Did you know that prior to this game, the Yankees had lost six straight series openers? I sure didn’t, but it doesn’t matter now because they took the first game of Wednesday’s doubleheader against the Blue Jays 4-2 behind Andy Pettitte. The Bombers have won five of their last six and eight of their last 12 games.
Eighty-four days after a comebacker fractured his left leg and a few hours after Mother Nature delayed things a little longer, Pettitte returned to the mound for the Yankees on Wednesday afternoon. Despite being limited to 70-75 pitches, the 40-year-old southpaw gave his club five shutout innings on four singles, two walks, and three strikeouts. He threw exactly 75 pitches, retired the last five hitters he faced, and pitched out of jams in classic Pettitte style in the second (runners on first and third), third (first and third), and fourth (second and third) innings.
The results are obviously overwhelmingly positive, but it’s clear Andy still has some rust to shake off. His arm strength was fine early on but it did fade as his pitch count increased, plus his command wasn’t exactly precise. That’s not at all unexpected after such a long layoff. Pettitte threw first pitch strikes to 14 of 21 batters faced but also went to a three-ball count to five of the first ten hitters he faced. He got better as the game went on but still has to fine tune some things before getting all the way back to being the pitcher we know he can be. That said, what he gave the Yankees against Toronto was basically the best-case scenario for the first start off the DL. Well done.
Three In The First
I’m sure the plan (hope) was to jump on Henderson Alvarez right out of the chute, scoring some runs early to take the pressure on Pettitte, and the offense took care of business in the first. The first three hitters the Yankees sent to the plate had hits, the third of which was a booming line drive double by Robinson Cano over the head of Colby Rasmus in center to score a run. Alex Rodriguez tacked on another run with a ground out to first, then Curtis Granderson made it three-zip with a sacrifice fly. Everything was going according to plan …
… until it wasn’t. Alvarez settled down and retired 17 of the next 19 men he faced, cruising through the next six innings without much of a problem. He came into the game with the lowest strikeout rate (3.3 K/9 and 8.5 K%) in baseball among qualified starters, but he set a new season-high in strikeouts (seven) against the Yankees for the second time this year. Against every other team, he has a 3.1 K/9 this year. Against the Yankees, it’s 7.7 K/9. That’s annoying.
Bullpen On Parade
Joe Girardi is going to (predictably) catch a lot of crap for how he used his bullpen, but I thought he absolutely did the right thing. You’ve got to win the game at hand before worrying about Game Two of the doubleheader, so going to his top relievers in a three-run game was the smart move. Who knows what the next game will have in store.
Anyway, the quartet of Clay Rapada (allowed a hit to the only man he faced), Derek Lowe (retired all three men he faced), Joba Chamberlain (one hit, two outs), and Boone Logan (retired the only man he faced) did the job in the sixth and seventh innings before David Robertson came in for his customary eighth inning. Robertson was crazy shaky, turning a 3-0 game into a 3-2 game thanks to four hits, including two with two strikes and a double by the punchless Omar Vizquel. Of his 26 pitches, only two were curveballs. Rafael Soriano had to come in to bail him out (with an assist to Ichiro Suzuki) before closing things out with a scoreless ninth. The bullpen will be short tonight, but it was going to be anyway and this win is in the bank. That’s the important thing.
There was some insult and injury for Nick Swisher, who fouled a ball off his left foot in the first and committed two errors on one play in the third. He booted a hard-hit Brett Lawrie grounder (first error) before making a poor flip over to Pettitte covering first (second error). Chances are it didn’t cost Andy any extra pitches since Adam Lind hit into an inning-ending double play two pitches later. The foot wasn’t a major problem because Swisher stayed in the game, but he was clearly hobbling as he rounded the bases that inning. Nick did drive in an important insurance run in the eighth, so we’re square.
The Yankees appeared to have something going in the sixth inning after Cano singled with one out, but an unconventional strike ’em out, throw ’em out double play ended the threat. A-Rod took a called strike three then got in the way of Jeff Mathis as he made the throw down to second, so Cano was called out on the interference. For shame.
All seven of the team’s hits came from the top three hitters in the order. Ichiro had three, Swisher and Cano two apiece. The other six hitters in the lineup went a combined 0-for-17. The Yankees are going to need more out of the bats tonight, regardless of who is or isn’t available in the bullpen.
Soriano’s four-out save was his fifth save of three or more outs this season, or the same number he had in his entire career prior to this year. The Yankees have the right idea — if he’s going to opt-out after the season (which seems likely), might as well get your money’s worth.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights while ESPN has the updated standings. The Yankees remain one game ahead of the Orioles in the AL East and seven ahead of the Rays, who we can probably disregard in the division race going forward. The magic number is down to 15.
Let’s play two! These same two teams will play the second game of this day-night doubleheader in just a few hours, when David Phelps matches up against Ricky Romero.