Losing the first game of a best-of-five playoff series never is a good idea, but Ron Darling believes it would be an especially bad idea for the Yankees on Monday when they begin their ALDS against the Rays.
That is because Gerrit Cole is slated to be their starting pitcher.
"His games, they have to win, and I think that’s where the pressure is," Darling said on Thursday as he prepared to leave for San Diego to serve as TBS’ game analyst for the series.
With no off days scheduled, Cole would have to go on three days’ rest to start a potential Game 5. Barring that, he will get only one start.
He made the most of his turn in the wild-card round, striking out 13 and getting the win in a 12-3 rout of Cleveland, but the Yankees will need more of that to play deep into October.
"I would think that Gerrit Cole has to have a similar postseason to what [Stephen] Strasburg had last year - 5-0 and pitched a lot of the big games and was darned near perfect the entire time," Darling said, referring to the pitcher who led the Nationals to a championship.
"I think that is going to be Gerrit’s thing to carry. He is going to have to carry that weight, the weight of being pretty much perfect in this postseason for them to win it all, in my opinion."
On offense, Darling pointed to Giancarlo Stanton as a key after Stanton homered twice against Cleveland.
"I think the thing I took out of the Cleveland series is that if Stanton is going to be a force, then whoa, there could be some serious balling by the Yankees here in October," Darling said. "You go into it not knowing, because of the injuries, what you’re going to get from Giancarlo, and if he’s going to be a force, then it’s going to be tough for pitchers."
Darling has been a Mets analyst for SNY since 2006 and at Turner since 2008, a job that has led him to work seven Yankees wild-card games or full playoff series. He will call the ALDS with play-by-play man Brian Anderson.
Yankees fans seem to have gotten used to the idea of him on their team’s games, and he said being in the New York area gives him plenty of Yankees knowledge by osmosis.
"The Yankees are the Yankees, and when you live in New York and cover the other New York team, I certainly feel I know them as well as any team in the National League," he said.
Darling also got to know the Rays during the regular season, calling three of their games nationally for Turner.
"The Rays have two outstanding pitchers in [Blake] Snell and [Tyler] Glasnow, and I think they can compete with anyone," Darling said. "I think of them as less than 18 [outs], meaning if you have 18 outs out of either one of them, that’s amazing.
"Those are guys who throw a lot of pitches and don’t go deep in games as opposed to Cole, a guy who could maybe pitch a complete game in the postseason. So I think the bullpen of the Rays is going to be more important than their starting pitching."
Just happy to be there
Darling is designated "Tier 3" in San Diego, meaning he will not have direct interaction with on-field personnel. But he is happy to be calling games in person rather than off a monitor, as he did for Mets road games this season.
"It was unlike anything I’d ever done before," he said. "I was thinking that I might have had a better chance if I’d been a latchkey kid when I was younger. But my mom and dad were always around, and they never let us watch TV, so staring at a monitor for three to four hours a night made my head spin.
"I’d never done that before. Now I know why parents always tell their kids not to get so close to the TV, because it’s crazy.
"Like anyone else I was just so grateful to still be able to work, still grateful to be able to see baseball games and half the time at least you would have athletes in front of you. The other half were extremely difficult, challenging and we did our best to make it sound like we knew what we were doing, but I don’t think we always knew, and I’m sure the broadcasts came up short because of that.
"But I know that for the postseason, being on-site and being able to watch the athletes gives you a big advantage over doing a game on a monitor, certainly."
Darling, who turned 60 in August, missed part of the 2019 season being treated for thyroid cancer. He said he is in good health now and is comfortable traveling amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Asked if the potential risk gives him pause, he said, "It does give me pause, but it doesn’t give me a lengthy pause. I’m doing my best to keep myself safe. I think the bubble I’m going into is safer than my regular life at home.
"So I’m very thankful for that. I’m not going to have any interaction with the coaches, players, baseball people, none of that. So I feel safer."
Darling was due to fly west on Friday, stocked with pictures of his family "and a few books to get away from baseball every once in a while."
Lauren Shehadi will be the reporter with Anderson and Darling. Don Orsillo, Jeff Francoeur and Matt Winer will work the Astros-Athletics ALDS in Los Angeles.
Turner’s studio team features Pedro Martinez, Jimmy Rollins and Curtis Granderson with host Ernie Johnson.
The game coverage will feature footage from cameras embedded in the first, second and third base bags to provide new angles covering baserunners’ movement.