The Yankees had played 94 straight games without their captain prior to Thursday. Derek Jeter returned to the lineup for the first time since breaking his ankle in Game One of the ALCS, and he help lead the Yankees to an 8-4 win in the series finale against the Royals.
The Captain Returns
After the game, Jeter said he made up his mind yesterday that he was going to swing at the first pitch he saw today. That’s exactly what he did in his first official at-bat of the season in the bottom of the first, chopping a weak ground ball towards third base for an infield single. He got down the line pretty well I thought, especially for a 39-year-old coming off a major ankle injury.
Jeter did not hit the ball out of the infield in any of his final three at-bats either, grounding out to third, second, and short, in that order. He saw a total of 12 pitches in the four at-bats. The Cap’n was removed from the game following his fourth at-bat with tightness in his right quad, something that first popped up during his third at-bat. Both Jeter and Joe Girardi downplayed the injury after the game, but he’s headed for tests anyway and no one really knows what to expect. He could be lineup on Friday, or we might not see him again after until the All-Star break.
Either way, Jeter’s return made this game feel … normal. Know what I mean? Seeing the Yankees without Jeter is just weird. He’s an institution. This game had that “good ol’ days” feel that this season has been lacking, at least in my opinion. It felt like Yankees baseball again, with the Cap’n leading the way. He won’t fix the offense by himself, but the Yankees are a better team when Jeter is healthy and in the lineup. Hopefully this quad issue is nothing and he returns in a day or two.
Another Rough Start
For the seventh time in eight starts since coming off the DL, Andy Pettitte allowed four runs on Thursday afternoon. Four of the first five batters he faced reached base, resulting in two runs before the sixth batter sacrifice flied in a third. The Royals chipped in the fourth run in the second thanks in part to Pettitte’s throwing error on a bunt. Teams have not been shy forcing the 41-year-old to field his position with bunts in recent weeks.
Andy settled down a bit after the second inning, retiring 12 of the final 17 men he faced. There were some loud outs mixed in there though, including the final two — a jumping catch by Zoilo Almonte near the wall in left and Willie Mays-esque over-the-shoulder catch by Ichiro Suzuki in center. The final tally was four runs (three earned) on eight hits, one walk, and one hit batsman in 5.2 innings of work. He struck out one and got just five swings and misses out of 95 total pitches.
Pettitte was clearly frustrated after the game and he should be, he’s pitching terribly right now. The good news is that the All-Star break is coming and he’ll get a nice long rest to clear his head and work on things in the bullpen. He may be done as even an average starter, it wouldn’t be a shock at his age, but I don’t think it would be a shock if Andy figured things out and pitched well down the stretch in the second half either. Like Jeter, he’s hard to doubt.
Oh by the way, the Yankees scored eight runs (!) for the second consecutive game. Believe it or not, these were the first two times the team scored eight runs in a home game all season. That surprised me. It was also the first time they scored at least eight runs in back-to-back games since way back in April, when they demolished the Indians in Cleveland in the third series of the year.
There were no homers in this game, all the damage came on regular old singles and doubles. And a sac fly, like the one Vernon Wells had in the first to plate a run. Austin Romine and Ichiro hit back-to-back doubles to score a pair of runs in the second, and in the fifth Lyle Overbay, Almonte, and Eduardo Nunez strung together consecutive two-out singles to score four runs. Jeter drove in the final run with a ground out in the sixth.
Six of the the team’s eight runs scored with two outs, and that four-run fifth inning rally started with a runner on second with two outs. Five consecutive Yankees reached base after that. Those two-out rallies are always beautiful to watch. They’re back-breakers for the opposing team. It’s been nice to see something that resembles a Major League offense these last two games.
The bullpen was very good in relief of Pettitte, as Shawn Kelley (1.1 innings), David Robertson (one inning), and Boone Logan (one inning) had scoreless outings to nail down the win. Kelley and Robertson allowed one single apiece and combined to strike out five of the nine men they faced. No late-inning stress with a four-run lead is always appreciated.
The bottom of the lineup really did a lot of damage, as the final four hitters in the order went a combined 7-for-16 (.438). Almonte, Nunez, and Romine each had two hits — it was Romine’s third multi-hit game in 42 career games. The top five hitters did their job as well, going 4-for-16 (.250) with four walks (.400 OBP). Ervin Santana has been awfully good this year, but the Yankees made him look like the guy the Angels thought they were dumping in the offseason.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights while FanGraphs has some other stats and ESPN has the updated standings. Both the Orioles and Rays won, so the Yankees are still tied with Baltimore and two back of the Rays in the loss column for the second wildcard spot.
The Twins are coming to town for a three-game set, the final series before the All-Star break. Hiroki Kuroda and Scott Diamond will be your pitching matchup in the opener on Friday night. Check out RAB Tickets if you want to catch the game.