Commentary

Rain puts damper on race with Rays

Friday's washout means three games in 21 hours to close regular season for Yankees

Updated: October 2, 2010, 1:12 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

BOSTON -- If it is possible for the New York Yankees to have had a bad day while their season-long nemeses, the Tampa Bay Rays, were getting shut out by Bruce Chen and the lowly Kansas City Royals, then Friday was that day.

It will be 48 hours before we know for sure how damaging a body blow Mother Nature landed on the Yankees' AL East hopes when her persistence in soaking Fenway Park finally persuaded the umpires to call the scheduled game between the Yankees and Red Sox after nearly three-and-a-half hours and one tantalizing false start.

[+] EnlargeNick Swisher
AP Photo/Steven SenneNick Swisher and the Yankees finished Friday in first place, but it'll take a Herculean effort to stay there over the season's final weekend.

But if the Yankees had been allowed to draw up their own plan for the final weekend of this Affirmed and Alydar struggle they have been locked in with the Rays since April, it certainly would not have called for playing three games over a 21-hour period.

Now, that is precisely what they will have to do. Two games with the Red Sox on Saturday, the first starting at the woefully inconvenient time of 4:10 p.m., as dictated by the Rupert Murdoch Network, and the second at the ungodly hour of 9:05 p.m, as dictated by circumstances.

If ever a game was crying out for Joe West behind the plate, it is that second game on Saturday, because the Yankees then have to do quick turnaround and play one more game with the Red Sox at 1:35 p.m. on Sunday. Considering the average length of a Yankees-Red Sox game pushes four hours -- 3:51 this year, to be exact -- the second game of Saturday's afternoon-evening doubleheader should push well into Sunday morning.

And considering that the vast majority of doubleheaders wind up being split, the odds are better that the Yankees will lose two of their last three than win them all.

In a race as close as this one, that could wind up being the difference between first place and the wild card, between home-field advantage and starting off on the road, between a possible second straight world championship and a just as likely first-round exit. After all, the alternative to opening on the road against Minnesota as the wild card is facing Cliff Lee twice in five games against the Texas Rangers as division winners.

And, doing it after an intense final weekend of baseball that would leave even a young team drained. The Yankees are not young and manager Joe Girardi has said repeatedly that his core group needs rest to be at full strength for the postseason.

That would have been difficult even without Friday's rainout. Now, it will be virtually impossible.

"This wouldn't have been our preference," Girardi said in the cramped visiting manager's office at Fenway after the game that never was. "But there's nothing you can do. You can't argue with Mother Nature."

Nor did Girardi argue with the decision to wait -- and wait -- and wait -- for the remote possibility of a sliver of dry weather during which they might squeeze in a game, despite the knowledge that the same storm had soaked New York for the previous two days, the sight of a bright green (read: rain-saturated) Doppler radar, and the obvious fact that it had been raining like hell all day and showed no visual sign of letting up.

There was one brief respite at about 9:15, and even though the rain never actually stopped, it had tapered off to the point that a contingent of representatives from both clubs -- Girardi and GM Brian Cashman for the Yankees, manager Terry Francona, GM Theo Epstein and co-owner Tom Werner for the Red Sox -- convened briefly in left field to discuss the options.

"We were just seeing how wet the outfield was," Girardi said. "It was actually in pretty good shape."

At that point, the grounds crew emerged in their yellow rain slickers to peel the rain-sodden tarp off the field and a 10 p.m. start time was announced. The mound, infield and home plate area were tended. The crowd, which had huddled under the awnings, began to filter back to the unprotected seats. And then, just like that, the rains came again, this time with even more intensity.

"I thought we were going to play again," Girardi said. "I put my full [uniform] on. I was planning to go out there. But we never got the chance."

By agreement of both clubs, it was decided that it was better to get the doubleheader out of the way earlier rather than later. Now, the Yankees must ask their aging core to gear up to play twice Saturday and then come back early and play again Sunday. All but Jorge Posada are subject to playing all three games, and Girardi expressed concern for asking that much of his 36-year-old shortstop and his 35-year-old third baseman with the balky hip. And whether he wants to or not, Girardi knows he must ask Posada to catch both the 4 o'clock game Saturday and the 1:35 game Sunday.

Even if it is not quite the dreaded day-game-after-a-night-game turnaround that is taboo for veteran catchers who are not nearly as old as the 38-year-old Posada, it is close enough. The only truly good news for the Yankees is that their scheduled starting pitcher, 39-year-old Andy Pettitte, never actually warmed up, although his Boston counterpart, Daisuke Matsuzaka, did.

Pettitte will go in the first game Saturday, facing Boston's 44-year-old knuckleballer Tim Wakefield; Dice-K will go in the nightcap, facing the Yankees' personal head case, A.J. Burnett. And still, no one outside of Girardi, and maybe not even he, knows who will pitch Sunday's season finale.

"That all depends on where we are on Sunday," Girardi said. "We would have liked to play this game tonight, but the windows kept closing on us."

Girardi and his team can only hope that window hasn't slammed shut on them for good. On a night when their closest rivals were taking a beating in Kansas City, the Yankees lost, too, without even playing a game.

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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