NEW YORK -- This is not a second guess. This is a first guess.
The New York Yankees' starting pitcher for the postponed Game 6 of the American League Championship Series on Sunday should be their best starter, their ace, CC Sabathia, pitching on full and regular rest.
Instead, on Sunday night at 8:20 ET on FOX, the Yankees are staying with their previously scheduled Game 6 pitcher, Andy Pettitte. Yes, he is a postseason veteran, tied for the all-time lead in postseason victories (15). But more to the 2009 point, in three regular-season starts against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim this season, he was 0-2 with a 7.88 ERA. In Game 3 of the ALCS, a Yankees loss in which Pettitte was not involved in the decision, he gave up three earned runs in 6 1/3 innings.
Sabathia has already beaten the Angels twice in the series, the second time on short rest. He has given up two runs in 16 innings in these starts. There is no question, putting these pitchers side by side, which one of them is more likely to beat the Angels in a given game.
But it's even bigger than that, as it always is this time of the year. If you are up, 3-2, in a best-of-seven series, you want to move heaven and earth to finish the thing in Game 6.
Since Wild Card era began in 1995
ALCS, Gm. 1
BAL at NYY
WS, Gm. 1
ATL at NYY
ALCS, Gm. 4
NYY at BOS
ALCS, Gm. 3
NYY at BOS
ALCS, Gm. 4
LAA at NYY
ALDS, Gm. 2
DET at NYY
NLCS, Gm. 1
STL at NYM
NLCS, Gm. 5
NYM at STL
WS, Gm. 5*
TB at PHI
NLDS, Gm. 3
PHI at COL
ALCS, Gm. 6
LAA at NYY
*- Rain forced the suspension of Game 5 of the 2008 World Series. The game was completed two days later.
You never, ever know what is going to happen in a Game 7. Game 7 can be an extremely dicey proposition. Remember the last time the Yankees were in a Game 7 of the World Series? Who would have thought that the best closer in the game would lose, beaten in large part by his own throwing error and a flare single? No one would have thought that. But it happened in 2001 to the Yankees and Mariano Rivera.
Manager Joe Girardi's position is easily taken and can be defended.
"We like the guy going [Sunday night]," Girardi said. "CC has been great, but Andy will pitch tomorrow. ... We're going to stick with Andy."
The argument in favor of this standard practice is that, after all, Sabathia will still be available for Game 7, should the Yankees lose Game 6. That might not be defeatist thinking, but it is defensive thinking.
The positive thought, the aggressive move is to do everything possible to win Game 6. And that means starting your best guy.
The central question is not "Whose turn is it to pitch?" The central question is "Who gives us the best chance of winning Game 6?" The answer to the second question, the better question, is Sabathia.
He is 3-0 with a 1.19 ERA in this postseason. He pitched on short rest to win Game 4 of the series. He has been magnificent, he has been tireless and he has been The Man. The Yankees thought he was worth $161 million when they outbid the world for him. This is the most important game of the year, not the one you might or might not play the following night. Start your best pitcher, the man who gives you the best chance to win.
If you're the Yankees, you don't really want the Angels coming into a Game 7 on a winning streak. They're already feeling pretty good about themselves after their comeback in Game 5. And they probably caught a break with the rainout.
Lefty Joe Saunders is still set for Game 6. In the past two months, he has been one of the best in the game. Over his final eight regular-season starts, Saunders was 7-0 with a 2.62 ERA. In Game 2 of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium, he pitched seven innings, giving up two earned runs, allowing six hits and one walk, while striking out five.
But if this gets to a Game 7, the Angels could bring back their ace, John Lackey, on short rest. Game 7 would normally be Jered Weaver's turn in the Halos' ALCS rotation. He worked in relief in Game 5, pitching a spotless eighth inning when the Angels needed exactly that.
"I'm OK whichever way they go," Weaver said of the Game 7 pitching possibilities.
When Lackey was asked about the possibility of starting Game 7, he replied: "We're getting a little ahead of ourselves, fellas. We've got to win [Game 6] first."
That is exactly the point. Everybody needs to win Game 6 first. The only game that matters is the next one, which is precisely why Sabathia ought to be starting this game for the Yankees.
Staying with Pettitte might be seen as the more conventional move. But this is not the time for either conventional moves or conventional wisdom. The Yankees should be starting Sabathia in Game 6. But they're not.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.