Yankees call on Molina to catch
NEW YORK -- Yankees manager Joe Girardi had the conversation with Jorge Posada on Sunday, a talk similar to one he had with Joe Torre when Posada was about to cut into Girardi's time behind the plate.
Girardi didn't like it, and he didn't expect Posada to be excited about light-hitting Jose Molina catching A.J. Burnett in the postseason.
"When I played here, we split guys during the playoffs," Girardi said Thursday. "Of course, you want to play every day. I wouldn't want a catcher who didn't want to play every day. That would bother me if the guy didn't want to play every day."
Posada definitely wants to play in Game 2 of the AL division series Friday night but Molina will be behind the plate instead when Burnett throws his first postseason pitch against the Minnesota Twins.
Regular designated hitter Hideki Matsui hit a two-run homer in New York's 7-2 win in the opener Wednesday night, and likely will start the second playoff game at the new Yankee Stadium.
That leaves no room for Posada, a key part of three World Series championships in New York.
"I can't do nothing about it," he said. "Just sit and watch the ballgame."
There are no catching issues for Minnesota, which finally got a day off to rest after a whirlwind 48 hours that included a 12-inning victory over Detroit in the AL Central tiebreaker Tuesday. Batting champion Joe Mauer, a leading MVP contender, will be Nick Blackburn's batterymate after going 2 for 4 in Game 1.
Posada started 68 consecutive Yankees playoff games before John Flaherty caught Randy Johnson in Game 3 of the division series against the Angels on Oct. 7, 2005. Johnson lasted just three innings, and Posada hit for Flaherty in the fourth.
Molina had an RBI single for the Angels in their 11-7 victory, and they went on to win the series in five games.
Posada has played in every Yankees playoff game since Girardi had two hits in New York's 6-5 victory over the Atlanta Braves in Game 3 of the 1999 World Series.
"Definitely, as a veteran, you don't want not to participate. But I mean, he understands and it's nothing that he can control," said closer Mariano Rivera, who got the win in New York's last playoff game without Posada.
"Jorge is a team player and he will do whatever it takes for the team to win."
Posada hasn't caught Burnett since Sept. 1 at Baltimore, when the right-hander allowed six runs and 11 hits over 5 1-3 innings in New York's 9-6 victory. Burnett went 3-1 with a 2.92 ERA in his last six regular-season starts with Molina behind the plate.
"He's pretty calm and conservative back there. And Jorge is the same," Burnett said. "But it goes back to what I said yesterday about me being right. Unfortunate situation with Jorge and Molina. But I've thrown great games with both. That's just a matter of me being on top of my game, I believe."
Inconsistent in his first season with New York, Burnett went 5-5 with a 4.96 ERA and .270 opponents batting average in 16 starts with Posada behind the plate. He was 5-2 with a 3.28 ERA and .221 opponents batting average in 11 starts with Molina catching, according to STATS LLC.
"I'm not jumping with joy here, but I accept it," Posada said. "A.J. and Jose are going well. I haven't caught A.J. in a while."
Burnett turned in a pair of solid starts this year against the Twins, going 1-0 with a 2.77 ERA in two Yankees victories. New York is 8-0 against the AL Central champions this season, counting Game 1 of the division series.
"As you go along in the games, these guys are really, really professional hitters," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said.
"You can't make any mistakes. You can't walk people. And it's a constant -- they put pressure on you. They put pressure on your pitchers, on everything because they have quality at-bats as the game goes along, they get better and better."
Blackburn will be charged with shutting down the Yankees' potent attack after closing the regular season with a flourish. The 27-year-old righty, also making his first playoff start, was 3-2 with a 3.07 ERA in his last seven games.
"I'm not going to change my approach," he said. "I'm going to try to keep them off balance. I'm going to try to move the ball around and do what I've been doing lately. I'm going to stick to my game plan. That's what's been working for me so far."
Blackburn played a key role in Minnesota's season-ending 17-4 surge that culminated in Tuesday's 6-5 victory over the Tigers at the Metrodome. The Twins celebrated in the clubhouse, then flew to New York and arrived at their hotel about 4 a.m. Only 14 hours later, they opened the playoffs at Yankee Stadium.
Blackburn will face a weaker lineup with the insertion of Molina, a career .235 hitter. But Girardi is hoping Burnett's rhythm with the backup catcher and Molina's superior defense will be enough to make up for the subtracted offense.
"That's the decision that I made," said Girardi, who refused to say whether Molina would catch Burnett throughout the playoffs. "I have to live with that decision. I feel good about our chances tomorrow with A.J. on the mound. I do. As well as probably Gardy feels good with Blackburn out there."