Commentary

Yankees' layoff is great, or disastrous

The Yanks won the World Series in '96 after a week off, but Jim Leyland says beware

Updated: October 12, 2010, 4:07 AM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

On Oct. 13, 1996, the New York Yankees -- behind a young pitcher named Andy Pettitte -- beat the Baltimore Orioles to clinch the American League pennant. They then had to wait a full week before starting the World Series.

It was the longest rest stop in Yankees postseason history.

On Oct. 20, 1996, Pettitte lost Game 1 of the World Series, 12-1, to the Atlanta Braves' John Smoltz. The Yankees lost Game 2 as well in the Bronx, but we all know how the Series ultimately turned out.

[+] EnlargeCC Sabathia
AP Photo/Kathy WillensHow will CC Sabathia fare in Game 1 of the ALCS after all this time off? We'll see on Friday.

A decade later, in 2006, after winning the American League pennant, the Detroit Tigers were forced to wait a week before playing in the World Series. They went down in four straight games to the St. Louis Cardinals.

"We lost our mental edge," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said via phone Monday. "There was really nothing we could do about it."

Leyland's team had to deal with the freezing Detroit weather that forced them to work out at the Silverdome as they waited for the World Series. The Yankees won't have that issue, as they will be able to practice at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday and Wednesday before flying to Texas or Tampa on Thursday.

With a left side of the infield that is a combined 71 years old, a 39-year-old catcher, a No. 2 starter who is 38 and a closer who is 40, rest seems like a positive after seven months of baseball.

Leyland did wonder what impact the delay would have on the Yankees' Game 1 starter, CC Sabathia. Sabathia is now in the Goldilocks zone. He is going from possibly having too little rest to too much. When he picks up the ball for Game 1 of the ALCS on Friday he will have had eight days between starts.

"We are all creatures of habit," Leyland said. "We are used to going to the ballpark every day with an occasional day off, but then all of a sudden, right in the middle of the biggest time of the year, you get seven or eight days off, you lose a little edge. You try to do everything you possibly can, but it is not that easy."

Sabathia, though, has been an anomaly since he started in the Bronx last year. He is a 6-foot-7, 300-pound machine. In his career, he has made 39 starts with six or more days off. In those starts, he is 17-10 with a 4.02 ERA. His career ERA is 3.57.

Sabathia never pitched on more than five days rest this entire season. With five days as opposed to the normal four, he was 9-1 with a 2.91 ERA.

Last year, he threw with six days between starts once and flung seven shutout innings against the Red Sox in September.

While Sabathia and the Yankees are resting, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Texas Rangers will play a win-or-go-home Game 5 on Tuesday, which most importantly will feature the Rangers' Cliff Lee pitching against the Rays' David Price.

Neither pitcher will be able to go on full rest until Game 3 of the ALCS. Of course, this could be a curse in disguise if Texas were to win. If the Rangers were to take the first two games in Texas, where they are usually tough, the Yankees would be down 0-2 returning to New York to face Lee. Of course, that nightmare scenario is a week away.

Right now, despite what happened to the Tigers in 2006 and the Rockies in 2007 (who had nine days off and were swept in the World Series), the Yankees are in a perfect spot because for a team of veterans, rest would seem to be a good thing. "It is just kind of a pot luck," Leyland said. "I don't think it matters if you are a rookie or veteran. You have to stay zeroed in as well as you can."

Leyland is right, but the Yankees are so businesslike it is hard to imagine they won't.

Andrew Marchand covers baseball for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

More from ESPNNewYork.com »

Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

EDITORS' PICKS