Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Jim Thome is the man responsible for the Yankees taking the field to the Guns n’ Roses’ classic ”Welcome to the Jungle” and that the tradition started during the 1997 ALDS. Thome (at least in my version of history), when asked if the Indians were ready for the playoff atmosphere of the Bronx, said something to the effect of, “It’s a jungle out there.” Hopefully 2012 Jim Thome and his new team are treated to the same hospitality he anticipated 15 years ago.
Anyway, here we go again. It seems like whenever the Yankees take on a team in the ALDS that isn’t from the Land of 10,000 Lakes, we can expect the series to go the distance and be filled with exhausting games. You can also expect a game or two to end with an A-Rod strikeout (trolltrolltroll), and the mass media rants that will follow. Given that the first two games with the O’s have already provided us with 17 innings of tense baseball and 1 A-Rod-K-to-end-the-game, it would probably be prudent to brace oneself for more of the same over the next several days. With the Orioles yet to announce their pitching plans for Games 4 and 5 (if necessary), let’s take this one at a time.
Game 3: Miguel Gonzalez vs. Hiroki Kuroda
Wednesday 10/10: Yankee Stadium, 7:37pm EST on TBS*
*Will be moved to 8:37pm EST if DET and CIN finish sweeps tonight. Gross.
Let HIROKtober begin! Joe Girardi, sensing that Hiroki was starting to look a bit gassed in his September starts, opted to go to Pettitte in Game 2 to provide Kuroda with some extra rest. Sounds pretty reasonable to me. Oh, and NBD, but this also means that Hiroki will get to pitch at Yankee Stadium instead of Camden Yards. Hiroki at home? A veritable beast: 11-6, 2.72 ERA, 1.005 WHIP, .219/.268/.347 against, and 3.61 K/BB in 132.1 IP. Both of Hiroki’s starts against the O’s this year took place at the Stadium. He was excellent against the April version of Buck’s Boys (7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K in a 2-1 victory) and fairly solid against the torrid August version of the Orioles (8.1 IP, 8 H, 4 ER, 0 BB, 4 K in a 6-1 loss).
Again, allow me to reiterate that I agreed with Girardi’s move to let Hiroki recharge his batteries for another 2 days, but I feel obligated to point out that extra rest has not been so kind to No. 18 as of late. Hiroki last pitched on October 3 against the Red Sox, so he will take the hill with a full week from start to start. This season, Kuroda made 3 starts on 6+ days’ rest and allowed 23 H, 13 ER, and 8 BB in 18.2 IP. The good news? That’s a pretty small sample size. Over his career, Hiroki has been very solid on extra rest, turning in a 3.07 ERA over 18 starts and 111.1 IP.
Miguel Gonzalez is probably one of the last pitchers anyone expected to see taking the hill for a playoff game in Yankee Stadium this year. Signed originally by the Angels in 2004, Gonzalez bounced around their minor league system for several years with middling success before returning to the Mexican League for 2 years. After returning stateside, having Tommy John surgery, and spending some time in the Red Sox system, Gonzalez excelled enough for the Orioles at AAA this year to earn a mid-season call-up. In 14 starts, Gonzalez was a model of consistency for the O’s, going 9-4 with a 3.25 ERA and helping the pitching staff weather a myriad of injuries.
While Gonzalez is still a relative neophyte, the trusty division-heavy schedule provided the Yankees with 2 glances at him this year. Gonzalez was stellar in both outings, going 2-0 with a 2.63 ERA and 11.2 K/9 in 13.2 IP (both at Yankee Stadium). The O’s have been cautious with Gonzalez’s workload this year given that his only 100+ IP season in pro ball was in 2007 with the Angels’ AA affiliate. As a result, nearly a third of his starts this year took place on 6+ days of rest, and the results are quite good: 7 ER in 25 IP over 4 starts, with K/9 of 6.8 (season K/9 of 6.6). His last outing of the regular season was October 2 against the Rays. Knowing that the division still hung in the balance, Gonzalez went 6.1 innings, striking out 7 while allowing only 2 hits and 0 runs. Suffice to say, the Yanks may have their hands full.
Annoying Orioles Player to Watch: Mark Reynolds (who else?). The career numbers against Hiroki are very, um, Reynolds-esque (5-for-27, HR, 6 RBI, 10 K) but he has burnt the Yanks time and time again this year. I’m mentally preparing myself for at least one or two more big hits this series while I’m screaming “DON’T THROW HIM A STRIKE!!” at the television.
Yankee to Watch: Eric Chavez. A brief foray into this morning’s NYC talk radio underworld led me to believe that there is a vast contingent of Yankees’ fans who would like to see A-Rod benched in favor of Eric Chavez. Frankly, I’m happy that no one that I associate with holds this view. While benching A-Rod may be absurd, it may behoove Joe to get Chavez some ABs in Game 3 (maybe DH A-Rod?) since he’s the only Yankee with even moderate success against Gonzalez: 3-for-6, HR, 2 RBI. I know that Girardi has said that there won’t be any “shake-ups” but I’m a big Chavez supporter, a DH day for A-Rod isn’t inconsistent with what has been the game plan up until this point, and I don’t think anything is lost by getting Chavy in there at the expense of someone like Ibanez (who may be even more valuable off the bench as a PH, as we’ve seen).
From the Non-Pinstriped Postseason Action Department: Over in the Senior Circuit, the Giants will be trying to avoid a sweep at the hands of the Reds on TBS at 5:30pm EST, while the Tigers will attempt to vanquish the A’s on TBS at 9:00pm EST. I’ll be getting my fill, and you should too. Most importantly, enjoy the night off, folks, and try not to get too stressed out about the shifting start times (like I have been). Hopefully the NYC weather clears up, and we get the Stadium rocking from the first pitch tomorrow.