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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Rieber's Insider: Girardi's Pettitte hunch pays off

Manager Joe Girardi #28 of the New York

Manager Joe Girardi #28 of the New York Yankees looks on from the dugout againsts the Minnesota Twins during game two of the ALDS on October 7, 2010 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo Credit: Getty Images


In retrospect, Joe Girardi's decision to start Andy Pettitte in last night's Game 2 of the Yankees' American League Division Series against the Twins seems like a no-brainer.

Pettitte is the winningest pitcher in postseason history with 19. The Yankees' other option, Phil Hughes, has never started a postseason game. Last year's No. 2 starter, A.J. Burnett, is such a nonentity in this series that he can spend his time baking pies for the Yankees' next walk-off victory if he wants.

The stats actually suggested starting Hughes in Game 2. A fly-ball pitcher, Hughes allowed 20 home runs in 18 starts at Yankee Stadium and would have been served well by spacious Target Field.

Girardi has a healthy respect for stats-based analysis; it's one of the reasons Brian Cashman chose him for the job. But his selection of Pettitte over Hughes for the Game 2 assignment is the second time in this series Girardi has set aside the stats and gone with his gut. Both times, it worked out swimmingly for the Yankees.

In Game 1, Girardi started Curtis Granderson against lefthander Francisco Liriano. Granderson, who was 4-for-22 with 12 strikeouts against Liriano, had a go-ahead, two-run triple in the Yankees' four-run seventh inning in their eventual 6-4 victory.

Pettitte may look like a sure thing now, after allowing two runs in seven innings in the Yankees' 5-2 win over the Twins, but Girardi seriously considered starting Hughes in Game 2 and Pettitte in Game 3 at Yankee Stadium.

Why? For one thing, the Yankees could not be sure Pettitte could physically stand up to two starts in a five-day span, as he will be asked to do if this series goes five games (unlikely now). He made only three major-league starts after missing two months with a strained groin. He got up to only 88 pitches in his final regular-season outing.

And groins can be tricky. They're a lot like obliques, hamstrings and pecs. Once stretched beyond the breaking point, any of those muscles easily can get pulled again. Especially when you're 38.

After an August setback in his rehab, the Yankees told Pettitte to stop working out his legs in the gym. Then he tweaked his back two starts ago.

So Girardi had to consider whether setting up Pettitte to go all-out in one Game 3 start was a better plan.

Of course, he also had to consider Pettitte's experience. Forty previous postseason starts. Eighteen previous postseason wins. Five World Series rings.

But even Pettitte said experience wouldn't be worth all that much if he didn't have his legs or his stuff last night.

"Obviously, the experience isn't going to help you as far as if you can't find it, your stuff or whatever," he said. "But just for me, I know emotionally, you know, whatever happens I'm going to - I am mentally not going to get out of the game. So I think that the experience will be able to help me as far as that. If I don't locate and I don't get the ball where I want it to be, no matter how much experience I have out there, it's not going to help because I am going to get knocked around probably."

He didn't. And the Yankees are one win away from the ALCS. Wonder which game Pettitte will start in that series?

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