Given the starters’ previous performances this postseason, the pitching matchup in Saturday night’s Game Three of the World Series, which pit Andy Pettitte against Cole Hamels, heavily favored the Yankees. That advantage played out as the Yankees took a 2-1 lead in the series behind a solid performance by Pettitte that included an unexpected game-tying single.
By his own admission, Pettitte was a bit off his game when the game began after an hour-twenty-minute rain delay. That manifested itself most in the second inning, when he had trouble finding the strike zone. Pettitte started the inning by falling behind Jayson Werth 3-0. Werth then reached out and yanked a 3-1 curve that was low and away into the seats in left to open the scoring. After Pettitte struck out Raul Ibañez, Pedro Feliz doubled into the right-field gap on a 1-0 pitch and, with the pitcher on deck, Pettitte walked Carlos Ruiz on five pitches.
Cole Hamels followed with a bunt to the third base side of the mound. Pettitte ran over to field it, but hesitated thinking Jorge Posada was going to make the play coming out from behind home. Posada similarly hesitated seeing Pettitte beat him to the ball and those two brief pauses allowed Hamels to reach safely, loading the bases with out a play. Pettitte then walked Jimmy Rollins on five pitches, forcing in a run, and after Shane Victorino inexplicably swung at two pitches out of the zone, gave up a sac fly to Victorino that made it 3-0 Phillies.
Pettitte rallied to strike out Chase Utley to end the second, then didn’t allow another hit (or walk) until the sixth inning, when Werth again led off with a solo homer, this one an absolute bomb off the facing of the second deck in left. By then, however, the game situation was very different.
When Mark Teixeira walked with one out in the fourth, he was just the second Yankee baserunner of the game (Alex Rodriguez was hit by a pitch in the second), but Rodriguez followed with an apparent double off the top of the wall in the right-field corner for the first Yankee hit. Upon further review, however, the ball hit into the lens of a television camera just above the fence. The right field umpire admitted that the ball made an odd sound when it hit, so the officials went to the video replay for the first time in World Series history and came back, almost instantaneously, with the correct call, giving Rodriguez a home run and bringing the Yankees within 3-2. (Coincidentally, Rodriguez also hit the first reviewed home run in regular season history.)
An inning later, Nick Swisher, whose struggles this postseason led to his being benched in favor of Jerry Hairston Jr. in Game Two, led off with a double. With the pitchers’ spot on deck, Hamels struck out Melky Cabrera. Had Cabrera walked, Andy Pettitte likely would have bunted the runners up, but with one out, he was swinging away and flipped a first-pitch curveball by Hamels into shallow left center for a game-tying RBI single. It was the first World Series RBI by a Yankee pitcher since Jim Bouton drove in a run in the 1964 classic.
Derek Jeter followed Pettitte with another first pitch single that fell in front of a sliding Victorino in center, then nearly ran up Pettitte’s back as both were plated by a double by Damon, which gave the Yankees a 5-3 lead. An inning later, with lefty J.A. Happ on in relief of Hamels, Swisher delivered again with a solo homer to left. That put the Yankees up 6-3 when Werth connected for his second homer. The Yankees then got that run back in the top of the seventh when Damon drew a one-out walk, stole second (though replays showed he was out), and scored on a single by Posada.
With Pettitte at 104 pitches having battled through a night in which he claimed not to be able to control his pitches or throw his curveball for strikes, yet still struck out seven Phillies, including Chase Utley and Ryan Howard twice each, Joe Girardi turned to his bullpen for the seventh. The biggest concern for the Yankees heading into the game was how the set-up relievers would perform in between Pettitte, who has maxed out at 6 1/3 innings this postseason, and Mariano Rivera, who was unlikely to go more than an inning after throwing 39 pitches on Thursday night.
No worries. Joba Chamberlain needed just nine pitches to set the top three men in the Phillies lineup down in order in the seventh. After Hideki Matsui increased the Yankee lead to 8-4 with a pinch-hit home run in the top of the eighth, Damaso Marte then came on and struck out not just Howard, but also Werth, then got Raul Ibañez to line out to third for another perfect inning of relief. A crack appeared in the ninth, when Phil Hughes gave up a one-out solo homer to Carlos Ruiz, setting the final score at 8-5, but with that Girardi brought in Rivera, who got the last two outs on five pitches.
The Yankees now have a 2-1 lead in the Series, making them the first team to hold a series lead on the Phillies since the Rockies in 2007, and CC Sabathia going up against Joe Blanton in Game Four. A win behind Sabathia would put the Yankees one win away from their first world championship since 2000. That was the plan all along, and the Yankees are doing a hell of a job of sticking to it.