The Yankees scored two in the top of the first against Sidney Ponson yesterday afternoon, and Andy Pettitte made those runs hold up with seven stellar innings in which he allowed just one run on three hits and a walk as the Yankees beat the Royals 4-1 in Kansas City’s home opener.
Pettitte’s was the best performance by a Yankee starting pitcher this season and underlined the strength of this year’s team: starting pitching depth. There’s not a man in the Yankees’ rotation that you wouldn’t want to have on the mound on any given day (yes, even A.J. Burnett, my complaints about him stem largely from his injury history and his contract, in other words the possibility of having him not on the mound but still on the books). The Yankees opened the season by having their top two starters, CC Sabathia and Chien-Ming Wang, get lit up, but Burnett and Pettitte brought them right back to even in the blink of an eye. Sabathia takes his second turn tomorrow, then Joba Chamberlain gets his first on Sunday, then back around again. If those five starters can stay healthy (admittedly a huge “if”), the Yankees will have a very realistic expectation of winning every game they play. They’ll still lose about 60 of them, but it won’t be because they were outmatched on the mound. That’s a tremendous advantage for a ballclub, in terms of strength and strategy as well as confidence.
The only run Pettitte gave up yesterday came following a two-out walk to Billy Butler in the bottom of the second. Mike Jacobs followed by hitting a broken-bat pop-up to shallow right field, but the late-afternoon sun and swirling winds made the play a precarious one and the ball wound up tipping off the fingers of the glove of a sliding Nick Swisher for what was ruled an RBI double. Pettitte then struck out the next batter.
That was it. Outside of the walk to Butler and that wind-blown pop-up double by Jacobs, Pettitte allowed just two other baserunners. Brian Bruney followed Pettitte with a perfect eighth inning in which he struck out two and threw just 12 pitches. Mariano Rivera allowed an infield single on a chopper to second base in the ninth, but didn’t allow a ball out of the infield and also struck out two in nailing down his first save of the year.
As for the Yankee runs, the first two came in the first following an opposite-field single by Johnny Damon and a four-pitch walk to Mark Teixeira. Hideki Matsui followed by hitting a ball up the middle that clipped Ponson’s pitching hand and deflected to Alberto Callaspo at second base. The ball got to Callaspo before Teixeira did, so Tex (who joins the Yankees with a reputation for being an excellent, though slow, baserunner) slammed on the brakes. The inexperienced Callaspo, rather than chase Teixeira to get the lead runner, flipped to first to get Matsui, allowing Teixeira to advance to second. After the Royals’ trainer checked out Ponson (he was fine), Jorge Posada hit the first pitch he saw on a line right past Jacobs at first base to plate both runs. Jacobs, who did make a nice diving stop to his right later in the game on a play in which Sidney Ponson inexplicably beat Brett Gardner to the bag, could have stopped Posada’s liner with his body, but instead dropped to his right knee and the ball shot right past his glove. Mike Aviles did the same thing to his right on Robinson Cano’s subsequent single, though Cano and Posada were stranded when Nick Swisher flew out to end the inning.
Swisher made amends for that out and his misplay in right field in the top of the fourth. After Robinson Cano led off with a line-drive single through the right side, Swisher hit the first pitch he saw into the left-field gap for a double that plated Cano. Cody Ransom then hit a hard hopper right at Aviles, who appeared to have Swisher caught off second, but Swisher slid back under Callaspo’s tag as Ransom reached safely. Given the extra out, Joe Girardi had Brett Gardner bunt the runners up (one of the few scenarios in which the bunt is a mult-run play). Derek Jeter followed with another hard hopper to the left side. This time it was Ransom who was caught off base, but he managed to stay in a run down long enough to allow Swisher to score and Jeter to reach safely, though Damon hit a looper to Callaspo to end the inning.
Once again Robinson Cano, who now has a 15-game hitting streak dating back to September 18 of last year, was the hitting star, going 2-for-3 with yet another walk. Teixeira went 1-for-2 with a double and two walks. Swisher, who got the start over Xavier Nady (and, with Joba Chamberlain’s help, literally wrapped a laughing Nady in towels in the dugout before the game), had just one hit, but that one hit was an RBI double to the oppositite field.
On the flip side, Brett Gardner reached on an infield single late in the game, but was promplty picked off first by Jamey Wright, who made a quick throw over while Gardner was still measuring out his lead, and Hideki Matsui failed to reach base again.
- Kyle Farnsworth, who has a new tatoo on the inside of his pitching elbow that looks a bit like a stylized deer head with antlers wrapping around his tricep, struck out the side in the seventh getting Damon, Teixeira, and Matsui all swinging over sliders.
- Home plate umpire Rob Drake had a generous strike zone. There were 21 Ks in the game and nine of them were on called third strikes. Still, five of Pettitte’s six Ks were swinging.
- Pettitte also beat the Royals in Kansas City last April 10, with the Yanks winning that game 6-1.
- The Royals, who are wearing arm patches celebrating the franchise’s 40th season, unveiled a the remodelled Kauffman Stadium yesterday. The most noticeable change, beyond the giant HD video screen in center field which was installed for the 2008 season, is beyond the wall in the oufield where bleachers and a food court, not unlike a miniature version of those in the new Yankee Stadium, and a Royals Hall of Fame have replaced the green pastures and fountains. There are still fountains out there, but they’re much more difficult to see amid the grey concrete and fans. Despite all that extra seating, the remodelled stadium actually has a reduced seating capacity. Kauffman always seemed like a great place to see a baseball game, like a minor league park with a major league seating capacity, but it seems the renovations have “new Yankee Stadium-ized” the place, packing it full of bells, whistles, ribbon boards, high-end suites, conference rooms, sports bars, and generic HOK design while robbing it of its most distinctive and beautiful feature and spitting out seats in the process. Stay classy, HOK! I can’t wait to see how they remodel Wrigley Field. Oh wait . . . yes I can.