In discussing the decision to make the switch last night, David Cone made reference to Phelps “earning” tonight’s start over the course of the season. usually I don’t like framing things that way, and think that moves should be made based on what helps a team at the margins the most (especially in October), but in this case I think it’s absolutely correct. Phelps has been the season’s pleasant surprise on the pitching staff, pitching to a 3.34 ERA with a 92-36 SO:BB ratio in 94.1 innings. He hasn’t dominated at all times, especially as a starter, but his versatility has made up for it. Phelps has certainly been a jack of all trades this year, alternating between spot starts, long reliever, being a fill in in the rotation when other guys were injured or ineffective, and also serving as a middle inning reliever. That Phelps has been able to hold his own in so many different jobs has certainly been a big part of the reason the Yankees currently hold a one game lead over the Orioles, and tonight he’ll get his chance to take the mound with a chance to pitch the Yankees to a division title.
In a way, it’s somewhat ironic that Phelps is getting this chance at Nova’s expense. After all, Nova was last year’s rookie surprise, though in a very different manner than Phelps. Nova, of course, spent a month in the minor leagues after Phil Hughes returned from the disabled list, and when he returned he was one of the Yankees’ very best starters. He didn’t spend any time in the bullpen like Phelps has, and he was tapped to be the team’s second starter in the ALDS. Phelps probably won’t find himself starting any postseason games, but with a little help from the Rays he could well end this night front and center when the champagne flies.
For his part, Phelps isn’t shying away from what’s at stake, or the message Joe Girardi sent when he made the change yesterday afternoon. “It’s awesome. It’s a big game and we need these three coming home,” Phelps said. “To know they feel like I can go out there and give us a chance to win, it’s a big deal…I want to go out there and pitch, I want to pitch a big game. They don’t get a whole lot bigger than down the stretch in a pennant race.” On a day when we learned that the Yankees’ most heralded pitching prospect will be on the shelf next season after Tommy John surgery, their latest rookie surprise will have a chance to put the metaphorical cherry on his season in a meaningful October game against the hate (albeit awful) Red Sox.
What a game.