ALDS GAME 5: KEY MOMENT
Baseball pundits have made a cottage industry out of criticizing the New York Yankees for the advanced age of their team as if the second a player turns 30 he starts hitting like Jose Molina or pitching like Kevin Millwood.
But one of the reasons they have a number of players who 30 years old or older is the same reason why CC Sabathia beat the Baltimore Orioles on Friday to advance the Yankees to the American League Championship Series.
In Sabathia’s first five postseason starts up to when he was age 28, he was 2-3 with a 7.92 ERA. In the past four postseasons with the Yankees up to age 32, Sabathia is 7-1 with a 3.09 ERA.
Entering the eighth inning of Game 5 of the American League Division Series against the Orioles, Sabathia had given up just one hit and one walk while he had a seemingly comfortable 3-0 lead.
But things began to look as if they were unraveling when Matt Wieters led off the inning with a solid single to left and Sabathia walked rookie Manny Machado on just five pitches.
From this point on in the inning, the game was at a tipping point because if any of the Orioles hit a home run at this juncture then the game would be tied. If Sabathia might have been a younger and less experienced pitcher in postseason play he might have cracked.
After a strikeout of Mark Reynolds, Lew Ford followed with a single to left to score Wieters.
Now if any Orioles hitter were to hit a home run, the Orioles would take the lead. You could bet there were a few Tums moments in the Yankee dugout for manager Joe Girardi. He wanted his ace pitcher to get out of this but he also realized that the team’s success was more important.
Crazy plays happen in baseball all the time. They pop up at strange moments like this and they did when Robert Andino bounced a ball to the right of Sabathia.
Sabathia sprang off the mound to field it but he realized that he could not throw the ball to third because Eric Chavez was not on the base. Andino has some speed so first would have been out.
So Sabathia threw the ball to second but Ford slid into the bag before the ball arrived.
A lesser experienced postseason pitcher might have completely unraveled at this point. The bases were full and there was only one out.
On top of that, the Orioles best hitter in the series, Nate McLouth, was up with nowhere to put him.
“It’s what I’m here for,” Sabathia said, “It’s what I play the game for. I guess I should feel a little pressure or something like that, but I don’t.”
Girardi had right-hander David Robertson throwing in the bullpen but he stuck with his experienced ace left-hander against McLouth even though McLouth had narrowly missed hitting a home run in the sixth inning.
A crowd of 47.081 huddled in the October chill crossing their fingers and praying Sabathia could hold onto this most precious of leads. The Yankees’ hopes for a 28th world championship were riding on it.
Sabathia had learned by the time he came to the Yankees there was a big difference between throwing and pitching. Early in his career, Sabathia could throw hard and so that is all he did. Now Sabathia throws less hard but he is even better because he mixes in his curve, his slider and change-up more.
That is what Sabathia did with McLouth.
His first pitch was a called strike, a slider at 83 miles per hour. McLouth then weakly fouled off a 95-mph fastball. After Sabathia tried a 82-mph slider in the dirt for a ball, he came back with a higher 82-mph slider with which McLouth was unable to make contact.
Sabathia then had face J.J. Hardy, a power-laden shortstop who bats right-handed.
The big left-hander started Hardy off with a change-up off the outside corner for a ball. He then muscled up on a 94-mph fastball that challenged Hardy but Hardy took it for a strike.
Sabathia then put Hardy into a huge hole by getting him to offer and miss at another change-up.
Then catcher Russell Martin and Sabathia agreed to try Sabathia’s trademark slider that runs down the middle of the plate like a fastball but takes an abrupt turn right and dives to the inside corner on a right-handed hitter.
Hardy did make contact, but all he could do was roll it weakly back to Sabathia. The veteran lefty moved about three steps toward first and flipped the ball gently to Mark Teixeira to get out of a harrowing bases-loaded jam with the game on the line.
“He was just dominant — he shows why he’s making all that money,” Martin said. “He’s the man. He’s the horse of this team. It’s fun to be back there and try to direct him. He’s been awesome.”
Girardi’s faith in his ace proved to be well-founded. Sabathia was able to pitch his way out of trouble instead of throwing as hard as he could like he did when he could hit 98-mph on the radar gun.
Sabathia would go on to retire the Orioles in the ninth for his first postseason career complete game and the Yankees rode his back into the American League Championship Series.
Along with Sabathia, the Yankees have Andy Pettitte as a starter at age 40 and Hiroki Kuroda at age 37. But do not mistake the advanced age of their pitchers to be synonymous with old, washed up has-beens.
The reason why the Yankees win in the playoffs is because their pitchers and their players like Raul Ibanez at age 40 do not panic. They simply play the game and let it come to them instead of trying too hard.
Sabathia proved that in the eighth inning when he bent but did not break. He was tested but he remained calm. That is what experience gives you that raw talent could never surpass.
“He is our ace,” Girardi said. “That’s the bottom line. He has been there and done that.”
YANKEES 6, MARINERS 3
There are some days when an ace pitcher carries to the mound what looks to be no-hit stuff and on Friday it looked for all the paid crowd of 45,872 in attendance at Yankee Stadium that they were going to see just that from CC Sabathia.
Instead, the Yankees and their fans had to settle for a complete-game three-hit victory with 10 strikeouts as Sabathia shut down the Mariners and New York ended Seattle’s seven-game winning streak.
Sabathia (12-3) retired the first 10 batters he faced until Casper Wells connected on a first-pitch fastball and deposited into the Mariners’ bullpen in left-center. He then retired the next 12 batters before giving up a one-out double down the left-field line to Miguel Olivo.
The Mariners then opened the ninth by drawing a leadoff walk from Brendan Ryan and Dustin Ackley smacked a 1-0 fastball into the the bleachers in right-field, which brought manager Joe Girardi out to the mound apparently to replace his left-hander as a chorus of boos rained down upon him. But Girardi allowed Sabathia to get the last threw outs and the Yankees coasted to victory.
Meanwhile, the Yankees offense built an early lead for Sabathia in the third inning off veteran right-hander Kevin Millwood (4-9).
Ichiro Suzuki opened the frame with an infield chopper to the left of the mound for a single to extend his hitting streak to 10 games. Russell Martin followed with a double into left-center that advanced Suzuki to third. Curtis Granderson then scored both Suzuki and Martin with a lined single to center.
Three innings later, the Yankees padded their 2-1 lead with two out and Raul Ibanez on first when Eric Chavez hit a high fly ball that eluded the glove of right-fielder Eric Thames at the right-field wall and bounced into the seats for Chavez’s 10th home run of the season. Chavez beccame the ninth member of the team to reach double figures in home runs, which is the most in the major leagues.
Millwood left the game after six innings having given up four runs on nine hits and a walk while he struck out three.
The Yankees added a pair of runs in seventh off Mariners relievers Carter Capps and Oliver Perez on RBI singles by Robinson Cano and Ibanez. Though both hits came off Perez the runs were charged to Capps, who was making his major-league debut.
The victory gives the Yankees a season record of 62-43, which is tied for the best record in the American League with the Texas Rangers. The victory also maintained the Yankees’ 6 1/2 game lead in the American League East but the Tampa Bay Rays grabbed second place in the division by shutting out the Baltimore Orioles 2-0. The Mariners dropped to 50-58.
- Sabathia came into the game as the pitcher with the best major-league winning percentage in August and he promptly won his first start of the month. He also entered the game with an 11-4 career record and a 2.42 ERA against the Mariners. Sabathia is also tied with three others pitchers for the third-most victories in the American League and he still has a shot to win 20 games for a second time in his career. He has not won less than 19 games in his three previous seasons with the Yankees.
- Chavez’s home run definitely had the benefit of the short porch in right and a little help from a fan. Replays showed a fan with glove impeded Thames’ glove from reaching the ball, but the fan did not appear to lean out into the field. The ball hit the top of the concrete wall and bounced into the stands. Thames and Mariners manager Eric Wedge did not dispute the call of home run by first-base umpire Larry Vanover.
- Suzuki’s hitting streak has been of the vitamin variety, “One-A-Day.” He has 10 hits in his 40 at-bats in his 10 games as a Yankee. If he collects a single hit in his next game, Suzuki would set a team record of a 11-game hitting streak with 11 hits.
Nothing to criticize in this game. Sabathia was dominant despite giving up the two home runs and the offense and defense was exceptional. Even with the game locked up at 2-1 into the bottom of the sixth inning, it appeared Sabathia was in command and the Yankees would win. They did and it was a good victory.
Mark Teixeira returned to the lineup after missing two games with an inflamed left wrist. Teixeira responded well to a shot of cortisone and he was 1-for-4 in the game. . . . Chavez was removed from the game in the ninth inning with a sore right ankle. Chavez twisted the ankle awkwardly on a swing in the bottom of the eighth inning and he was replaced at third base by Jayson Nix. Girardi said the injury does not appear to be serious. . . . Martin caught Sabathia for the first time since April 11 and it did not seem to bother Sabathia at all. Chris Stewart had caught Sabathia’s 16 previous starts. . . . With Alex Rodriguez out of the lineup, Girardi elected to bat Granderson in the leadoff spot and Jeter in the second spot in order to keep from stacking too many left-handed hitters in a row. It was only the second time this season Granderson has batted leadoff.
The Yankees will continue their three-game weekend home series with the Mariners on Saturday.
The Yankees will call upon veteran right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (10-7, 3.28 ERA) to start the game. Kuroda held the Mariners to one run on three hits over seven innings and fanned nine on July 23. He gave up two runs on seven hits and one walk in seven innings against the Red Sox on Sunday but did not get a decision. Kuroda is 2-1 with a 3.10 ERA in his career against the M’s.
The Mariners will counter with ace right-hander Felix Hernandez (9-5, 2.79 ERA). Hernandez is 5-0 with a 1.60 ERA in his last nine starts. He is 7-5 with a 3.38 ERA in his career against the Yankees.
Game-time will be at 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 12, ORIOLES 3
Suffering through a miserable four-game losing streak is like a farmer suffering though a horrendous drought. But the Yankees, like the down-on-his-luck farmer, got the benefit of some rain at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday and they then showered the Baltimore Orioles with a torrent of runs that finally drowned their closest American League East pursuer.
Robinson Cano blasted a grand-slam home run and Derek Jeter drove in three runs as New York used a seven-run third inning to deliver a thrashing to a Baltimore team that was benefitting in the standings from the Yankees recent 3-8 slide in their last 11 games.
Phil Hughes (11-8) scattered nine hits, walked two and struck out two in giving up just one run in six solid innings in a game played in front of a paid crowd of 44,593 despite the fact that they had to sit through a steady downpour throughout the contest. Hughes is 6-3 with a 2.88 ERA in his last 10 starts and he now leads the team’s starters in victories.
The Orioles only scored off Hughes on a pair of one-out singles by Wilson Betemit and Mark Reynolds and an RBI groundout by Endy Chavez in the second inning, which at the time halved the Yankees’ lead at 2-1.
Meanwhile, Hughes’ counterpart, Zach Britton (1-1), seemed afraid to throw a fastball anywhere near the strike zone. Britton lasted just 2 2/3 innings and was tagged for seven runs on seven hits and three walks while he struck out three batters.
In his three career starts in New York, Britton has totaled just eight innings, giving up 20 runs (17 earned). That is a 19.13 ERA.
He gave up two runs in each of the first two innings. Curtis Granderson smacked his 29th home run of the season in the opening frame and Andruw Jones later scored in the inning on a Nick Swisher sacrifice fly.
In the second, Jeter stroked an RBI single to score newly acquired corner infielder Casey McGehee, who was making his Yankee debut. Swisher later made it 4-1 with a RBI single to left to score Jayson Nix.
Britton’s bad day ended in the third when Nix stroked an RBI double to the wall in left-center to score Russell Martin and McGehee to give the Yankees a 5-1 lead.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter brought in Kevin Gregg to face Jeter, but Jeter greeted Gregg with a two-run single to right. After Granderson singled and Swisher drew a four-pitch walk to load the bases, Cano launched a rocket into the second deck in right for the Yankees’ major-league best ninth grand slam of the season and Cano’s second.
The game was pretty much over at that point and many in the crowd left soon after.
The Yankees added a run in the eighth on a bases-loaded sacrifice fly by McGehee off reliever Tommy Hunter.
The Orioles scored single runs in the seventh and eighth off recently activated righty-hander Joba Chamberlain, who was pitching in his first game since June 5, 2011 due to Tommy John surgery on his right elbow last season and a displaced broken right ankle in March.
J.J. Hardy greeted Chamberlain with a leadoff home run in the seventh and the Orioles tacked on a run in the eighth when Chavez doubled off the wall in left to score Reynolds from first base.
Chamberlain, showing signs of a lack of velocity on his fastball, surrendered two runs on four hits and a walk with no strikeouts in his 1 2/3 innings of work.
With the victory, the Yankees improved their season ledger to 61-43 and pushed their lead over the O’s in the division back to 6 1/2 games. The Orioles are 55-50.
- Though Hughes gave up nine hits in 6 innings, those totals are a bit misleading because he Orioles did not hit the ball hard that often off Hughes. Most of their hits were bloop or broken-bat hits that fell in perfect spots in the wet outfield. The Orioles could not have thrown them into better spots. Hughes used a pair of double plays and some excellent defense from his teammates to keep the O’s from climbing back into the game.
- Cano was in an o-for-14 funk entering play on Tuesday. In the final two games of the three-game series, Cano went 3-for-6 with two home runs and six RBIs. He now has 24 home runs, which is second on the team to Granderson, and 62 RBIs, which second on the club to Mark Teixeira.
- Jeter’s three-hit game give him 137 hits on the season, which is most in the American League. In his last seven games, Jeter is 13-for-30 (.433), which has raised his season average to .316 and moved him ahead of Cano (.312) for the best batting average on the team.
- Nix, making a spot start at third base against a left-handed starter, took advantage with a 3-for-4 game, including a double, two runs scored and an RBI. Nix has five hits in his last 11 at-bats and has driven in six runs in that span. He had only seven RBIs in limited play up to that point.
After losing eight of 11 games I am not going nitpick this victory. The team could have easily lost and brought the Orioles to within 4 1/2 games of the lead, Instead, they moved them back to 6 1/2 games back. Hughes pitched well again and the team was 7-for-13 with runners in scoring position.
McGehee, 29, was acquired in a last-minute trade deadline deal with the Pirates for right-hander Chad Qualls on Tuesday. He arrived on late Tuesday and started the game at first base in place of Teixeira, who is nursing a sore left wrist. McGehee was 0-2 but walked twice, scored two runs and drove in a run on a sac fly in the eighth. Manager Joe Girardi said the veteran corner infielder would backup at first base and also will get some starts at third base until Alex Rodriguez returns off the 15-day disabled list from a broken left hand. . . . Ichiro Suzuki made his first major-league regular-season game start in left-field and made a spectacular leaping catch at the wall in the sixth inning on a ball off the bat of Reynolds, which saved a run from scoring. Suzuki also extended his hitting streak to nine games with an infield single in the fourth inning. . . . Swisher was used as the designated hitter on Wednesday, which means he has not played right-field July 20, when he left a game at o.co Stadium in Oakland with a sore left hip flexor. Girardi said Swisher could start in right-field on Friday. Jones played right-field on Wednesday and was 1-for-3 with a sac fly RBI.
The Yankees will get a well-earned day off after suffering through a spate of key injuries and losses lately. They will open a three-game weekend home series with Seattle Mariners on Friday.
Left-hander CC Sabathia (10-3, 3.57 ERA) will get the ball for the Yankees. Sabathia has not won a game since July 17 and he is coming off an outing in which the Boston Red Sox tagged him for six runs in six innings on Saturday. He is 11-4 with a 2.42 ERA in his career against the Mariners.
The Mariners will counter with right-hander Kevin Millwood (4-8, 3.90 ERA). Millwood ended a streak of 10 starts without a victory on Saturday with a good effort against the Kansas City Royals. In the past 10 seasons, he is 3-6 with a 4.40 ERA against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast regionally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 4, MARINERS 1
On a day the New York Yankees welcomed their new acquisition Ichiro Suzuki to the team it was another Japanese star who catured the spotlight in defeating Suzuki’s former Seattle Mariners teammates.
Hiroki Kuroda held the the Mariners spellbound for seven innings on Monday and the Yankees scored three runs in the fourth inning as New York snapped its first four-game losing streak of the season and beat Seattle in front of crowd of 29,911 at Safeco Field.
Suzuki began a whirlwind day with a press conference, interviews and a switch to the visitors’ clubhouse before taking the field on which he starred for 10 1/2 seasons in Yankee pinstripes and sporting No. 31. He was given a loud standing ovation from the fans in his first plate appearance.
Suzuki responded by stepping of the batter’s box, removing his batting helmet and bowing to the crowd. He was, however, not a factor in the game. He singled and stole a base in his first at-bat but finished the day 1-for-4.
Kuroda (10-7), however, was brilliant in giving up only one run on three hits, walking one batter (which came back to bite him) and striking out nine.
Meanwhile, Alex Rodriguez started the offense off with a one-out double in the fourth off veteran right-hander Kevin Millwood (3-8). Robinson Cano then drew a four-pitch walk and Mark Teixeira laced a 2-0 fastball off the wall in right-field to score Rodriguez.
Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones followed with back-to-back RBI singles to give the Yankees a 3-1 lead they needed to bolster Kuroda’s exceptional outing.
Rodriguez added a solo home run to lead off the eighth inning off reliever Steve Delabar. It was Rodriguez’s 15th home run of the season and the 644th of his career.
The Mariners’ only tally off Kuroda came in the third inning when Kuroda issued a one-out walk to Dustin Ackley. Ackley later stole second and scored with two out when John Jason laced a single to right-field.
David Robertson pitched a perfect eighth inning and Rafael Soriano shook off his second blown save of the season on Sunday to record his 25th save of the season with a perfect ninth.
With the victory, the Yankees improved their season record to 58-38 and they were able to re-establish a seven-game lead in the American League East over the second-place Baltimore Orioles. The last-place Mariners fell to 42-56.
- Kuroda has established himself as the team’s No. 2 starter behind CC Sabathia with his last 11 starts since shutting out the Oakland A’s on May 27. In that span, Kuroda is 7-1 with a 2.49 ERA. Kuroda is using his devastating split-finger fastball and sharp slider to ring up strikeouts. He has struck out 66 batters in his last 68 innings.
- Rodriguez is beginning to pick up the pace a bit at the plate. He was 2-for-4 and two runs scored and an RBI and he is 14-for-41 (.341) with two home runs and six RBIs in his last 10 games. He has raised his season average to .274 but his 15 home runs and 44 RBIs still remain well below his usual norms.
- Teixeira was 3-for-4 in the game, including his RBI double. He is 8-for-20 (.400) on the road trip and he is hitting .387 with two home runs and seven RBIs in his last nine games.
- The Yankees’ station-to-station offense has a huge downside: The team ends up hitting into a lot of double plays. The Mariners turned three double plays in the game and it ended up keeping the game closer than it should have been.
- Curtis Granderson is starting to look like Mark Reynolds at the plate. He was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in the game and he has a club-high 114 strikeouts on the season. He has struck out at least once in his last seven games and he also has fanned 12 times in his last 26 at-bats.
To acquire Suzuki the Yankees shipped right-handed pitchers D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar to the Mariners. The Yankees also will assume $2.5 million of Suzuki’s contract until he is free agent next year. Outfielder Dewayne Wise was designated for assignment to make room for Suzuki on the roster. Suzuki, 38, is hitting just .261 with four home runs and 28 RBIs this season. But the Yankees see him replacing outfielder Brett Gardner in left-field, batting at the bottom of the lineup and providing speed and defense. Along with amassing 2,534 hits, Suzuki has won 10 Gold Gloves. . . . Suzuki started his first game with the Yankees in right-field and batted eighth because Yankees right-fielder Nick Swisher is still hampered by a sore left hip flexor. Manager Joe Girardi said Swisher will miss the Seattle series but could return to the lineup on Friday.
The Yankees will continue their three-game series with the Mariners on Tuesday.
Former Mariners right-hander Freddy Garcia (4-3, 5.37 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Garcia gave up four runs on nine hits and two walks in 5 2/3 innings in his last start on Thursday against the Oakland Athletics. He is 5-3 with a 5.23 ERA against the Mariners in his career.
Garcia will be opposed by Felix Hernandez (8-5, 2.82 ERA). Hernandez gave one run on eight hits and struck out three in eight innings in a victory over the Kansas City Royals on Thursday. He is 6-5 with a 3.45 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 10:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
MARINERS 6, YANKEES 2
On Sunday, a veteran pitcher who had pitched in World Series and had a lot of past glory in the major leagues came out of nowhere and won a game.
Unfortunately, it was not Andy Pettitte.
Kevin Millwood (1-4) pitched seven innings of one-run, three-hit baseball and two Mariners who entered the game hitting hitting under .208 hit two-run homers as Seattle spoiled the celebrated return of Pettitte with New York at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees did the 37-year-old journeyman Millwood a big favor by hitting into three double plays and going 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position. Their only two runs in the game came on bases-loaded walks fifth and eighth innings.
Meanwhile, the 39-year-old Pettitte (0-1) matched Millwood zero for zero and had a not allowed a hit until there were two outs in the fourth.
Pettitte walked former Yankee mega-prospect Jesus Montero on a 3-2 pitch and Justin Smoak followed with a line-drive blast into the left-field bleachers for a two-run home run. Smoak entered the series hitting .173 but was 6-for-12 against the Yankees in the three games.
In the sixth inning, Pettitte began showing signs he was tiring after 573 days between his last start in the 2010 playoffs.
Dustin Ackley led off with a single to center and the mighty Casper Wells strolled to the plate. Wells entered the game batting .207 with no home runs and one RBI. He had a career total of 15 major-league home runs.
On a 2-2 offering from Pettitte, Wells swung late to protect the plate and he ended up hitting a ball that quickly was spinning foul into the right-field corner until it struck the foul pole. Wells could not placed it any better if he was standing five feet from the pole and thrown a ball against it.
The partisan Yankee crowd of 41,631 in attendance led out an audible gasp as the ball made an unmistakeable doink sound when it struck the pole.
Pettitte later that inning gave up three consecutive singles that loaded the bases. However, Pettitte induced Mike Carp into hitting a sharp grounder to Mark Teixeira at first . Teixeira stepped on first and fired home to catcher Russell Martin to nail a sliding Montero at home plate for an inning-ending double play.
Pettitte left after recording one out in the seventh inning. He gave up four runs on seven hits and three walks and struck out two. It was encouraging enough to Pettitte and manager Joe Girardi.
“It felt like I never left,” Pettitte said. “It’s frustrating, and obviously I’m disappointed in getting the loss. The guys gave me a chance to get right back in the game and get me a run, then I go back out and give up a two-run homer. You can’t do that. I got a little careless with a few pitches, and it cost me.”
“I thought he was pretty good,” said Girardi. “You look at the first five innings, and he really only gave up the one hard-hit ball and got a ton of ground-ball outs. He used pretty much all his pitches. And they hit some balls hard in the sixth, but to get us into the seventh inning, that’s pretty good.”
With the loss the Yankees fell to 19-15. The Mariners are 16-20.
- For those who believed Pettitte would embarrass himself on Sunday they owe the left-hander a big apology. Pettitte showed upper 80s velocity and good movement on his pitches throughout his outing. Strength and stamina were going to be issues for him and it showed in the sixth. But this was an encouraging first step and the Yankees just might have an exceptional starting rotation this season. That is bad news to their American League East rivals.
- The Yankees got runners on base (six hits and six walks) and they should have scored a lot more runs. Give Nick Swisher and Eric Chavez for collecting two hits apiece. Swisher is hitting .275 and Chavez is hitting .316 in a limited bench role.
- Martin and Robinson Cano deserve credit for having the patience to draw bases-loaded walks. Martin got his from Millwood in the fifth and Cano got his from Charlie Furbush in the eighth. Too bad that was all the damage the Yankees could muster for Pettitte.
- With two on and one out in the third inning, Derek Jeter hit into a inning-ending double play.
- With the bases loaded and one out after Martin had drawn his walk to bring the Yankees to within a run at 2-1, Jeter hit into another inning-ending double play.
- With two on and one out in the eighth, Curtis Granderson struck out.
- With the bases loaded and two out after Cano drew his walk to bring the Yankees to within 6-2, Teixeira struck out with the bases loaded.
Need I say more?
The Yankees open a short four-game road trip with a two-game series with the Baltimore Orioles on Monday.
Right-hander Ivan Nova (4-1, 5.02 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. He is coming a two-run, seven inning victory over the Rays on Tuesday. He is 3-1 with a 3.96 ERA in his career against the Orioles.
The Orioles will start ailing right-hander Jason Hammel (4-1, 2.09 ERA), who is nursing a right knee injury. He was scratched from his start on Thursday and he hopes to be able to pitch on Monday. He is 1-3 with a 6.69 ERA against the Yankees in his career.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
In the long and celebrated history of the New York Yankees, there have been only three legendary left-handed pitchers who have come out their minor-league system to attain greatness: Whitey Ford in the 50’s, Ron Guidry in the 70’s and Andrew Eugene Pettitte in the 90’s.
And it is Pettitte, who will be making history again on Sunday when he puts on his pinstriped No. 46 after 573 days in retirement. Yankee Stadium is sold out, the Bronx and the Tri-State area is abuzz and his Yankee teammates can’t wait to see him peer over his glove in that iconic stare into Russell Martin’s glove at about 1:07 p.m. before his first major-league pitch since the 2010 playoffs.
This would all seem like an exercise in futility for a 39-year-old pitcher who had been out of the game this long. After all, it does not happen often and it does not always end up successfully when it does happen.
But something about this time. Something about this man. Something about Pettitte has always been special.
For one thing, Pettitte left baseball after recording an 11-3 mark with a 3.28 ERA in 21 starts in 2010, a season that was truncated by a groin injury that sidelined Pettitte for over a month. But Pettitte recovered from that injury and he pitched twice in the 2010 playoffs and was 1-1 with a 2.57 ERA in those games.
So it wasn’t like Andy left baseball with nothing left in the tank. In fact, Pettitte was running on some premium high-test when he decided being home with his family in Deer Park, TX, was more important to him than trying to get a 3-2 slider past Josh Hamilton.
When the competitive juices started flowing in Pettitte this winter and he got a chance to come to the Yankees’ spring training complex in Tampa, FL, the lure of the game was just to much for him to resist. Once the announcement was made that Pettitte was coming back to the Yankees no one really laughed. It was only cheers and smiles.
That is because everyone who knows Pettitte knows that the harshest critic in his life has always been himself. If Andy did not believe he could do it he would not have wasted his or the Yankees’ time by even trying to fool them he could still pitch when he couldn’t. But Andy can still pitch and we will find out just how well on Sunday.
In four minor-league starts, Pettitte was 0-2 with a 3.71 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 19 innings. But those are just numbers because Pettitte was not concerned with numbers. He was focused only on getting his arm and his legs in shape to pitch for the Yankees for the rest of the 2012 season.
So today Pettitte just takes one step of a long journey back. It will not end with a loss or a victory. It is just the beginning for him.
In the Mariners he is facing a roster almost completely made up of players who were in elementary school or in diapers when Pettitte broke into the majors in 1995. In the end, they will tell Pettitte just how much he has left in the game. It is, after all, the hitters who tell a pitcher when he it is time to hang up the cleats. Pettitte hopes that will not be for some time to come.
Yankee fans second that emotion.
Pettitte will face a familiar mound opponent on Sunday.
The Mariners are starting 37-year-old right-hander Kevin Millwood (0-4, 5.88 ERA). Millwood is coming off a game on Tuesday in which he gave up five runs on eight hits and five walks and struck out three in five innings in a loss to the Detroit Tigers. In the last 10 seasons, Millwood is 2-4 with a 4.74 ERA against the Yankees.
Of the Mariners on the roster, Pettitte has only faced Chone Figgins, Ichiro Suzuki and Michael Saunders because most of their players are so young. In the last 10 seasons, Pettitte is 7-8 with a 3.94 ERA against the M’s.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
he 2011 season either.