (out of six total) in the postseason, and Girardi's managed to use seven relievers in each of those games. Of those 21 relief appearances, almost two-thirds (13) have featured a pitcher throwing less than a full inning.

The big problem is, this isn't the way that Girardi managed during the season. By my calculations, Joe's relievers had the eighth-highest ratio of innings pitched to games appeared (1.12 IP/G), which is an indication that you're not micromanaging and playing matchups. For the sake of comparison, Tony LaRussa's Cardinals relievers got the second-fewest innings pitched per game (0.91) after the Rays (0.90).

Now, it's true that you manage the playoffs differently from the regular season. Joe Torre was a master of this in his years with the Yanks--his bullpen became much, much smaller in October, and his usage of Mariano Rivera much more flexible. Girardi's kept the flexible and intelligent use of Rivera from the Joe Torre era, but turned the rest of his bench and bullpen usage into a showcase for his managerial "genius." After being a fairly laissez-faire tactical manager all season long (he found a good thing with Brett Gardner as a baserunning weapon, but otherwise he managed a fairly standard AL game), Girardi's decided to get showy. Given the deepest bench the Yankees have taken into the postseason since the 70s, Girardi's opted for a roster that gives him a non-hitting third catcher and a second pinch-runner/outfielder, rather than carrying Eric Hinske or Ramiro Pena. After using just one lefthander (Phil Coke) in the bullpen most of the year, he's now carrying two. And he seems to be choking under the weight of all these options.

You see, while it's true that you manage a bit differently in the playoffs, it's not really the time to completely re-make yourself as a manager, either. Joe Girardi won 103 games this season, managing with a much lighter touch than he's shown through five playoff wins. He was far from the perfect manager for those 103 wins, but he should trust the managing style that got him here.


The odd coda to all this is Mariano Rivera. He came into the game in the 10th inning, after Phil Hughes allowed a leadoff double to Angels catcher Jeff Mathis. He soon found himself in a first-and-third, no out situation, when he tried and failed to get the lead runner on a sac bunt. With the top of the Angels lineup due up, Rivera did some of the best pitching of his career, holding the Angels scoreless with the winning run 90 feet away. The fine job Rivera did in the tenth was largely forgotten after Aceves came in to lose the game the following inning. But then it was back in everyone's thoughts again...because some douchetards thought he was throwing a spitter.

Not the opposing team, mind you, or the umps, or anyone in attendance at the game. Some guys, who apparently think the name of Los Angeles of Anaheim's franchise is the "Angles," recorded and posted on YouTube a moment, apparently between pitches, where Rivera, while holding a baseball, spits. From the angle of the camera, it looks like he spits toward the baseball, but the camera cuts away so you can't see where the stream of spittle goes.

Now, when I saw this, I thought it was a joke. Folks like getting Yankee fans' goats, and crave the bit of attention that you can get by having Red Sox fans with time on their hands propagate the video around the Internet, and Yankee fans waste their time denouncing it. The joke stopped being funny when MLB had to issue a statement refuting the charges. Still some bloggers kept on acting like this was for real. Never mind that no one uses spit to load up the ball anymore. Never mind that if someone did, they wouldn't do it by spitting on the ball from nearly an arm's length away, in the open, with live cameras rolling, in front of the Angels team and some 45,000 of their fans. Never mind that some folks have made up things (like where the second base ump was or wasn't looking when the fateful loogy was spewed) to fit this idiotic claim.

Then again, just never mind. We have our dumbest subplot of the 2009 ALCS. And here I thought it would have something to do with the Rally Monkey.


* Yeah, I know that Chien Ming Wang was after Andy Pettitte, and was pretty darn good before he got hurt. But he wasn't heralded as a top prospect, a top of the rotation guy. I'm actually not sure that Pettitte had that kind of hype, either. I think maybe Al Leiter matches the Joba situation a little better--a guy with explosive stuff who looked like a real world beater. But thinking of that comparison makes me really depressed.

** Even if Al Aceves had gotten Kendrick out, Girardi would still have burned Robertson on 11 pitches, in a game which could've easily gone 16 innings. You'd have to think that Robertson facing Kendrick with two outs and the bases empty was certain death in order for that to make sense!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Pre ALCS Thoughts

Wow, the ALDS flew by. The three Yankee victories were, by turn, expected, lucky, and surprising. In Game 1, CC did what he was given the big, huge contract to do, even though he didn't have his best stuff; in Game 2, late inning heroics combined with a lucky break from left field ump Phil Cuzzi, who had one job to do, and did it poorly. Game 3 featured "Can't Pitch" Carl Pavano showing the Yankees exactly the pitcher they thought they signed the week before Christmas in 2004. He was amazing. I was watching the online feed, the center field camera view. In that view, the camera stayed focused on the pitcher after each plate appearance and time and again, the view you'd see was Pavano turning his back to the plate, another strikeout notched, another batter disposed of. It was like that until the seventh, when, with the Twins leading 1-0, Alex Rodriguez went yard to the opposite field to tie the game. More on that in a moment. Two batters later, Jorge Posada did the same. Two guys, who we didn't know what exactly the Yankees would get from them coming into the season, swung everything in the other direction. It wasn't exactly smooth sailing from that point--the Twins helped Phil Hughes survive another unspectacular outing when scrappy piranha Nick Punto got sloppy on the basepaths, and the Captain made him pay for it--but the Yanks tacked on some insurance in the ninth and didn't look back.

Just like that, the Yankees closed out baseball at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, a place hailed alternately as a blight on the baseball landscape or the ultimate home field. Lost between Pavano's performance and another A-Rod postseason homer was Andy Pettitte's performance, which was in keeping with the strong work he did throughout the second half (6-3, 3.31 ERA and a drastic uptick in his strikeout rate). In his postgame interview, Pettitte seemed not only happy to have won and pitched well, but genuinely happy that his former teammate threw well, opposing him. It was a stark contrast to how most most Yankee fans feel about Pavano's post-Yankee life, which some of us hope will be just as full of quad pulls, buttocks contusions, and non-lethal late night car accidents as his Yankee tenure was. Still, the graceful approach was fully in keeping with the person Pettitte's shown himself to be throughout the years--from the early in his career when people thought he might be too nice to be a successful pitcher, right down to the way he comforted Jerry Hairston Jr. when Hairston's defensive lapses wrecked his perfect game back in August.

Alex and Fast Eddie

"I mean, how can I lose? 'Cause you were right, Bert: it's not enough to have talent, you got to have character, too. Yeah, I sure got character now.
--Fast Eddie Felson, The Hustler

One reason that Alex Rodriguez has been almost universally disliked in baseball is because he didn't have a good story. Good stories require drama, and drama usually requires a protagonist overcome (or struggle to overcome) adversity. From the start of his career, there wasn't much adversity to A-Rod's life in baseball. He always made things look easy: picked first in the draft, got to the majors early, established himself as a star quickly. Became the highest-paid athlete in sport. Traded to MLB's perennial payroll leader, a team that would give him every possible chance to win a championship or seven.

It was all too easy. When he finally did face adversity, in the 2004 ALCS, he wasn't cast as the hero, but rather the villain of someone else's success story. The following year, he won the MVP, but the Angels wanted no part of him in the ALDS--he walked six times in five games, good for a .435 OBP, but he only got two hits in the series, and no RBI. The next season featured the one of the worst episodes in recent Yankees history. Mid-season Rodriguez got into a bad funk. In a sharp departure from his usual methods of operation, Joe Torre decided that the way to shake him out of it was public shaming. The result was a mid-September Sports Illustrated article where Torre, Don Mattingly, and various teammates (particularly Jason Giambi) spoke openly about the various things they felt were A-Rod's problems. Ironically, the article came out just as it seemed that Rodriguez had gotten things back on track. Things degenerated from there until the point where Torre batted the previous year's MVP eighth in the lineup against the Tigers in the ALDS. Another giant fiasco for A-Rod, another loss for the Yankees.

As we talked about at the beginning of the ALDS, no one feels empathy, much less sympathy, for you when you're the richest, most talented guy in the room, and you don't achieve your goals. In 2007, after the Yanks lost the Midges Series against Cleveland--after another underwhelming offensive series by the third baseman--Rodriguez cemented that lack of empathy when his agent notoriously timed the declaration that Alex would be opting out of his contract--the richest contract in sports--during the World Series. Rodriguez was able to smooth things over, handling the negotiations personally to remain a Yankee, but that was hardly an altruistic act. It was closer to corporate damage control.

Then came this past off-season, Rodriguez's first in Yankee pinstripes that wasn't preceded by postseason humiliation. The big A-Rod scandal of 2008--the bust up of his marriage, with an apparent assist from Madonna--was just winding down when news of Selena Roberts's (anonymous sources) tell-all book hit the airwaves. Now Alex wasn't just a choker, he was a steroid cheat. Rodriguez's too-smooth apologia, full of explanations that were easily shot down and relatively devoid of emotion, only stoked the anger he faced.

Then came what looked like the coup de grace that would end Alex's season before it began--the discovery that he had a chronic hip injury. Surgery was expected to wipe out most, if not all, of his season, and some had to wonder if it wasn't for the best for Rodriguez to escape the spotlight in light of the season in light of the additional revelations promised in Roberts's book. However, Alex Rodriguez--in a move that wasn't in line with his perceived character--opted for a different surgery, a stopgap, instead. He'd still need a full surgical repair eventually, but the procedure was going to get him back on the field before the All Star break.

Still, I'd written A-Rod off for 2009, and I suspect I wasn't alone. The Yanks were stuck through 2016(?) with a contract for a guy with a bad hip. Even if he could play, there were the steroid distractions, and no access to the DH spot, since the team had a lot of guys headed that way coming into the season (remember, Posada was coming off his shoulder repair, and Matsui his recurring knee troubles), and no depth in the infield. One bad slide, one dive for a ball at third, and who knew what would happen to the jury-rigged hip?

But the injury wound up doing something interesting to Alex Rodriguez. It made him human. Finally, there was a reason for him to struggle. When he came back to the Yankees' lineup in May, he looked as if he'd been aged into his mid-40s. He couldn't run, his batting average was low, and he had a hard time catching up to good fastballs (according to Baseball, he only hit .198/.343/.432 against power pitchers in 2009). Like many older ballplayers, he had to be more selective, draw walks, and wait for mistakes. Still, he provided the team an immediate boost--the team was 81-41 when Rodriguez started this season, 22-18 when he didn't.

He seemed more relaxed. This year, Alex had his best numbers when the team was within two runs of their opponent, and his effectiveness actually went down in blowouts either way. Alex had encountered adversity--divorce, the loss of his reputation with the steroids and other Selena Roberts accusations, the loss of his health--and seemed a changed man.

All of this made me think of Robert Rossen's 1962 black and white classic, The Hustler. In the film, Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) travels cross-country to play the best straight pool player in the country, Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason). Eddie's young and extremely talented, and the first time he plays Fats he has the older man on the ropes, but he gets cocky, and drunk, and ultimately loses his shirt. At the end of the movie he plays Fats again, and the quote above is from that confrontation. In between the big pool matches, Fast Eddie is put through trials: He scuffles around trying to raise money for a rematch. He falls under the wing of a gambler who both teaches him some sports psychology and undermines his confidence at every turn. He gets injured while hustling pool, and he loses the woman he loves. The various pains and humiliations he faces along the way transform him, to the point that he's a completely different person than the guy who lost to Minnesota Fats before. As it turns out, now he can't lose, because he has nothing to lose--except his hard-earned character.

It's a classic story, one you've probably seen repeated in over a dozen sports films and at least half of Tom Cruise's filmography. Alex Rodriguez, returning to the ALCS for the first time since 2004, has a chance now to make that story his. He's eight wins, and a few more games like he had against the Twins, away. I wish him luck.

Other ALCS Notes:

  • With Joba remaining in the bullpen, the aim now is to use CC Sabathia the way aces were used in the 80s and early 90s--three starts in a seven game series, if needed. That puts a premium on the Yankees trying to beat the Angels early, since you can't pull that off two series in a row. Since I don't want to see any more of Chad Gaudin in the first inning in 2009, here's hoping the Yanks can win in five.
  • The Angels are a scary, scary team. The way they put the hurt on Papelbon at the end of their ALDS was just breathtaking. It's a team much like the Yanks of late 90s in that the lineup relies on depth more than any single peak performer.
  • I'm headed to fight the elements at the Stadium for tonight's Game One. I'll be in section 130. Updates via Twitter (@derekbaseball) as needed. Happy baseball!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Almost Game Time: ALDS Game 2

Game One of Twins/Yankees provided the expected result (7-2 win), but not in the expected ways. As I noted on Twitter (@derekbaseball, if you're not following) CC was demonstrating the difference between command and control for much of the game. If you look at the box score, you'd see that see that the big lefty struck out eight and walked none, and figure that he must've really been on. Instead, it was clear throughout the game that CC wasn't hitting his spots amd was actually struggling a bit--think about how many times he crossed up Jorge Posada--even though he could still get the ball over the plate when he needed it to avoid walking anyone. The Twins did their part to help CC out, swinging early and often. It seemed like this approach could yield some fruit for Minnesota in the early innings--the Twinkies were fouling off so many pitches that Sabathia was burning 20 pitches per inning--but that same hacktasticalness also contributed to their eight Ks against CC.

There's a lesson for Game Two starter AJ Burnett here: the Twins will get themselves out. Be patient, stay around the plate, and the Twins will assist you by swinging away. In two starts against the Twins this season, Burnett gave them 10 walks in 13 1/3 innings, which is way too much to give a squad that's missing a large part of its power. If AJ can stay around the plate, hopefully it won't take 10 innings to put Minnesota down, this time. But as I said last time out, if he's too free with the free passes, this series could change in a hurry. Here's hoping stingy AJ gives us an enjoyable game.


Usually I frown on personal catchers, particularly when the performance gap with the bat is as profound as it is between Jose Molina and Jorge Posada. But the weird thing looking at Burnett the contrast between JoMo and Hip Hip Jorge catching Burnett is the way that Burnett's strikeouts disappear when Posada's behind the plate. This year Burnett struck out 18.2% of batters when Jorge's catching him, 25.2% when anyone else (Molina, Kevin Cash, Frisco Cervelli) is behind the plate. That's a big difference, and both samples are pretty substantial. Now, it's possible that Posada started when the Yanks and Burnett were facing better offenses, but it also seems likely that something about the pitcher/catcher rapport was off between Burnett and Posada, with real consequences. I just hope that Girardi has the good sense not to let Molina bury the offense if he comes up in a big spot.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Almost Game Time: ALDS Game 1

When the dust settled after Game 163...I think Emma Span put it best (via Twitter):
What an absolutely amazing game. But how neurotic am I that I'm already picturing the scene if Pavano eliminates the Yanks at the Stadium?
Yes, it was a great game, but also a reminder that great games don't always come from great teams. One of the reasons that the game went on for twelve innings is because both teams flubbed opportunities to put the other away. The Twins, perennially praised for their fundamentals, were plagued by shoddy execution, with outfielders throwing to the wrong bases, guys doing a poor job of tagging up on fly balls, and so forth. Certified genius manager Jim Leyland struggled with the bullpen, pulling young starter Rick Porcello early, but being a bit slow with the hook for closer Fernando Rodney, who pitched his longest appearance in four years and was tagged with the loss. At the end, the winners come to the ALDS tired, having gone 12 innings and used 8 pitchers on Tuesday, only to arrive in New York after midnight, with a 6:00 PM start today. They arrive without their big power hitter, Justin Morneau, or their starting third baseman, Joe Crede. They arrive having lost 7 straight against the Yanks this year. They arrive having been bounced out of the playoffs in the Division Series on their last three tries, two of those against the 2003-4 Yanks.

So they come to New York as immense underdogs, an 87-win just-scraped-through division winner against 103-win juggernaut. And yet they could win. Like every other underdog in sports, they get to take a rock, sling it at Goliath's head, and hope for the best.

Despite the lofty win total, this isn't a great Yankee team. Great Yankee teams tend to know who their #4 starter is heading into the playoffs. I'll take the 2009 Yankees' lineup any day--it's beautifully balanced, all the regulars met or exceeded expectations, it's beautiful. CC's been great, and the 1-2 bullpen punch of Mariano Rivera and Phil Hughes has been a thing of beauty. But the starting rotation hinges on a notoriously inconsistent guy who alternates great starts with horrible ones (A.J. Burnett) and a guy who many thought was done coming into the season (Andy Pettitte). You could see A.J. turn in one of his craptastic allow-eight-runs-in-three-innings starts on Friday, and that, plus the hostile environment of the Metrodome, could change the entire complexion of the series.

That's the nightmare. A miraculously healthy Carl Pavano celebrating a Division Series win, perhaps even on the mound at Yankee Stadium. No one--regardless of how the Red Sox do against the Angels, or the fact that the Mets managed to lose ninety games in their inaugural Citifield season--letting Yankee fans live it down, ever. But that's the deal when you're the favorite. You don't get to fail, you get to be humiliated. And anything short of a parade down the Canyon of Heroes is considered failure.

For fans, it's important to remember that the Pavano nightmare is a pretty nice problem to have. Unlike fans of 22 other teams, we have postseason baseball. The team, while not without its problems, is probably better than any we've seen in the Bronx since 2003. So bring on the underdogs, and don't be afraid to root for Goliath. Enjoy the game.