Either Girardi will push his starters too hard in this series, to the point that they will be just the seventh team to lose a best-of-seven World Series after racing out to a 3-1 series lead. Or Manuel won't have taken a worthwhile gamble on the game's biggest stage.
It's not as if Girardi and Manuel are making decisions that haven't been made before. It's just that the dichotomy of their positions makes for such an interesting array of banter and opinions, so much so that it has become time for those who best understand the consequences to chime in.
Take Josh Beckett, for example, who came back on three days' rest for the Marlins in the 2003 World Series and responded with the best game of his career -- a five-hit shutout against the Yankees to clinch Florida's second World Series championship in eight years.
"Some days I feel better on that day than I do on my pitch day," Beckett said on Tuesday when asked about that game. "I remember we altered a few things in between starts. Obviously we knew that we were going to do that before anyone else did. We did a few things, but I felt great that night. It was cold weather, it was perfect."
Pettitte's petite rest
|2003 WS||W 6-1||8.7||6||0||1||7||W|
|2000 ALDS||W 7-5||3.7||10||5||2||4||ND|
|1997 ALDS||L 3-4||6.7||6||4||0||2||L|
|1996 WS||W 1-0||8.3||5||0||3||4||W|
|1996 ALCS||W 6-4||8||3||2||1||3||W|
|1996 ALDS||W 5-4||6.3||4||4||6||3||ND|
He was a success story.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have Red Sox pitcher Jim Lonborg, who was called on by manager Dick Williams to pitch Game 7 of the 1967 World Series on two days' rest, which was one day fewer than was normal during that time. After notching complete-game victories in Games 2 and 5, Lonborg faltered in that seventh game, allowing six runs in six innings.
In his autobiography, "No More Mister Nice Guy," Williams explained his decision to roll the dice with Lonborg as such: "I had no choice but to pitch Lonborg on an almost unheard of two days' rest. Twice before that season he'd pitched with that short a break, winning one and losing one, but in a big game we'd need every inch of him."
Highlight that last thought from Williams, because that seems to be the consensus. In big games, you go with your best. Even if it's a gamble. Even if it means that they pitch on short rest.
That was precisely former Marlins manager Jack McKeon's reasoning in sending Beckett out in'03.
"Let us go with the best we got and take our chance," McKeon rationalized. "I know if I pitched somebody else, they got beat, everybody would say, 'Why wouldn't you go with Beckett?'"
Mark Wiley, pitching coach for the Indians in 1997, had the same discussions before he and manager Mike Hargrove chose Jaret Wright to pitch on short rest in Game 7 of the World Series. Their other option would have been to go with with Charles Nagy.
|"People make a big deal out of it. I think in most instances when you're healthy and feeling good and you're in a regular five-man rotation, you actually feel good and ready to pitch the day before your start."|
|-- Tom Glavine|
Though Cleveland lost the game, Wright exited after 6 1/3 innings with a 2-1 lead. The move proved to be the right one.
And then there was Jack Morris, the postseason's poster boy for not needing a full four days to recover between starts. The Tigers ace pitched on three days' rest in Game 4 of the 1984 World Series and earned a complete-game victory. Seven years later with the Twins, Morris pitched on three days' rest twice, yielding just one run over 16 innings.
"You want your best guy out there," Morris said. "And if your best guy can respond -- his body can respond, and he's able to go out and throw -- then you've got yourself a chance to win. If he doesn't respond, then you are going with choice number two or three. And he still may be better than those choices, even on short rest.
"To me, this time of year is all about adrenaline. It's an opportunity to shine. You want the whole world to see it. To me, it was like an adrenaline rush. That takes over the fatigue level and kind of blocks that part out from a mental aspect."
That seems to be the logic of Girardi, who arguably has a better chance pitching his core three on short rest than to rely on an unproven arm. On that decision, he has the backing of Brewers pitching coach Rick Peterson.
"The Yankees have a definite need," said Peterson, also the founder of 3P Sports, a company that offers biomechanical analysis to amateur and pro pitchers designed in part to decrease the likelihood of injury. "They don't have a fourth starter. If we were talking about a couple of years ago and [Chien-Ming] Wang was coming off 19 wins, they would go with four starters, I guarantee it. But they don't have a choice right now, because they only have three guys, and they made sure those three had ample rest coming down the stretch."
"There's several issues, but No. 1 for me is health and then, 'Does he have a track record?'" Peterson added. "So the guys that the Yankees are using on short rest right now, there is an established track record, for sure. Andy [Pettitte], for example, is 4-6 with a 4.15 ERA [in regular-season starts] on short rest, and the way runs are being scored right now, a 4.15 ERA gives you a chance to win. CC [Sabathia] has been phenomenal on three days' rest in his history. But if you have no track record, the history is not very good on three days' rest."
Through the 1990s, no team used its pitchers on three days' rest as regularly as the Braves, though that was largely a product of Atlanta's string of postseason appearances.
In 1991, Tom Glavine, Steve Avery and John Smoltz each pitched on short rest in the World Series and pitched well. The trio did it again against the Blue Jays in the '92 Fall Classic. Smoltz and Pettitte squared off on short rest in Game 5 of the '96 World Series, with the two combining to yield just one run over a combined 16 1/3 innings.
"I think it was something you just did," Glavine said. "People make a big deal out of it. I think in most instances when you're healthy and feeling good and you're in a regular five-man rotation, you actually feel good and ready to pitch the day before your start."
Regardless of who the pitcher might be, there are those who question a pitcher's ability to throw on four days' rest all season and then suddenly have that routine ruffled.
"I'm not big on it, because you take them out of your normal routine," said Rangers president Nolan Ryan. "Not that they can't do it, but it increases the chances of something happening, not so much physical -- but them being ineffective."
The numbers seem to support such skepticism. Since 1995, there have been 88 starts made on three days' rest in the postseason, with pitchers posting a 21-35 record and 4.68 ERA in those outings. Those aren't encouraging results, especially when you consider that it's typically only the best pitchers who are called on to pitch on short rest.
"If you haven't ever done it, it's going to fatigue you the first time out," Peterson said. "Sabathia, he wasn't real sharp on three days' rest. It's one of those deals where he could be, but they have to let him do it a few times during the season instead of all of a sudden, bam, during the coldest time of the year when his arm is more strained."
Pettitte will be pitching Game 6 for the Yankees on three days' rest after not having pitched a postseason game with fewer than four days in between starts since the 2003 World Series.
Still, all this questioning of Girardi's strategy with his pitchers gets a chuckle out of former manager Chuck Tanner. Taking a cue from his pitching coach Johnny Sain, Tanner never hesitated in sending his pitchers to the mound with what could be deemed less-than-adequate rest, as long as Tanner was certain his pitchers were healthy.
"I think it comes down to if you want to do it mentally," said Tanner, who managed in the big leagues from 1970-88. "I don't think there's anything wrong with it. I don't fault Girardi. I wasn't afraid to do it. The more often you use your arm, the better it gets. Resting doesn't do it. The more you throw, the stronger your arm gets. And consequently, you have a better feel of all your pitches."
When managing the Pirates in the 1979 World Series, Tanner pitched John Candelaria and Jim Bibby on short rest in Games 6 and 7. Both led Pittsburgh to road wins and subsequently a World Series win, marking the last time a team came back from a 3-1 deficit to win the World Series with the final two victories coming on the road.
"Today what I think happens is they give a kid a million dollars, and the manager and GM say we don't want to hurt him," said Tanner, who still very much holds an old-school approach on the topic. "I don't believe in counting pitches. Taking him out because he threw 90 pitches is a cop out. The more you throw, the better your arm gets."
Now all that's left to see is how Pettitte and maybe even Sabathia again, if this World Series goes the distance, will eventually fit into this ongoing debate.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. MLB.com reporters Ian Browne, Joe Frisaro, TR Sullivan, Kelly Thesier, Adam McCalvy and Mark Bowman contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.