The Yankees began the week in Washington D.C., where on Monday they stood on risers like members of a high school chorus as President Obama addressed team personnel and then exchanged pleasantries with each individual member of the organization. They closed the week with President Obama’s Chicago White Sox visiting them in the Bronx.
Following the long 10-game road trip, despite the Yankees winning the last two games, they started off shaky and couldn’t get into a flow. Carlos Quentin’s line-drive double off Andy Pettitte in the top of the first was the last straw. That initial part of the opening frame Friday night was atypical for Pettitte, as far as this season is concerned anyway. Pettitte had allowed just four runs over his first four starts. Three of those four runs came in the third inning, usually the beginning of the second cycle through the lineup. Yet here he was having yielded three runs and four hits to an anemic White Sox offense that stood 11th in the American League in runs scored (88 total through 22 games).
Cue the coaching visit. Whatever was said resonated with Pettitte, because subsequently struck out Mark Teahen and Jayson Nix, and the Yankee offense got two runs back in the bottom half to provide a pseudo-bailout. Pettitte had trouble with that top third of the ChiSox order again and didn’t really settle down until he got Paul Konerko, whose three-run home run in the first did the initial damage, to fly out to end the second.
Pettitte threw 42 pitches over the first two innings and dug the Yankees a bit of a hole. In this way, it was a typical Andy Pettitte start — more than a hit per inning, four runs allowed, the offense having to score at least four or five runs to muster a victory. He didn’t run into any more snags until the fifth, when that same bunch of batters — Gordon Beckham, Alex Rios, Konerko and Quentin — staged a threat, which Pettitte deftly dodged.
Those are moments where as an observer you can say, “This could be a turning point.” It didn’t look that way when Freddy Garcia made quick work of Curtis Granderson and Francisco Cervelli, but when Brett Gardner singled and stole second to pass the baton to Derek Jeter, there was stirring. The stirring came to a boil when Jeter launched a curveball into the left-field seats to tie the game at 4-4.
“I was just looking for a good pitch to hit,” Jeter told Kim Jones on YES. “I haven’t been swinging at a lot of strikes lately, so I tried to bear down, and I got a good pitch that was up.”
Jeter got a pitch that was up again in the 7th against Matt Thornton, with runners on first and second. This time it was a 95-mile-per-hour fastball that Jeter inside-outed past a diving Jayson Nix into the right-field corner. Cervelli, who reached on an HBP, and Gardner, who gutted out a single before scored on the triple.
The two runs gave way to the formula: Damaso Marte for LOOGY duty and Joba to close out the 8th, then Mariano Rivera throwing straight cheese to retire the side in order in the ninth.
The 6-4 win gave the Yankees their first April with at least 15 wins since 2003, when they went 20-6. It also kept Andy Pettitte unbeaten in April for the first time in his career.
It was the kind of game we’ve gotten spoiled with over the last five or few years: fall behind early, come back in the middle innings, hold it down late. It’s the kind of win a President can appreciate. Then again, maybe not. He roots for the White Sox.
* Before the season started, if you looked at the Yankees’ schedule and saw the Red Sox, Rays, Angels twice, and the White Sox on tap, with 15 of those games on the road, you might have said, “Man, the schedule maker boned the Yankees again. If they get out of this a few games over .500, that’s a decent start.” They closed the month with a .682 winning percentage, which would put them in first place in any other division. And neither Mark Teixeira nor Alex Rodriguez have even remotely begun to hit. Despite that lack of thunder from the middle of the lineup, the Yankees have thrived with Jeter, Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada picking up the offensive slack, an effective left-field committee, and of course, solid pitching. Maintaining that .682 clip puts the Yankees on track for 110 or 111 wins. That wouldn’t be just good, it would be historic, considering only two other teams in Yankee history won at least 110 games: 1927 and 1998.
* Do you think Cervelli is ready to thrust Spaceball 1 to Ludicrous Speed? The fortified helmet is worn out of necessity as a result of the concussion he sustained in spring training, but he looks like my father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate with that thing on. Even the interlocking NY logo on the front of the S100 model helmet looks piddly.
* Brett Gardner hit two balls out of the infield, bringing his total of non-infield hits to … 2 (I know, it’s at least 5). In all seriousness, though, his at-bat against Thornton, which preceded Jeter’s triple Jack Curry called “the at-bat of the night” was as good as it gets for a lefty-lefty battle.
* Nick Johnson’s nickname should officially be Nick the Stick On the Shoulder. His line for April: .138/.383/.224, 8 hits, 21 walks, 21 strikeouts.