Commentary

Girardi calm amid stormy Bronx weather

Yanks' manager won't change his original plan despite rain giving him the opportunity

Originally Published: October 24, 2009
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- Joe Girardi might have been paddling furiously beneath Lake Yankee on Saturday, but he sure projected a sense of calm above the surface.

[+] EnlargeAndy Pettitte
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesAndy Pettitte allowed three runs in 6 1/3 innings in the Yankees' 5-4 loss to the Angels in Game 3.

As rain pelted the playing field outside, the Yankees' manager sat at a basement podium and expressed support for his beleaguered right fielder. He showed faith in the ability of his young relievers to turn it around, and made it clear that Andy Pettitte will start Game 6 of the American League Championship Series regardless of when Game 6 takes place.

For want of a better description, Girardi was resolute and stoic to the point of Joe Torre-like.

Major League Baseball took the sensible route Saturday night, postponing Game 6 of the series almost two hours before the scheduled starting time. Rain was already falling, the forecast showed no signs of a letup, and nobody wanted a game of this magnitude to be played in unsafe conditions and have to be stopped once it began.

So now the Yankees and Angels will go at it Sunday at 8:20 p.m. ET, amid a heightened sense of intrigue. Would the Angels bring back staff ace John Lackey on three days' rest Monday after Joe Saunders starts Game 6? Although manager Mike Scioscia publicly danced around the topic, it's clearly under consideration.

Meanwhile, there's no doubt where things stand with the Yankees. Pettitte is set for Sunday night, which means that CC Sabathia would have to pitch in a seventh game Monday, if necessary. If the Yankees advance, that would rule him out for the first two games of the World Series on Wednesday and Thursday against the Phillies.

New York would probably be looking at A.J. Burnett and Chad Gaudin in those games, with Sabathia unavailable until a third game in Philadelphia on Saturday. But Girardi refuses to plan for Charlie Manuel's team while Scioscia's club is still in the way.

"Andy has pitched in a ton of big, big games in his career,'' Girardi said. "We just like him in this spot. We're not looking ahead. I don't think you can afford to look ahead. You have to worry about this series … and then you try to set up for the next series.''

Joe Girardi Andy has pitched in a ton of big, big games in his career. We just like him in this spot. We're not looking ahead. I don't think you can afford to look ahead. You have to worry about this series.

-- Joe Girardi

Arranging the rotation isn't the only item on Girardi's to-do list. One obvious concern is the performance of right fielder Nick Swisher, who is hitting .103 (3-for-29) with 10 strikeouts in the playoffs. Swisher had a chance to make a big impact Thursday night in Anaheim, but popped out to shortstop Erick Aybar on a full count from Brian Fuentes for the final out in a 7-6 Angels victory.

Girardi gave some consideration to replacing Swisher in the lineup with Jerry Hairston Jr., but ultimately decided to stick with the status quo. Swisher was back in the No. 8 spot in the batting order, right between Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera.

Swisher is a career 6-for-23 (.261) with a home run against Saunders. Hairston, in contrast, is hitless in one career plate appearance against Saunders.

"Swisher is not a platoon player,'' Girardi said. "He's been an everyday right fielder that has put up good numbers for us. Yeah, he's struggled, but he's had some good at-bats, and we're sticking with him.''

Swisher, who received a new shipment of bats this week, spent time in the indoor batting cage with hitting coach Kevin Long during Saturday's rain in an effort to regain his timing. He expressed gratitude to Girardi for sticking with him and communicating regularly with him, and conceded he might be trying too hard.

"I had a run like this in the regular season, and no one seemed to care,'' Swisher said. "But now we're on the biggest stage. In the postseason in New York, there's no better place to play. You want to go out there and do so well. And maybe I'm just pressing a little too much. Like Skip [Girardi] told me the other day, 'Just be yourself.'

"Obviously I know it's not going the way I wanted it to. But I heard a great quote from Babe Ruth the other day. He said, 'It's hard to beat up a guy who never quits.' I just want to keep battling, keep grinding. It's going to turn. It's got to.''

Girardi and the Yankees are also expecting better from the strong-armed relievers entrusted with bridging the gap between the starters and closer Mariano Rivera. Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain have combined to allow 16 hits in 7 1/3 innings in the postseason, and the more they've labored in October, the more a perceived club strength has looked like a liability.

Although Girardi loves to consult his beloved book and go with matchups late in games, the Yankees were counting on Hughes and Chamberlain in the seventh and eighth innings. Rivera, the Yankees' resident bullpen sage, thinks the kids just need to relax and "trust their stuff.''

"I will do what I have to do to make sure they will be comfortable, but the rest is in their hands,'' Rivera said. "They're going to be fine. They're good pitchers, and they're going to be fine.''

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN.com. His book "License To Deal" was published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.

Jerry Crasnick | email

ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer