The pressure should be on the Minnesota Twins in Game 2 of the ALDS on Friday. But instead of the heat being on the Twins to return to the Metrodome with the series tied at one, the weight of the playoffs in New York has shifted to A.J. Burnett's shoulders, thanks to his manager.
Joe Torre always believed that Game 2 was the most important game of any series, as the pivotal contest could change the entire layout of the series before it moved to the other venue. And for that reason alone, Andy Pettitte was always Torre's No. 2 starter in October.
But with Joe Girardi getting his first taste of postseason baseball as the decision-maker, he chose Burnett to take the ball with a chance to drastically change the series for better or for worse.
If the pressure of pitching in his first career postseason game wasn’t enough for the unpredictable Burnett, Girardi threw the largest log he could find onto the fire. In an effort to get the best out of Burnett, Girardi decided to start the offensively challenged Jose Molina over Jorge Posada, one of the Yankees’ biggest bats and their unsung leader.
There is very little evidence at all, if any, to support the controversial move made by Girardi. And even with Posada voicing his displeasure and Burnett claiming it was not his call, the Yankees’ skipper has stuck by his decision to not put out his best lineup in a postseason game.
Sure, the Yankees will profit from having Burnett’s shutdown stuff with him against the Twins, rather than Posada's bat in the lineup. But who's to say Molina will bring the best out of the pitcher, given that Burnett’s best starts in the regular season came with Posada behind the plate?
And isn't it a little ironic that aside from Randy Johnson, the Yankees' starters from 1998 to 2007 didn't need a personal catcher in the postseason? How did the Big Unit fare, again, with handpicked John Flaherty calling the game?
If Burnett pitches well with Molina catching, you can count on Posada being out of the lineup for the rest of the postseason when the October rookie is scheduled to start.
And if Burnett lays an egg with the automatic out that is Molina calling the game, the Yankees could head to Minnesota locked at one and no longer have home-field advantage in the series.
Had Girardi let Posada catch Burnett's first go-round in October, at least he would have some sort of rhyme and reason to make the switch to Molina if needed. But instead, Girardi went with his instinct to replace a borderline Hall of Famer with the third-best of the three Molina brothers.
It's a move that could force Girardi to answer a multitude of questions for 48 hours leading up to Game 3. It's a move that he might think about for a long, cold winter in New York if it causes the series to turn sour. And in that case, it has the potential to be a move that could cause the Yankees to mull over Girardi's job status if the $200 million investment doesn't play in a seven-game series this fall.
Posada couldn't have summed up the entire situation any better when he heard of the news prior to the series.
"I just hope we win that game," Posada told the entire New York media and baseball world. "That’s all I’ve got to say."
And really that's all he needed to say, because if the Yankees don't win Game 2, the pressure will be on Girardi and the team to win twice in a row on the road, at a time when all the pressure should have been on the Twins.
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