Thursday, July 2, 2009

Feeling Like Home

Yankee Stadium has always felt like home for Andy Pettitte.

At least, the old one did. The new one hasn't felt as comfortable.

Wednesday, Pettitte made that mound at the new Stadium his.

Pettitte had his best outing of the season, allowing two runs in seven innings and Alex Rodriguez put away the Mariners with a two-run homer in the sixth as the Yankees won their seven straight with a 4-2 victory.


"It's nice to pitch good here," Pettitte said. "I know I hadn't been pitching well here. I want to pitch good here. I want to make the team happy and the fans happy, and myself happy a little bit."


Indeed Pettitte has struggled at the new stadium. Entering the game, he was 3-2 with a 5.77 ERA, 1.76 WHIP and nine homers allowed in eight starts.

That's a stark contrast to the old Stadium, where Pettitte was king. At the park across the street, Pettitte pitched 170 games, 167 starts, and went 95-42 with a 3.70 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 88 homers allowed.

Pettitte (8-3. 4.25 ERA) knew he needed to turn things around at the new stadium. He also knew he needed to redeem himself after failing to go four innings at Atlanta his last time out -- his worst start of the season.

He was sharp from the start, retiring the side in order in the first and third, and masterfully pitching out of trouble in the second with a vintage Pettitte display.

Ken Griffey Jr. and Franklin Gutierrez led off with singles, but Pettitte's been in that kind of spot hundreds of times before. He struck out Wladimir Balentein, got Chris Woodward to fly to right and induced a forceout from Rob Johnson. Inning over. Threat snuffed.


The offense, after having scoring opportunities in the first two innings thwarted by double plays, finally got to Jarrod Washburn in the third on Johnny Damon's homer to right.

Washburn, as expected, was tough. After the second inning, the Yankees couldn't mount a rally against him, but they were able to get to him with the long ball, touching him for three homers.

Washburn pitched seven innings, allowing four runs on eight hits and one walk. He struck out six and threw 60 of 100 pitches for strikes, but every time the Mariners managed to tie, he couldn't prevent the Yankees from re-taking the lead.

For example, after Jose Lopez led off the fourth with a double to center and came around to score on a force out by Balentein to tie it at 1, Washburn gave the lead right back when Melky Cabrera blasted an 88 mph fastball high over the pole in left for his eighth homer of the year.

Of course, a one-run lead is tough to protect at this stadium and when Pettitte made his only mistake of the game, the Mariners tied it up.

With two outs in the sixth, Pettitte delivered a first-pitch fastball that Griffey sent over the wall in right for his 621st career homer. Griffey is at the tail end of his career, but he's still dangerous and can still handle a 90 mph fastball. He's hitting only .219, but has 10 homers.



"That would have hurt if we hadn't been able to score," Pettitte said. "It was the sixth inning, and I was too aggressive."



But what we've learned about this stadium is that it is far better to be too aggressive than to pitch timidly. The stadium is going to yield runs, but the Yankees have more than enough fire power to overcome solo shots.

Rodriguez made sure of that in the bottom half of the sixth. After Mark Teixeira led off with a single, A-Rod rocketed a sinker over the wall in center for his 13th homer of the season, giving the Yankees the lead for good at 4-2.

A-Rod continues to be the engine that makes the Yankees' offense go. After his 1-for-27 slump, A-Rod has gone 10-for-21 with four homers, 10 walks and 13 RBI. That stretch covers the Yankees' seven-game winning streak.

Those two runs were more than enough for Pettitte, who retired the side in order in the seventh. He ended up allowing six hits and one walk, while striking out five. He threw 63 of 98 pitches for strikes and probably could have pitched the eighth, but Joe Girardi has a new-found trust in his bullpen.

Girardi turned the ball over to Alfredo Aceves for one batter in the eighth and then to Phil Coke for the next two. They got the ball to Mariano Rivera without a problem. Mo then did what he does best and picked up his 20th save of the season.

A few more outings like that for Pettitte and he'll have no problems calling the new Stadium home sweet home.

Runners In Scoring Position
Wednesday
0-for-2 (.000)
Season
185-for-713 (.259)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
119-for-441 (.270)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Thursday vs. Mariners, 7:05, YES
Jason Vargas (3-3, 3.79) vs. CC Sabathia (7-4, 3.55)

Sabathia was brilliant his last time out, pitching seven innings and carrying a no-hitter into the fifth. A repeat of that will go a long way to stretching this win streak to eight.

Hey Dave...
I didn't know UConn had a campus in Detroit! The Pistons signed former UConn standouts Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva Wednesday. They join another former UConn great in Richard Hamilton, giving the Pistion three former Huskies on the team. Since the Knicks aren't going to be any good for a while, I might have to start rooting the our boys in Motown.

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