A-Rod, Andy keeping Yanks rolling

Andy Pettitte twirled eight masterful innings as the Yanks, powered by a two-run, two-out, top-of-the-ninth single off the bat of Alex Rodriguez, downed the Mariners 3-1 tonight. For the Yankees, the win is their sixth in a row and seventh in their last eight games. They move a season-high 23 games above .500 and have maintained a two-game lead over the Tampa Rays.

Andy Was Dandy

Credit: AP Photo, Elaine Thompson

Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera are two peas in an exclusive pod. Rivera has saved more wins for Andy Pettitte than any other duo in baseball history, and tonight, the two were masterful. Pettitte, in particular, was rolling, and he emerged from the game with an 11-2 record and a 2.70 ERA. The nine strike outs served as an exclamation point on a stellar first half.

While Pettitte’s final line is one of total domination, the game started out on a bad foot. Ichiro tapped out an infield single to start the game, and Chone Figgins lofted a base hit down the left field line. Playing alert baseball, though, Brett Gardner gunned down the Mariners’ speedy lead-off hitter trying to reach third, and Pettitte quickly settled in. Franklin Gutierrez grounded out, Russell Branyan fouled off, and off to the races went Andy.

Over the next four innings, Pettitte faced the minimum 12 hitters with a Chone Figgins walk disappearing into a fourth inning double play. In the sixth though, Andy ran into some trouble, and as the Yanks’ bats were silent, the Yanks were on the wrong end of a deficit. Josh Wilson and Michael Saunders, the Mariners’ eight and nine hitters, knocked out back-to-back singles, and Ichiro squared to sacrifice. He laid down a bad bunt, but Pettitte’s throw ended up well wide of first base. Wilson scored, and the Mariners had 2nd and 3rd with no one out. They were set up.

The Mariners being the Mariners and Andy being Andy, however, the team failed to score. Chone Figgins hit a ball down the third base line that Ramiro Pena speared. He held the runner at third and gunned out Figgins. The Yanks intentionally walked Gutierrez, and Russell Branyan struck out looking on a 3-2 beauty. Jose Lopez swung through strike three to end the threat. No other Mariners runner would reach third base.

Key Moment: Cano doesn’t advance

As Andy rolled, the Yankee offense did not. As they did in the early innings against Gio Gonzalez in Oakland, the Yanks put on runner after runner but could not score. In fact, they knocked out nine hits and worked two walks against Jason Vargas but scored only a run. Even that lone run required a head’s up effort by A-Rod.

To set the scene, A-Rod walked to lead off the 7th, and Robinson Cano singled. With Jorge Posada batting, a Vargas wild pitch escaped the clutches of Josh Bard and trickled down the first base line. Alert at second, A-Rod dashed for third. “I got a ball in the dirt, had a good jump and made it to third,” he said after the game.

At first base, though, Robinson Cano missed the play. Jorge Posada, not a particularly adept base runner, initially held up his hand to hold the runners, but then he changed his mind and tried to wave them on. Cano was frozen, and the Yanks had first and third. Posada tapped into a double play that scored A-Rod, and the Yanks were happy with the tie. With a nod to the fallacy of the predetermined outcome, had Cano better read the wild pitch, Jorge’s grounder would have tied the game, and Curtis Granderson‘s subsequent base hit could have given the Yanks a lead. The point, though, became moot two innings later.

A-Rod in the Clutch

Swisher scores on ARod's single. Credit: AP Photo, Elaine Thompson

On the 16th anniversary of his debut with the Mariners and on the night when another high-profile free agent spurned his original team, Alex Rodriguez was the game’s hero. Coming on to pitch the ninth, Mariners’ closer David Aardsma quickly dispatched Kevin Russo. But Derek Jeter walked, and Nick Swisher — 4 for 4 with a walk tonight — hit a booming double to right field. With 2nd and 3rd but one out, Mark Teixeira swung under a first pitch fast ball, and as his shoulder dipped, the ball arched foul. Bard settled under it for the second out.

Up to the plate came A-Rod, and he did not fail to deliver. A-Rod laced a single into right field, and both Jeter and Swisher scored. For A-Rod, the runs were RBIs numbers 68 and 69, and Mariano Rivera had an insurmountable two-run cushion. The team had been 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position before A-Rod’s base hit, and that one hit was all they needed.

A Hairbrush at a Baseball Game

Early on in the first inning, Ichiro ran into foul territory in right field in an effort to haul in ball. As he leaned over to try to make a play, he whacked a young woman on the head with his arm. She had a hairbrush out at a baseball game. Why? I don’t know, but the AP snapped a stellar photo of the whole thing. The woman could not look more awkward.

Credit: AP Photo, Elaine Thompson

Peaks and Valleys

The WPA graph is particularly pleasing tonight. (Fangraphs box, ESPN box)

Up Next

The Yanks and Mariners continue their four-game set at 10:10 p.m. on Friday as Cliff Lee auditions for a role with, well, someone. The Bombers will counter with All Star Phil Hughes who will look to get his season back on track after a rough stretch of starts.

Sanchez keeps on hitting in GCL Yanks win

Make sure you scroll down for tonight’s game thread.

Triple-A Scranton (10-7 win over Buffalo)
Justin Christian, LF: 1 for 5, 1 R, 2 K
Reegie Corona, 2B: 2 for 5, 2 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI – seven for his last 20 (.350)
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 2 for 5, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 SB, 1 E (throwing) – just his third start at short in his last seven games … playing a lot of third base recently
Juan Miranda, DH & Jesus Montero, C: both 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 1 for 4, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 K
Chad Huffman, RF: 1 for 4, 1 RBI, 1 K
Eric Bruntlett, 3B: 3 for 4, 3 R, 2 HR, 2 RBI – heh, maybe he wants Ramiro Pena‘s job
Greg Golson, CF: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 K
Zach McAllister: 4 IP, 10 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 4-6 GB/FB – 47 of 71 pitches were strikes (66.2%) … 110 H allowed in 95 IP
Romulo Sanchez: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 3-1 GB/FB – 20 of 27 pitches were strikes (74.1%)
Boone Logan: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 4-2 GB/FB – 16 of his 27 pitches were strikes (59.3%)
Eric Wordekemper: 0 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 1 WP – just half of his 16 pitches were strikes … that’s going to kill his trade value
Jon Albaladejo: 1 IP, zeroes, 3-0 GB/FB – seven of his eight pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Game 85: Hello, Seattle. We meet again

A seafaring Moose. Credit: AP Photo, Ted S. Warren

When last the Yankees met the Mariners, it was a different time. The World was more innocent and care-free. We knew nothing of LeBrons and All Star Votes. We had only an inkling of the days and wins to come against Oakland and Toronto. Ah, last week, how I miss you.

Due to the idiosyncrasies of the schedule, the Yankees and Mariners are squaring off for a four-game set this week to rush headlong into the All Star Break. The two teams met each other in a three-game set in the Bronx that wrapped up one week ago today. Unfortunately, Cliff Lee is still a Mariner, and he’s set to pitch tomorrow.

Before we get to Lee, though, All Star Andy Pettitte and the Yanks’ starting nine have to get through Jason Vargas. On the surface, Vargas has some good numbers. He’s 6-4 with a 3.22 ERA, but those mask a low strike out rate and a .263 BABIP that’s a good .030 lower than league average. He’s found success by limiting the walks (2.3/9 IP) and home runs (0.7 HR/9 IP), and the one-time member of the New York Metropolitans relies on a good change to keep hitters off balance.

The Yankees, off a sweep of the A’s, will look to keep their winning streak alive. Number 46 takes the mound, and he’s 10-2 with a 2.82 ERA. Lately, Pettitte hasn’t limited the long ball, giving up 6 HR over his last 40 innings, but most haven’t caused much damage. He’ll have the spacious Safeco outfield — and the Yanks’ steller outfield defense — behind him.

Derek Jeter SS
Nick Swisher RF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez DH
Robinson Cano 2B
Jorge Posada C
Curtis Granderson CF
Brett Gardner LF
Ramiro Pena 3B – His 2-for-4 last night raised the OPS+ all the way to 32.

Andy Pettitte P

First pitch is at 10:10 p.m. ET, and this one’s on the YES Network.

Nick Johnson feels pain in surgically repaired wrist

From the no one should be surprised department, Nick Johnson felt pain his wrist taking swings today, and has been sent back to New York for test. You really didn’t think that NJ would get through his rehab without a setback, did you? It’s a shame, the Yankees could really use a productive (and set) designated hitter right about now. Anything they get out of Johnson the rest of the season is just gravy, zero expectations.

Open Thread: But can he hit a curveball?

Photo Credit: Amy Sancetta, AP

So LeBron James is going to announce his long awaited decision tonight. All indications are that he’s going to join the Miami Heat, who have pulled a Yankees and signed everyone this offseason. I’ll be perfectly honest, I’m not much of a basketball fan at all, but if LeBron came to the Knicks, I probably would have watched some games this year. Definitely at the start of the season, at least. But now I still don’t have any interest in the sport, who wants to watch a league with all the best players on one team? That’s not sport, that’s not competition, it’s a video game set to rookie difficulty with force trades on.

Yes, that probably sounds hypocritical coming from a Yanks fan, but baseball and basketball are such different sports. Three great players can win you a title in basketball, but an All Star baseball team can absolutely get beat by one or two hot pitchers in a short playoff series. Anyway, LeBron’s making his announcement at 9pm ET on ESPN, so talk about that or whatever else you want here.

Men on base stand no chance against Andy

Photo credit: Kevork Djansezian/AP

Part of Andy Pettitte‘s first half success has been his defense’s ability to turn balls in play into outs. He surely has something to do with that himself — he sets ’em up, the defense knocks ’em down — though we’re not really sure to what degree he controls the results of balls in play. His .268 mark is currently the lowest of his career, though he did have a .270 BABIP for all of 2005. Yet that’s not where all of Andy’s success lies.

A low BABIP means Pettitte is doing a good job keeping runners off base. But once they do reach base they still don’t stand a great chance of scoring. On the year Pettitte has allowed 115 men to roam the bases. That counts hits, walks, reach on errors, and hit by pitches, but subtracts home runs. Of those 115 baserunners, only 26 have come around to score (37 runs allowed minus 11 home runs). That’s good for a 77.4 percent strand rate (I ran this a bit differently than FanGraphs does their strand rate, which has Pettitte at a 79.7 percent strand rate).

How is he doing this? Usually pitchers can achieve high strand rates by striking out runners with men on base, but Pettitte actually fares worse in strikeouts with men on base than he does with the bases empty. He also walks more batters with men on base. The answer is that hitters fare even worse on balls in play with men on base than they do with the bases empty. Hitters currently have a puny .184 BABIP with men on base against Pettitte, and have grounded into double plays in 17 percent of their opportunities.

Some of this has to be luck, but part of it, I’d like to think, involves some veteran savvy on Pettitte’s part. He knows he doesn’t have the stuff to overpower hitters, so he bears down and gets the guys he has to. The question, of course, is of whether he can continue this favorable trend for the rest of the season.

For what it’s worth, Pettitte doesn’t notice a difference. In an excellent story by FanHouse’s Jeff Fletcher, Pettitte is quoted as saying, “I feel like I’m pitching exactly the same.” We’ll take it.