During his post game interview following his second start back from the disabled list in Minnesota on Monday night, Andy Pettitte shook his head and laughed. “I’m definitely a work in progress,” he admitted. If you missed the game and just caught that self-deprecating response, you might’ve assumed Pettitte had struggled, something like four runs in five innings and maybe a loss. Not quite.
Pettitte threw 88 pitches over six strong innings, allowing just seven hits and a walk while striking out three. He didn’t allow a run.
Looking at those numbers on the morning after, Pettitte looks brilliant, but he struggled in the first inning. He gave up consecutive singles to open the game, walked Josh Willingham to load the bases with one out, and momentarily fell behind the dangerous Justin Morneau. But he did what we’re used to seeing from Andy Pettitte, what we saw as far back as Game 5 of the 1996 World Series. He battled. He eventually retired Morneau with a 91-MPH fastball dotted on the outside corner, then induced a ground ball from Ryan Doumit to end the inning. It had taken 22 pitches, but he had escaped.
That first inning had been tenuous, but Pettitte had actually been working with a 3-0 lead. Derek Jeter had opened the top of the first with a walk, then raced around to third on a double from the blistering hot Ichiro. Robinson Canó brought one run home with a ground out to short, but then Nick Swisher crushed a ball off the facing of the upper deck in right center field for a muscle-flexing homer and a three-run Yankee cushion. As it turned out, that would be all that Pettitte would need.
Even so, Curtis Granderson gave him another run in the fourth as he rocketed his fortieth homer high into the right field stands. Granderson has become a disturbingly one-dimensional hitter this season, but as frustrating as his all-or-nothing approach can be, it’s hard to criticize a guy who’s hit forty home runs in consecutive seasons, a feat accomplished by only four other players in the long and homer-filled history of the Bronx Bombers. There was Jason Giambi in ’02-’03, and then the three usual suspects: Mickey Mantle (’60-’61), Lou Gehrig (’30-’31), and a guy named Babe Ruth (’20-’21, ’23-’24, ’26-’32). Is it just me, or is it kind of shocking that Alex Rodríguez isn’t on that list?
Pettitte, meanwhile, was straight dealing. After that shaky start, he set down the side in order in the second, used a double play ball to to escape a two-hit inning in the third, watched as Granderson and Russell Martin combined for a phenomenal play to throw out Doumit at the plate to end the fourth, yielded a harmless single in the fifth, then set down three straight in the sixth to finish his scoreless evening. Pettitte just might be the best September call-up in Yankee history, and he definitely looks ready to assume his usual spot starting Game 3 in the playoffs.
Raúl Ibañez and Eric Chávez added solo home runs in the frame after Pettitte’s departure, giving the Yanks a 6-0 lead in the seventh inning and enough of a cushion that the rest of the game seemed unnecessary. There were really just two things of note: things got a bit messy for the bullpen as they yielded three runs in the final two innings, and Derek Jeter singled with one out in the ninth to keep his hitting streak alive at 18 straight games.
At this point in the season, any win makes for a good day, but this 6-3 win meant more than just a half game in the standings. Pettitte has thrown eleven shutout innings since his return from the disabled list, and suddenly the Yankee rotation of Sabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte, and Hughes looks ready to carry the team through these final nine games and into the playoffs. The Yankees won’t clinch the American League East until the weekend, but I think we’ll look back on this game and realize this was the night it was won.
[Photo Credit: Jim Mone/AP Photo]