Friday, September 30, 2011

Yankees playing with 'house money' in playoffs


By ALAN K. STOUT
COMMENTARY

I'm having some odd feelings today as the Yankees prepare to play in Game 1 of the American League Divisional Series. I'm excited and very jacked up to watch tonight's game, and I've got a ticket for Game 2 tomorrow night and will be Bronx-bound. This will be my first post-season game at the new Yankee Stadium, and I plan to make my voice heard.

But for the first time in my life as a Yankee fan, as we enter the playoffs, I feel like we're playing with "house money," with not as much pressure to win it all. Yes, I know we've got a huge payroll and we've got several big stars on the roster, but the starting rotation that the Yankees are taking into this October might be the most questionable post-season staff they've ever had. Sabathia is as good anyone, but after that, well ... we all know the deal. Burnett, who started the season as our No. 2 guy, has been banished to a bullpen mop-up role for the playoffs. Our No. 2 guy, Nova, is one of my favorite players, but Game 2 can be a huge game in a playoff series, and the fact is we will be handing the ball to a rookie.

The last time the Yankees won the World Series, back in 2009, our No. 3 starter was Andy Pettite, who won Game 3 and Game 6. This year, the ball goes to scrap-heap castoff Freddie Garcia, who had a nice season and has had some post-season success, but who wasn't even named the No. 3 guy until yesterday. Sabathia will go on three days rest in the ALDS, but should the Yanks advance to the ALCS and World Series, we really don't even know who will get the ball in Game 4. Colon? He wasn't even kept on the roster for the ALDS.

This brings me back to my "house money" comment. Today, I heard on several sports-talk radio shows that the Philadelphia Phillies are the "heavy, heavy, heavy favorites" to win the World Series. Well, of course they are. I think we knew that in March. With their starting rotation, anything other than a World Championship in Philadelphia would be a catastrophic disappointment. Some people I heard on the radio today don't even think the Yanks will get by Detroit in the first round, and certainly not by Texas should they play them in the ALCS.

And so it's "house money" for the Yankees. Not much respect. Not as much pressure. No expectations, outside of their own clubhouse and amongst their fans, for a World Championship. The Yankees, who some didn't even think would make the playoffs, are underdogs.

Look, I'm not trying to be overly dramatic. It would be foolish to try to paint a team with a payroll like the Yankees have as the "little-engine-that-could." Their offense is as good as anyone's and they hit a ton of home-runs. If a game gets into a slug-fest, I'll take my chances on the Yanks anytime. But post-season games aren't usually slug-fests. If they were, the team the Yankees put on the field from 2004-2007 - with guys like Sheffield and Giambi in the middle of the lineup and Bernie Williams batting ninth - might have won a World Championship. But they didn't really have the pitching. And maybe the 2011 Yankees don't either.

And so, it's "house money." We play to win. We want to win. We think we can win. But if we don't win, it is not - as it would be in Philly - a catastrophic disappointment. Looking back, there were so many things that made the 2009 World Championship special:

1. The new Yankee Stadium opened that year.
2. It was George Steinbrenner's last World Series.
3. It was Johnny Damon's and Hideki Matsui's last season in New York.
4. A-Rod hit the series-crushing blow against Philadelphia in Game 4, which helped dethrone the reigning World Champs.
5. I hate Philadelphia fans. They were cocky and obnoxious going into that series - as always - and actually thought that by waving towels at their ballpark it could actually intimidate a team from New York. They said they "wanted the Yankees," and they got them. And they pretty much got their ass kicked.

And so, even should the Yankees lose to Philadelphia this year, we still won the one that I really, really wanted. And historically, we have actually beaten them twice in the World Series, as there was also a four-game sweep in 1950. And, again, they have been proclaimed the "heavy, heavy, heavy favorites" by everyone. So I am going to enjoy this post-season with little pressure. I love the 2011 Yankees. I love the fact they've got quite a few young guys on the team, and I'm going to savor, relish and enjoy watching Rivera, Jeter and Posada on the big post-season stage once again. You never know when it will be the last time for those guys, and watching them take a shot at this thing almost every October for the past 15 years has been a privilege.

The drive for #28 begins tonight.

We live for this.

And to me, what makes it even more fun, is that this one is on the house.

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