YANKEES 3, ORIOLES 2
There are defining moments within a season and in a pennant chase. But the New York Yankees delivered a very big message to the Baltimore Orioles on Friday: You are NOT going to push us around anymore.
Travis Hafner and Vernon Wells, who had failed to deliver in the same situation four innings earlier, came through with the tying and winning RBIs in the ninth inning off Orioles closer Jim Johnson and Ivan Nova pitched the game of his life as New York – bullied and bruised from a sweep at Oriole Park at Camden Yards last week – broke the heart of Baltimore with a walk-off victory in front of a raucous paid crowd of 43,396 at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees entered the ninth trailing 2-1 with Johnson (2-7) on the mound facing No. 9 hitter David Adams, who was hitting .183 as he stepped into the batter’s box. Adams ripped an 1-1 fastball and delivered an opposite-field single to right.
Brett Gardner, attempting to sacrifice Adams to second with a sacrifice bunt, reached on a single when Johnson overran the ball and was unable to make a play.
Surprisingly, Ichiro Suzuki then elected to drop down a sacrifice bunt that advanced Adams to third and Gardner to second because the move effectively allowed Orioles manager Buck Showalter to intentionally walk Robinson Cano to load the bases, as he had done in the fifth inning.
Trailing 2-1 with Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez on the mound in the fifth, Showalter had Gonzalez walk Cano intentionally to load the bases with one out. Hafner then flied out to shallow center, leaving Adams at third base. Wells followed with a weak foul popup to first baseman Chris Davis that left the bases loaded.
But in the ninth inning against Johnson both Hafner and Wells were hoping the outcome would be different. Fortunately for the Yankees, they redeemed themselves.
Hafner drew a walk on four straight pitches to bring in the tying run in Adams. Wells followed by slapping a 2-2 sinker from Johnson just past the dive of third baseman Manny Machado and into left-field to score Gardner with the run that made a winner out Nova.
Nova (3-2) was only starting the game due to a sore left hip flexor injury to right-hander Hiroki Kuroda. But the 26-year-old right-hander took advantage of his first start since June 23 and only his sixth start this season.
Despite opening the second inning by hitting Davis with a pitch and allowing a two-run opposite-field home run to Matt Wieters that hit off the top of the wall and bounded into the bleachers, Nova shut down the Orioles the rest of the way on just two singles and a walk while he struck out 11 batters – one less than his career best of 12 in 2011 against the Cincinnati Reds.
Mixing his 95-mile-per-hour fastball with a devastating curveball that had the powerful Orioles, who lead the major leagues in home runs, flailing at air all night in what was Nova’s first major-league complete game in 67 career starts. Over nine innings, Nova threw 102 pitches and 70 of them were strikes, a strike percentage of 69%.
This was much like the Nova of 2011 who burst onto the scene as a rookie to post a 16-4 record with a 3.70 ERA and win his final 12 games in a row. It was not the same Nova who was so awful in going 12-8 with a 5.02 ERA in 2012 and who was 1-1 with a 6.48 ERA in his first four starts of 2013 before he landed on the 15-day disabled list for two months with a right triceps strain.
It looked as if Nova would end up taking a hard-luck loss because the Yankees’ offense could only manage one hit off Gonzalez until the fourth inning.
Wells delivered a two-out lined single to left and Gonzalez then issued a walk to Lyle Overbay, seemingly pitching around the veteran first baseman in order to face light-hitting shortstop Luis Cruz. However, Cruz spoiled the strategy when he laced a sharp single to left and Wells was able to slide home just a beat ahead of the throw from Nate McLouth and the tag of Wieters at the plate.
The game remained that way until the Yankees mounted their rally off Johnson in the ninth that handed the closer his sixth blown save of the season, two of them to the Yankees.
Gonzalez gave up four hits and five walks while striking out four in six innings of work. Left-hander Troy Patton and right-hander Darren O’Day both pitched an inning shutout baseball for the Orioles.
The victory for the Yankees, their fifth in a row, allowed them to climb within percentage points of the second-place Orioles in the American League East with a 47-39 mark. The Orioles defeat left them 48-39, five games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox are playing the Los Angeles Angels in a late game in Anaheim, CA.
- How can six go into five? That the problem for manager Joe Girardi now that Nova has served notice he belongs in the rotation. You can’t possibly remove hard-throwing Dominican after what he did on Friday. When Nova is on like he was on Friday, he actually has the arguably the best stuff of any of the current Yankee starters. The most likely candidate to go could be David Phelps. But Phelps pitched a fine game against the Minnesota Twins on Thursday. Stay tuned.
- Wells was given a second consecutive start against a right-handed pitcher and he made the most of it. Despite hitting that weak foul pop in the fifth, Wells finished the evening 2-for-5 with a run scored and the game-winning walk-off RBI. In his past three games, Wells is 6-for-12 with four RBIs. That streak has raised his season average from .223 to .235.
- Cruz is showing signs he may be a better hitter than his .136 mark with the Los Angeles Dodgers that led to his designation for assignment and eventual release. Cruz is 3-for-11 (.272) and has RBIs in the past two of his three starts at shortstop for the Yankees. Cruz also made a fine pair of plays on ground balls off the bat of Machado and Nick Markakis in the third inning that robbed both of potential hits.
You can’t fault the pitching because Nova was sensational. Besides Cruz’s two gems, Cano turned in a pair of dazzlers in the fourth inning. So you can’t fault the defense. You could rip Hafner and Wells for failing the fifth inning with the bases loaded and one out. However, they atoned for those sins by coming through when it counted in the ninth. No complaints here.
The Yankees announced Friday that shortstop Derek Jeter will begin a rehab assignment on Saturday with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre. Jeter, who has spent the better part of eight months rehabbing a broken left ankle after undergoing surgery, is expected to play at least five innings at shortstop in the RailRiders’ game against Lehigh Valley. Jeter originally broke the ankle in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers last October. After undergoing surgery Jeter attempted to return to action during spring training but felt discomfort and had to be shelved. An MRI on April 18 indicated a second small break of the ankle and Jeter has been on the disabled list the entire season. Girardi refused to set a firm date for Jeter’s return to the Yankees. . . . Kuroda has been cleared to resume throwing again but it is not clear when he will make his next start. Kuroda first felt discomfort in his left hip warming up for last Saturday’s game against the Orioles in Baltimore. He pitched in the game and ended up losing 4-2. Kuroda is 7-6 with a 2.95 ERA in 17 starts this season.
The Yankees will put their five-game winning streak on the line on Saturday in a matinee against the O’s.
Veteran left-hander Andy Pettitte (5-6, 4.40 ERA) will take the mound for the Yankees. Pettitte passed Whitey Ford to become the team’s the all-time team strikeout leader but he ended up with a no-decision on Monday after giving up four runs on six hits and four walks in five innings against the Twins. Pettitte is 18-5 with a 3.48 ERA in the past 10 seasons against the Orioles.
Baltimore will start right-hander Chris Tillman (10-2, 3.68 ERA). Tillman yielded two runs on five hits and two walks while striking out six in six innings against the Yankees on Sunday, his seventh consecutive winning decision. He is 3-3 with a 7.27 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 10, TWINS 4
Just when things look the darkest for the Yankees there is a silver lining. When they are mired in a batting slump, when they can’t seem to do anything right and when they have lost five in a row they still have one saving grace left to them. It is when they play the Minnesota Twins.
Trailing 4-3 heading into the eighth inning the Yankees rallied to score seven runs over the final two innings as once again hapless Minnesota snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory against New York in front of 29.619 disbelieving fans at Target Field in Minneapolis.
After Chris Parmelee led off the sixth inning with a home run off left-hander Andy Pettitte to break a 3-3 tie, the Twins handed the ball to right-hander Jared Burton (1-6) in the eighth inning, hoping he could preserve that lead. But things went awry quickly.
Robinson Cano, who was responsible for all three Yankee runs with a solo home run in the first inning and a two-run blast in the third, led off the frame with a lined double into the gap in right-center.
Manager Joe Girardi then pinch-hit for Vernon Wells with Ichiro Suzuki and the veteran outfielder dropped down a bunt single that advanced Cano to third. Burton then uncorked a wild pickoff attempt to first that rolled down the right-field line that allowed Cano to score the tying run and Suzuki to slide in safely into third.
One out later, rookie Zoilo Almonte slapped an opposite-field single between a drawn-in infield into left-field to give the Yankees a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the evening.
The Yankees added a run after left-hander Brian Duensing walked Lyle Overbay, uncorked a wild pitch to advance Almonte and Overbay a base and Almonte scored on a RBI groundout off the bat of Chris Stewart.
The Yankees added four runs in the ninth inning off Duensing and right-hander Josh Roenicke to put the game well out of reach.
Joba Chamberlain (1-0) pitched a scoreless seventh inning to pick up his first victory of the season. David Robertson and Mariano Rivera each also tossed shutout frames to close out the victory for the Yankees.
Despite not pitching well, Pettitte did strike out Justin Morneau with one out and one on in the fifth inning to become the all-time leader in Yankees’ history in strikeouts. It was Pettitte’s 1,958th career strikeout, which moved him past Hall-of-Fame left-hander Whitey Ford.
Pettitte suffered through a 42-pitch first inning in which he was touched for three runs on three hits and two walks while he also committed a throwing error. Ryan Doumit stroked a two-run single to key the inning for the Twins.
But Pettitte recovered to shut down the Twins on just two hits over the next four innings until Parmelee’s solo homer in the sixth chased him from the game. Pettitte gave up four runs on six hits and four walks while he struck out two batters in five-plus innings.
His opponent, left-hander Scott Diamond, shut out eight of the Yankees’ hitters on just five hits and one walk in 6 2/3 innings. However, Cano blasted a solo home run off Diamond that traveled more than 400-feet and landed in the batter’s eye in center-field in the first inning.
Cano later followed a fielding error by third baseman Jamey Carroll that allowed Jayson Nix to reach with one out in the third with an opposite-field blast to left that landed just into the left-field bleachers that tied the game at 3-3.
The home runs were the 18th and 19th of the season for Cano and his homer in the third inning gave him three home runs in his past four at-bats.
The victory improved the Yankees’ season record to 43-39 and left them six games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in fourth place in the American League East. The Twins fell to 36-43.
- In Cano’s last four games he is 10-for-17 (.588) with three homers and five RBIs. Cano has raised his season average from .276 to .293 and he leads the team in both home runs (19) and RBIs (51). His resurgence at the plate also comes at a time when he is about to be chosen by the fans as the starting second baseman for the American League in the 2013 All-Star Game.
- Almonte is winning over Yankee fans in a hurry and his 3-for-5 night with a stolen base, a run scored and two RBIs did not let those fans down a bit. Almonte, 24, is now batting .342 with a home run and seven RBIs. The youngster said he wants to continue to contribute and not be sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. By the looks of things he is not going back anytime soon.
- Wells started in right-field for Suzuki and was 2-for-3 with two lined singles that Wells got off Diamond’s first offerings to him in both the first and third innings. While this does not prove the veteran outfielder with slumping bat is out of it, it could be that he is showing signs he might be getting his stroke back. Of course, with Almonte entrenched in left-field for now, Wells is just a part-time outfielder and designated hitter for the near future.
- Pettitte is showing an alarming habit of coughing up leads the team gives him and he also is failing to win largely because he is succumbing to one bad inning in his most recent starts. Pettitte has not won a game since June 8 and in his past four starts he is 0-3 with a 5.84 ERA. In those starts he has been hammered for 16 runs on 32 hits and eight walks in 24 2/3 innings. This is not the Pettitte the Yankees have seen in a long, long time. They have to be concerned.
- On a night in which the Yankees scored 10 runs on 14 hits, third baseman David Adams was 0-for-5 with a strikeout and only one ball reached the outfield. Adams is 2-for-24 in his past eight games and his batting average has plummeted to an anemic .178. With Kevin Youkilis likely lost for the season and Alex Rodriguez still on the disabled list, third base has become the Achilles’ heel for the team. It is just getting worse by the day.
Rodriguez on Monday was cleared to begin a rehab assignment with Class-A Charleston (SC) in the South Atlantic League on Tuesday. Rodriguez, who is rehabbing from surgery on his left hip in January, is expected to play no less than three innings at third base. The assignment is scheduled to run for 20 days, which means Rodriguez, 37, could rejoin the Yankees no later than July 22 for the start of a four-game road series in Arlington, TX, against the Texas Rangers.
The Yankees will continue their four-game series against the team they love to beat in the Twins on Tuesday.
Right-hander Phil Hughes (3-7, 4.82 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Hughes is coming off a game in which – with his starting role on the line – Hughes surrendered just two runs on five hits in eight innings against the Rangers. However, he lost the game because the Yankees managed just two hits and no runs against Derek Holland. Hughes is 2-1 with a 3.00 ERA in his career against the Twins.
The Twins will counter with right-hander Samuel Deduno (4-2, 3.32 ERA). Deduno gave up just one run on five hits and a walk while he fanned three in seven innings against the Kansas City Royals in his last start. Deduno has no record and 0.00 ERA in one outing against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 8:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
The New York Yankees will enter spring training with a virtually set starting rotation. That is a luxury among major-league clubs but there are some concerns about the staff and how effective it will be. Let’s examine each starter individually in a five-part series.
ANDY PETTITTE (5-4, 2.87 ERA)
When the announcement was made last March that Andy Pettitte was coming back to the Yankees to pitch, the euphoria was palpable.
After a year in retirement, Pettitte was determined to pitch again. The story was supposed to go that Pettitte would pitch great, he would lead the team to the playoffs and help them win their 28th world championship. However, that script landed in the dustbin after Pettitte ended up getting injured along the way.
On June 27, Pettitte was struck in the right ankle with a ball off the bat of Casey Kotchman of the Cleveland Indians. It was only his ninth start of the season and the injury would shelve him until mid-September. The Yankees did make the playoffs and Pettitte helped them make it to the American League Championship Series.
However, the Yankees’ offense decided to sleep in and missed the series.
Immediately, Pettitte’s return in 2013 was in doubt. But, fortunately for the Yankees, Pettitte decided he still had some unfinished business and he was signed to a one-year, $12 million contract at age 40.
The numbers Pettitte produced when he was healthy last season certainly backed up his decision. His ERA was excellent at 2.87 and six of his 12 starts were quality starts. The biggest surprise was jump in Pettitte’s strikeout rate.
Last season, Pettitte struck out 69 batters in 75 1/3 innings. At that rate, Pettitte would have topped 200 Ks for the first time in his long and storied career. It is not that Pettitte had gained velocity or came up with a new pitch. It is just that he was pitching smarter and he was able to keep batters off balance.
Heading into the 2013 season, there are a lot of things that are breaking to Pettitte’s favor. For one, Pettitte will enter spring camp from the first day and be ready to pitch when the season begins instead of his May 13 debut last season.
In addition, Pettitte already knows he can get major-league hitters out, which is something he did not know last season after sitting out the 2011 season.
Pettitte is also a valuable commodity as a veteran left-handed starter in an American League with a lot of powerful left-handed hitters.
One thing about Pettitte that sets him apart from any other pitcher is his fierce competitiveness. It is – and has been throughout his career – a blessing. But it also can be a curse.
Last season, Pettitte was feeling frisky during his rehab and pushed his workouts past what the doctors had prescribed. He ended up paying for it by extending his rehab a few weeks. Sometimes Pettitte also can be own worst enemy.
The key to Pettitte’s 2013 season looks to be maintaining his health and stamina throughout the long grind of a season. Pettitte pitched into the sixth inning or better in each of his first eight starts before he was injured. But he finished six innings only once in his final three starts.
With CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda ahead of him in the rotation, Pettitte will form what will be a pretty formidable top tier of starters. Those three combined to go 36-21 with a 3.27 ERA. With a much tougher American League and stiffer competition in the A.L. East, this is threesome manager Joe Girardi can count on to meet the challenge.
They will have to because the Yankees’ offense did take a major hit this winter with the departures of Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones.
With Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki, Curtis Granderson, Brett Gardner and Eduardo Nunez on the roster the Yankees might be looking to reintroduce more of a running game in 2013 with a lot of bunting, hit and runs and taking chances on the bases instead of waiting on the home run.
It could mean that the Yankees will have to settle for fewer runs and that puts a lot more pressure on the starting pitchers to keep the other team from putting the game out of reach. But Pettitte seems to up to that challenge.
If he can limit his pitch counts and make it deep into games, the Yankees stand a good chance of winning more than their fair share of them.
Pettitte enters the 2013 season with a career record of 245 wins and 142 losses (.633 winning percentage) and career ERA of 3.86. He has 208 career wins as a Yankees, which is third behind Whitey Ford (236) and Red Ruffing (231).
To Pettitte, those numbers are nice but they are not numbers he cares too much about. If the Hall of Fame should come calling he would be honored. But he does not expect it and need it to validate his career.
But his postseason numbers of 19-11 with a 3.81 ERA are something of which he is very proud. No pitcher in the modern postseason era has started (44) and won as many games as Pettitte. Last season he was 0-1 with a 3.29 ERA in his two starts. Victory eluded him because the Yankees did not score very many runs in the postseason.
But Pettitte understands that if the Yankees do make the playoffs and he does his job the way he expects to do it the Yankees have an excellent shot of winning most of the time.
This likely will be his last season and the Yankees would love to make sure the three members of what was the “Core Four,” Petitte, Jeter and Mariano Rivera have a chance to play for a world championship.
Nothing would be sweeter for the Yankees and nothing would be sweeter for Pettitte than having that chance one last time.
NEXT: PHIL HUGHES
YANKEES 4, WHITE SOX 0
Nothing will put the chill on some red-hot bats like a real cool pitcher on a sweltering afternoon in the Bronx, N.Y. That is exactly what 37-year-old right-hander Hiroki Kuroda did to the Chicago White Sox on Saturday.
Kuroda, who was having trouble all afternoon throwing his swing-and-miss split-finger fastball, calmly switched gears and used his mid-90’s fastball and slider to baffle the White Sox for seven shutout innings as he ran his record to 5-1 in his last seven starts and give the Yankees’ pitching staff a much-needed boost.
Kuroda (8-7) struck out a career-tying high of 11 batters and gave up just three singles and one walk in a dazzling display of pitching artistry over 104 pitches in 93-degree heat in front of a crowd of 46,895 at Yankee Stadium.
To back up the strong starting pitching they got from Kuroda, the Yankees used their favorite weapon – the home run – to saddle right-hander Jake Peavy (6-5) with yet another loss in June. During the month of June, Peavy was 0-4 with two no-decisions in his six starts despite compiling an ERA of 2.76.
Curtis Granderson hit the first of a trio of solo home runs Peavy surrendered in the first inning. Granderson smacked a 1-0 fastball into the second deck in straightaway right-field to give the Yankees an early 1-0 lead. It was Granderson’s 23rd home run of the season.
An inning later, newly discovered super-sub Dewayne Wise laced a first-pitch fastball off the wall in right-center to score Nick Swisher from first to give the Yankees another run with two outs in the second inning.
Wise then added to his most recent hot streak on this homestand in the fifth inning with a second-deck rainbow solo shot into right-field for his second home of the season and his second in his last three starts. In the five games in which he played in the field in this homestand, Wise was 7-for-11 (.636) with two home runs and five RBis. And don’t forget his perfect two-thirds of an inning of relief on Friday to take the lead on the Yankees in ERA with 0.00.
Robinson Cano ended his red-hot June with his 11th home run of the month in the sixth, a titanic blast into the second deck in right on the first offering of the inning from Peavy. It was Cano’s 19th home run of the season.
Though he pitched all eight innings, Peavy gave up four runs on eight hits and he also struck out 11.
David Robertson pitched a perfect eighth, striking out two and Boone Logan and Rafael Soriano combined to finish the ninth as the Yankees ended the four-game winning streak of the White Sox and halted their disastrous two-game losing streak to the Chisox in which they were outscored 18-10.
With the victory, the Yankees’ season record improved to 47-30 and they are five games ahead of the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. The White Sox fell to 42-36.
- Kuroda certainly stepped up in the absence of CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte and pitched like an ace on Saturday. Ten of 11 strikeouts were swinging strikes and some of them came on fastballs up in the strike zone. During his 5-1 run in his seven starts, he has failed to pitch seven innings only once and his ERA over that stretch is 1.65.
- Wise has mostly been used as a late-inning defensive replacement for Raul Ibanez in left-field. But in his three starts in the past six games, Wise is 6-for-10 with two home runs and five RBIs. The 34-year-old veteran perhaps is proving to manager Joe Girardi that he is deserving of some more starts.
- Cano probably does not want June to end. During the month he hit a robust .340 with 11 home runs and 21 RBIs. In the 30 games this month, Cano failed to get at least one hit in only four games and he had multiple hits in 10 games. After a slow start in April, Cano is hitting .308 with 19 home runs and 44 RBIs.
- Alex Rodriguez was 0-for-4 on the day with two strikeouts looking, a fielder’s choice groundout and a double-play grounder. That lowered his season average to .265. Though Rodriguez had his best month by hitting six home runs and driving in 16 runs, he hit a miserable .232 and struck out 30 times in 95 at-bats.
- Mark Teixeira also was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and a routine groundout. He finished June in a 3-for-28 (.107) slide that has dropped his season average back to .244. He hit .219 in June with four home runs and 14 RBIs. The Yankees had a hot June in winning 20 games but Teixeira and Rodriguez had very little to do with it.
- Derek Jeter was 0-for-3 and was hit by a pitch in Saturday’s game. Very quietly, Jeter’s batting average is getting close to slipping under .300. Jeter is 8-for-42 (.190) with one home run and one RBI and that has lowered his season average to an even .300. On June 1, Jeter was hitting .340.
A day after rookie right-hander Adam Warren was shelled for six runs on eight hits and two walks in 2 1/3 innings in his major-league debut against the White Sox on Friday, he was optioned back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and replaced on the 25-man roster by right-hander D.J. Mitchell. Mitchell, 25, is in his second stint with the Yankees and he will used as a long man out of the bullpen. Mitchell was 0-0 with a 3.38 ERA in two relief appearances with the Yankees in his last call-up. . . . The Yankees announced on Saturday that 25-year-old right-hander David Phelps will start in place of the injured Sabathia on Wednesday in St. Petersburg, FL, against the Tampa Bay Rays. Phelps gave up two runs in 3 1/4 innings and took the loss in relief against the White Sox on Friday. But he is 1-3 with a 3.16 ERA for the Yankees this season. Like Mitchell, Phelps is in his second stint with the Yankees. . . . Russell Martin got his first start in the last three days and only his second since June 23 because of lower-back stiffness. Martin was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts but threw out Alejandro De Aza attempting to steal second in the first inning.
On Sunday, the Yankees will conduct their 66th Annual Old-Timers Day at Yankee Stadium and legends such as Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson, Ron Guidry, Goose Gossage and Paul O’Neill will be on hand for the ceremonial introductions and the game. The festivities begin at 11 a.m. EDT and it will be broadcast by the YES Network.
After the game, the Yankees will look for a split of their four-game weekend series with the White Sox.
Phil Hughes (8-6, 4.48 ERA) will look to continue his most recent success as he takes the mound on Sunday. Hughes has won five of his last six starts and spun eight scoreless innings on Tuesday in a victory over the Cleveland Indians in his last start. He is 2-1 with a 0.75 ERA in his career against the Chisox.
Hughes will be opposed by veteran right-hander Gavin Floyd (6-7, 4.80 ERA). Floyd tossed seven scoreless innings against the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday, his second straight start he has not allowed a run. However, he is just 2-2 with a 5.98 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 2:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS and locally 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.
YANKEES 11, ANGELS 5
The Yankees’ game plan sounds so simple but it is not easy to do. They try to knock the starting pitcher out of the game early, keep tacking on runs against the weak underbelly of the opponent’s bullpen and win easily going away.
They did that to perfection against the Angels on Sunday night at Yankee Stadium in front of national television audience.
Derek Jeter blasted a three-run home run in the fourth inning to give New York an 8-1 lead and Raul Ibanez added a two-run shot of his own in the seventh as Ivan Nova pitched a solid six innings to give the Yankees a series-deciding victory over Los Angeles.
Nova (2-0) gave up four runs on eight hits and two walks and fanned eight batters to collect his 14th straight victory, which ties the legendary Whitey Ford for the second-best winning streak in franchise history. Roger Clemens holds the team record with 16 in a row.
The Yankees did most of their damage early against Angels right-hander Jerome Williams (0-1).
After Ibanez drove in the Yankees’ first run on a one-out single to center in the second inning, the Yankees erupted for four runs in the third inning keyed by an RBI double by Mark Teixeira and a sacrifice fly by Nick Swisher that chased Williams, who left on the losing end of a 5-1 deficit.
Reliever Hisanori Takahashi did not fare much better in the fourth when he walked Russell Martin and Brett Gardner followed with a lined single to center. Jeter then hit his second home run of the season, a line-drive shot into the bleachers in right field to give the Yankees what looked to be a comfortable 8-1 lead.
But the Angels added to Mark Trumbo’s solo home run off Nova in the second when Chris Iannetta ripped his second two-run home run of the series in the fifth. The next inning, the Angels used a two-out walk to Trumbo to add another run on a Maicer Izturis double.
The Angels then added another run in the seventh off reliever Rafael Soriano on a Albert Pujols single after Soriano opened the frame by walking Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick followed with a bunt single.
After Bobby Abreu drew a two-walk from Soriano to load the bases, David Robertson was summoned with the Yankees holding a tenuous 8-5 lead with the potential lead run at the plate in Trumbo. But Robertson got Trumbo to fly out to right to end the threat.
The Yankees then added a run on Swisher’s two-out RBI single in the seventh off reliever Bobby Carpenter. Jason Isringhausen was brought into the game to face Ibanez, but Ibanez greeted him a long blast into the second deck down the right-field line that gave the Yankees what would their winning margin.
With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 5-4. The hard-luck Angels, who are showing vulnerability in their bullpen this season, are 3-6.
- Jeter’s amazing start to the 2012 season continues. He was 2-for-5 with three RBIs and two runs scored. The two hits raised his season average to .366. Even when Jeter makes outs he is hitting the ball hard. He hit a long fly ball to center in the seventh inning that was caught by Vernon Wells on the warning track. In the eighth his hard-hit grounder struck Isringhausen and Aybar had to scramble to reach the ball bounding up the middle and nip Jeter at first base with the throw.
- Robertson’s showdown with Trumbo in the seventh was the key at-bat of the game. If Trumbo had extended the rally or homered it would have been a devastating blow to the Yankees after leading the game 8-1. But Robertson was able to force Trumbo to hit a weak opposite-field fly ball to Swisher to end the rally. Robertson did not allow a hit and his 1 1/3 scoreless innings and he remains unscored upon on the young season.
- Ibanez, like Jeter, also drove in three runs. Ibanez now has nine RBIs on the season, which is second on the team to Swisher’s 11. This is despite the fact that Ibanez is only hitting .217. So Ibanez is making the few hits he has been getting count.
- The Yankees as a team finally broke out of their funk with runners in scoring position. They were 5-for-13 (.385) on Sunday. The Angels, on the other hand, were 1-for-11 (.091).
- Nova did much better than his 4.15 ERA might indicate. He did strike out eight and he looked in control of the game with an 8-1 lead. But two things hurt him: the home-run ball and walks. Trumbo and Iannetta homered and walks to Izturis and Trumbo later scored.
- Soriano nearly blew the 8-4 lead he entered the game with in the seventh. The leadoff walk to Aybar and the four-pitch walk to Abreu put the Angels in a position to bring the potential lead run to the plate in Trumbo. Fortunately, for Soriano and the Yankees, Robertson was able to retire Trumbo and the Angels scored only the one run.
- The Yankees scored 11 runs on 12 hits and the only starter who did not get a hit in the game was Martin. The veteran catcher did walk twice and score a run. But he is off to a bit of a slow start with the bat, hitting .182 with no home runs and one RBI.
Andy Pettitte threw four shutout innings for Class A Tampa on Sunday against Clearwater in a Florida State League game. The 39-year-old left-hander gave up two hits and no walks in his second minor-league start. He threw 31 of 47 pitches for strikes and induced seven groundball outs. Pettitte is targeting his return to the majors for early May. . . . The Yankees celebrated Jackie Robinson Day with a pregame ceremony honoring Robinson’s widow, Rachel, and his daughter, Sharon. Curtis Granderson wore a commemorative pair of Jackie Robinson Day spikes for the game and will auction them and his No. 42 jersey to benefit the Jackie Robinson Foundation.
The Yankees will stay home and open a four-game series against the Minnesota Twins.
Right-hander Freddy Garcia (0-0, 5.79 ERA) gets the starting nod for the Yankees. He is looking to atone for a rough first start against the Orioles in Baltimore last week. Garcia, unable to grip his split-finger pitch in the cool weather, threw five wild pitches, but he did limit the damage to three runs in 4 2/3 innings.
He will face the former toast of Yankee fans, Carl Pavano (0-1, 5.93). In his second start, Pavano gave up five runs in 6 2/3 innings against the Angels on Wednesday. He is 0-1 with a 4.58 ERA against the Yankees in his career.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.
Retirement is a one-way trip to insignificance.
When I first heard the news Andy Pettitte had decided to come out of retirement to pitch for the Yankees this season I thought it was a hoax. When Andy walked away from a $12 million contract offer after the 2010 season I thought the next time we would see him pitch was in an Old-Timer’s game at Yankee Stadium. But now that I know he did, indeed, sign a $2.5 million minor-league contract on Friday, I could not wipe the smile off my face.
The immediate thought is what manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild are going to do to sort out a sudden glut of seven starting pitchers with only five spots available. As it is without Pettitte in the mix, you have Ivan Nova (16 wins), Michael Pineda (promising sophomore right-hander), Freddy Garcia (crafty veteran) and Phil Hughes (18 wins in 2010) vying for the three spots behind CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda.
It is a good thing the Yankees traded A.J. Burnett and Mike Mussina has not planned a comeback or it could be a real mess.
But Pettitte obviously will need time to get into “game shape” and build his arm strength for the 2012 season and he will not be able to start with the Yankees by Opening Day. Yankee general manager Brian Cashman estimated it might take about seven weeks.
So at age 39, Pettitte will embark on an extended spring training and then he will likely venture to Triple-A Empire State (formerly Scranton/Wilkes-Barre) for a series of starts until the Yankees decide he is ready to join the Yankees. That could be mid-May or later.
So Girardi’s immediate plan is to just sort out the six starters he has now and wait to see what happens with Pettitte later.
If the decision were mine to make now I would give Nova a spot because he earned it with the 16 games he won as a rookie last season. He also has a very high upside in potential and the Yankees could use a young pitcher in their rotation.
Pineda deserves a spot based on his great showing last season but there is a big problem: His velocity on the fastball is down and the Yankees are concerned though they are not voicing it publicly. Perhaps the Yankees open the season allowing Pineda to try to recapture it in the major leagues, as they did with Hughes last season.
But they would be able to place him on the disabled list or just send him to Empire State to build arm strength at some point. It is a possibility.
Hughes looks like he is back from his arm woes. He threw four shutout innings on Friday and in his previous start at Ft. Myers, FL., against the Twins he was registering 92 miles per hour on the radar gun.
If Hughes wins the No. 5 spot, then Garcia would be in the bullpen ready to fill in if Pineda struggles or there is an injury.
Garcia’s stuff translates well to the bullpen because he throws strikes and mixes his pitches well. A team could do worse that to have a pitcher who was 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA in the bullpen.
As for when Pettitte is ready to join the 25-man roster, that is one of those “cross the bridge when we get it to it” deals for Girardi. A lot can happen in a 162-game schedule with injuries and ineffectiveness. As to who do you bump from the rotation for Pettitte, i have no idea how to answer that question now.
But what I do know is that this turn of events is very bad news for the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays.
The Red Sox have three very good starters (Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz), a big question mark (Daniel Bard) and a fifth starter to be selected out of a grab bags of misfits and free-agent sludge.
The Rays thought the y had the best rotation in the division with the likes of James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and rookie lefty Matt Moore. To tell you the truth they still could. However, the addition of Pettitte makes the difference between the two staffs somewhat insignificant.
Think of what Pettitte was able to do in 2010.
He was 11-3 with a 3.26 ERA and he was headed for a great season when a groin injury shelved him during the home stretch of the pennant race. In his two starts in the postseason Pettitte was 1-1 with a 2.57 ERA. Then he walked away thinking his calling was at home with his family.
But coming to training camp this spring as a guest instructor apparently got Andy to thinking there was still something left in the tank. Of course, we all saw that. It wasn’t like Andy’s record was 4-14 with a 5.42 ERA and we all knew we could stick a fork in him because he was done.
No, Andy walked away when he was still one of the better left-handers in the American League and he is still the all-time leader in postseason wins (19), starts (42) and innings pitched (263). Pettitte is also third on the Yankees all-time win list (203) behind Hall-of-Famers Whitey Ford (236) and Red Ruffing (231).
What better way to spend a summer for Andy than joining Derek Jeter to get an up close and personal view of what could be fellow “Core Four” veteran Mariano Rivera in what could be his last season?
This is an historic and monumental day in Yankee history. One of the most successful pitchers from their golden era (1996 through 2000) is coming back to don No. 46 and reprrise that famous steel-eyed glare over the glove Pettitte made famous.
Yep, the Pettitte family’s temporary loss of their beloved father is certainly Yankee Universe’s gain. Welcome back, Andy!