It was never much of a decision.
The Yankees tabbed Sabathia, their ace, for Game 4 of the World Series against the Phillies on three days' rest, keeping open the possibility that A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte could also come back on short rest for Games 5 and 6, respectively, and making it possible for Sabathia likewise to return for a potential Game 7 -- once again on three days' rest.
"As far as short rest, it's not necessarily something that you want to do a lot of during the course of a long season," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "But we're not in a long season anymore."
After beating the Phillies, 8-5, on Saturday to take a 2-1 lead in the Fall Classic, the Yankees can play a maximum of four more games and a minimum of two. And the club knows that in the former scenario, it can now use its best pitcher in half of its remaining games.
- 2009 Regular Season
- Overall: 34 GS, 19-8, 3.37 ERA, 197 K, 67 BB.
- Overall: 31 GS, 12-8, 4.05 ERA, 163 K, 59 BB.
- Key stat: Opponents hit .232 off Sabathia.
- Key stat: Allowed career-high 30 HRs.
- 2009: 4 GS, 3-1, 1.52 ERA.
Career: 9 GS, 5-4, 4.45 ERA.
- 2009: 3 G, 1 GS, 0-0, 4.66 ERA. Career: 7 G, 4 GS, 2-0, 3.45 ERA.
- At CITIZENS BANK PARK
- 2009: No starts. Career: 1 GS, 0-1, 12.27 ERA.
- 2009: 16 GS, 7-4, 3.77 ERA. Career: 23 GS, 9-4, 3.71 ERA.
- Against this opponent
- 2009: 1 GS, 0-0, 3.38 ERA. Career: 4 GS, 1-2, 5.55 ERA.
- 2009: No starts. Career: 4 GS, 0-3, 8.18 ERA.
- Loves to face: Jayson Werth, 0-for-6.
Hates to face: Ryan Howard, 3-for-7.
- Loves to face: Robinson Cano, 1-for-9.
Hates to face: Alex Rodriguez, 4-for-7, 2 HR.
- Game breakdown
- Why he'll win: Not facing Lee.
- Why he'll win: Great in '08 WS.
- Pitcher beware: Crushed in PHI in '08 NLDS.
- Pitcher beware: Bad history vs. NYY.
- Bottom line: Will the ace deliver?
- Bottom line: Can he reward Manuel's trust?
"It feels good for them to have confidence in you, especially in these situations," Sabathia said. "It gives you confidence when your team has confidence and the guys want you out there, and everybody is asking, 'Are you pitching today?'"
The Phillies, facing a similar situation with their ace, Cliff Lee, opted instead to pitch Joe Blanton in Game 4, citing Lee's unfamiliarity with throwing on short rest.
It's a problem that Sabathia does not share. In three consecutive starts on three days' rest down the stretch last season, Sabathia was 2-1 with a 0.83 ERA. Though he faltered in the playoffs, he did so only after logging a massive amount of innings in September -- something the left-hander did not do this season.
"I said it all postseason: I've had enough rest the past two months to be able to feel comfortable enough to go out there and pitch on three days' rest," Sabathia said. "I told Joe that at the beginning of the playoffs -- 'I'm here and available whenever you need me.'"
That's why Girardi was unafraid to use Sabathia on short rest for Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, a move that placed him in line to start a potential Game 7 that never came to be. Because Sabathia received an extra day of rest before each of his final four starts of the regular season, the Yankees are confident he will be able to take the ball at least once -- and potentially twice -- on short rest in the World Series.
"The important thing on short rest is you have to know how your pitcher physically is feeling," Girardi said. "He went through all of his work yesterday and we talked to him today, and he threw a pretty good game after short rest last time -- and he had some extra days off."
Short rest, long rest or no rest at all, the Yankees need their ace at his best. Though Sabathia was formidable in Wednesday's 6-1 Game 1 loss to the Phillies, he was not as sharp as he had been throughout the first two rounds of the playoffs, constantly falling into three-ball counts and serving up two solo home runs to Chase Utley. Opposite Lee, Sabathia allowed just enough to suffer his first loss of the postseason.
"I just need to make better pitches," Sabathia said.
In Game 4, Sabathia will throw at Citizens Bank Park, a stadium that, like Yankee Stadium, has a tendency to magnify pitching mistakes. The last time Sabathia started here was in the National League Division Series last October, when the Phillies rattled the then-Brewers ace for five runs over 3 2/3 innings on their way to a World Series title.
At the time, it was one of the biggest starts of Sabathia's career. But this is the World Series, and Sunday's start may be his most significant yet.
"They've all been big this year," Sabathia said. "Up to that point, my biggest start was pitching Opening Day. Then it was my first game against Boston. Then we had lost five in a row, and that was the biggest start of my career. They just keep coming."
Recalling his last start in Philadelphia is not something Sabathia often does. More appealing to the left-hander is considering the opportunity that he will have to hit, a factor he considered when weighing contract offers from NL teams last season. Sabathia, a career .261 hitter with three home runs, is eager to take his cuts off Blanton and, he hopes, the Phillies' bullpen.
"I'm excited," Sabathia said prior to Game 3. "I took a good round of BP today, so I'll try to start hitting the ball the other way tomorrow and see what happens."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less