Sunday, July 26, 2009

Streak Over

Andy Pettitte fumbled the baton Saturday, and for a change, Alfredo Aceves couldn't recover it.

After six brilliant innings, Pettitte couldn't get out of a jam in the seventh and the A's went on to score six in the inning to defeat the Yankees 6-4 at Yankee Stadium, snapping their winning streak at eight. The Yankees' stretch of outstanding starts came to an end and their lead in the AL East over the Red Sox was cut to 1-1/2 games.

"It's a frustrating game," Pettitte said. "We've been playing so well, and to be throwing the ball like I did and to feel as good as I did, it's pretty amazing to let it get away like that."

It was a stunning turn in what had been a terrific pitchers' duel between Pettitte and Gio Gonzalez. Pettitte didn't allow a runner until allowing a single with one out in the fourth. Gonzalez pitched no-hit ball until Melky Cabrera's two-out bunt single in the fifth.

It was delightful, riveting baseball, though you had to be concerned that the offense was struggling against a pitcher in Gonzalez, who had a 9.33 ERA entering the game. Gonzalez, though was sharp, featuring an outstanding curve and a sneaky fastball that he was able to command.

But the Yankees broke through in the sixth and you had to figure this game would go the way of the eight previous games -- in the win column. With one out, Derek Jeter walked and scored on Brett Gardner's triple to right center to make it 1-0.

But the Yankees' struggles to drive in runners in scoring position struck again. With Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez due up next, you figured this game would be 2-0. But unlike Friday's game, the Yankees couldn't even produce a run-scoring out. Both Teixeira and A-Rod popped out to end the threat and send Pettitte into the seventh with a one-run lead.

Pettitte, though, was throwing the ball as well as he had all season. Through six innings, he had allowed just two hits and struck out seven. Neither runner had reached second and Pettitte was in control.

And just like that, it all fell apart.

Pettitte backed up two curve balls to Scott Hairston leading off, but the second curve was in the strike zone and Hairston jumped all over it for a double to left. Nomar Garciaparra followed with a walk and Pettitte was up against it.

He got Jack Cust to fly out to center, and with Ace ready in the bullpen, Joe Girardi came out for a visit.

"I just wanted to make sure that he felt good," Girardi said. "He said he felt good. I liked the way he was throwing the ball. He had gotten a lot of ground balls and I liked our chances."

Pettitte did get a grounder, but it wasn't at one of his infielders. Rajai Davis stroked a bullet back through the box that was too hard for Pettitte to knock down, the ball racing into center to score Hairston and tie it at 1.

Bobby Crosby the laid down a perfect bunt to load the bases and Girardi went to Aceves. Ace got Mark Ellis to pop to Teixeira and then threw two quick strikes to Landon Powell. Yankees seemed as if they'd escape the jam tied.

Unfortunately, Ace's next pitch caught too much of the strike zone and Powell singled to bring in two runs and give the A's a 3-1 lead. Aceves fell apart after that, allowing an RBI single to Adam Kennedy and a two-run double to Orlando Cabrera to make it 6-1. Girardi then went to David Robertson, who struck out Hairston to end the inning.

Aceves has been so reliable, so effective, so versatile, that it's stunning when he get knocked around like that. But he is human and I'm sure he's going to bounce back just fine.

The line for Pettitte, meanwhile, does not reflect how well he pitched over the first six innings: 6-1/3 IP, 5 hits, four runs, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts and 66 of 99 pitches for strikes.

Of course, a game is nine innings and after getting Gonzalez out of the game in the seventh, the offense went to work in eighth against Michael Wurtz.

Jorge Posada pinch hit for Jose Molina and singled. Derek Jeter then homered to right to get the Yankees back into the game at 6-3. After Gardner stuck out, Teixeira then crushed another homer and it seemed the Yankees were going to pull off yet another dramatic rally.

A-Rod hit a grounder for the second out, but Nick Swisher blooped a double. The A's then brought in their closer, Andrew Bailey, who got Robinson Cano to fly out to right.

Girardi then turned to the struggling Brian Bruney in a pretty significant spot. Hold the line and the Yankees would have a chance to come back. Give up a run or two and the game would be over.

Bruney responded, allowing just one hit and striking out two, while throwing 10 of 14 pitches for strikes. It was his best outing since a perfect inning against the Mets on June 27. Hopefully this is a sign that he has turned things around and is on his way to once again becoming an important member of this bullpen.

With a chance for another whipped-cream pie celebration, the Yankees' offense put the first two runners on in the ninth when Melky Cabrera and Johnny Damon, who pinch hit, walked. Posada, however, grounded into a double play and Jeter hit a long fly to right-center that Davis settled under and put away for the final out.

And just like that, the eight-game win streak was over.

Time to start a new one.

Runners In Scoring Position
0-for-5 (.000)
237-for-897 (.264)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Second Half
20-for-78 (.256)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
171-for-625 (.274)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Sunday vs. A's, 1:05 p.m.. YES
Dallas Braden (7-8, 3.40 ERA) vs. Sergio Mitre (1-0, 4.76)

Going 9-1 on the homestand would be huge, especially because the Yankees are about to begin a stretch that features series against the Red Sox, Rays, White Sox and a trip to Oakland and Seattle. Mitre was solid in his first start. Hopefully, he can replicate that.

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