Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Pettitte Gets His Just Reward

Andy Pettitte couldn't help but be frustrated.

Despite pitching very well since the All-Star break, all he had to show for his efforts was a loss and two no-decisions. In fact, he hadn't earned a victory since July 1.

But he also knew that if he continued to pitch well, his luck would turn around, and Tuesday he got his just reward.

Pettitte outdueled Roy Halladay through 6-2/3 innings and the Yankees' offense hit three homers off Halladay late in a 5-3 victory over the Blue Jays in Toronto. New York is now 1-1/2 games ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East and guaranteed to be in first when the two begin a four-game series in New York Thursday.

Pettitte (9-6, 4.35 ERA) has regained command of his cutter in his four starts since the All-Star break, going 1-1 with a 2.36 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 29 strikeouts spanning 26-2/3 innings. Take out the four runs he allowed in the seventh inning of a loss to the A's and his ERA is 1.03.

That's spectacular, but the Yankees had gone only 1-2 in Pettitte's three starts previous to Tuesday. And facing Halladay, there was fear that Pettitte could pitch brilliantly again, only to come away with nothing to show for his effort.

The offense, though, got some help and jumped out to an early lead against the former Cy Young Award winner.

Johnny Damon hit a one-out single and came around to score on Alex Rodriguez's two-out double. Rodriguez scored when Halladay couldn't handle the throw from first baseman Kevin Millar on Hideki Matsui's tapper to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead.

After that both pitchers settled in. Pettitte allowed a run in the fourth on Alex Rios' sacrifice fly to right to make it 2-1. He came out with two outs in the seventh after Edwin Encarnacion hit a two-out double and Rod Barajas walked after falling behind 0-and-2. Phil Hughes struck out Jose Bautista to escape the jam.

Pettitte ended up allowing just the one run on four hits and four walks. He struck out six, but threw just 57 of 103 pitches for strikes -- call him effectively wild.

Halladay, meanwhile, cruised after the first until there were two outs in the eighth. That's when the Yankees' bats started to pound him.

First Damon got a hold of a hanging curve and deposited it into the bullpen in right. Mark Teixeira followed by crushing a cutter that didn't cut into the right field stands to make it 4-1. A-Rod grounded out to end the inning, but Matsui led off the ninth with a homer to dead center.

It was second time this season the Yankees have hit three homers in a game against Halladay, who entered the game with a 16-5 career record against the Bombers. Halladay ended up pitching a complete game, allowing four earned runs on 10 hits. He struck out five and threw 75 of 103 pitches for strikes.

In the Yankees' last two games against Halladay -- both wins -- they have scored 10 runs on 19 hits, including six homers. Halladay (11-5, 2.75), meanwhile, is just 1-7 in his last eight starts.

The Jays pushed across two runs to make it close in the eighth, when Hughes allowed leadoff singles to Marco Scutaro and Aaron Hill before striking out Adam Lind and Millar. Joe Girardi then decided to bring in Mariano Rivera for a four-out save.

The first batter Rivera faced was Vernon Wells, who entered the at-bat with a .313 batting average against Mo. Wells laced a double to left to drive in two to make it 4-3 before Rios grounded out to end the inning. Rivera then got through a shaky ninth for his 31st save and 27th in a row.

Mo has 114 career saves of more than one inning. The next closest reliever since 1995 is Keith Foulke, who has 55. He also has 100 saves in his last 103 opportunities going back to 2007.

But Girardi has to be careful here. Rivera's command was not sharp Tuesday as he allowed three hits and threw just 15 of 26 pitches for strikes. Every August he goes through a little bit of a tired period during which he is just not as effective as he normally is.

Mo's command issues Tuesday may be an indication he is entering that period. Girardi should take the conservative route right now, get him rest and not use him for more than one inning at a time for couple of weeks.

But Mo was good enough Tuesday and got Pettitte a much deserved win.

Runners In Scoring Position
Tuesday
1-for-4 (.250)
Season
259-for-992 (.261)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Second Half
43-for-173 (.249)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
194-for-720 (.269)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Wednesday at Jays, 7:07 p.m., YES
Sergio Mitre (1-0, 7.90) vs. Marc Rzepczynski (1-2, 3.25)

Mitre??? As the Yankees try to complete the trip by going 5-4???? No! No! No! No! No! Watching tonight's game will like going through the night before undergoing a colonoscopy after taking the stuff to ... umm ... clean out your system. Sorry to be so graphic, but watching Mitre pitch is sickening. Can someone please get Hal Steinbrenner to loosen up the purse strings a little bit so that Brian Cashman can go out and get a legitimate major league pitcher?

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