Archive for May 15th, 2010

After having one start skipped due to minor elbow discomfort, Andy Pettitte picked up right where he left off by throwing 6 1/3 innings of shutout ball. From the very first inning, Pettitte showed no signs of rust. He commanded his high-80s fastballs (which at an average speed of 88.7mph was exactly in line with his velocity before the injury) from the get go and then gradually mixed in his usual complement of cutters and curveballs. Pettitte also benefitted from a number of fine defensive plays, including a sliding grab by Brett Gardner on the very first batter of the game as well as a backhanded grab by Nick Swisher on a tailing liner by backup catcher Drew Butera in the third inning.

Andy Pettitte and his golden elbow made it through this afternoon's start with flying colors (Photo: AP).

The Yankee bats also threw some early support behind Pettitte by jumping out to a 1-0 lead against Francisco Liriano on singles by Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. Jeter added another RBI with a two out hit in the second inning, and then Pettitte took it from there. After wiggling out of a 1st and 2nd jam with no outs in the second inning, Pettitte then recorded 14 outs from the next 14 hitters (a base hit in the fourth inning was eliminated on a line drive double play). With two outs in the sixth, however, he temporarily lost the strike zone and walked Denard Span and Orlando Hudson to bring up Joe Mauer as the go ahead run. After falling behind in the count 3-0, Pettitte pumped the fastball up to 90mph and then held his breath as Joe Mauer connected on a long drive to center that nestled into the glove of Brett Gardner.

After the Yankees tacked on a third run against Liriano in the sixth, Pettitte came out for the seventh, but was lifted after retiring Justin Morneau on a called third strike. It was a fitting end for Pettitte, who walked off to a loud standing ovation. The crowd was soon quieted, however, when David Robertson gave up a hit and walk to once again bring the tying run to the plate. Ron Gardenhire called on Jim Thome as a pinch hitter, which meant Damaso Marte would get yet another chance to retire a left handed hitter with the game on the line. Unlike last night, Marte showed good break on his slider and eventually froze Thome for a strikeout on that pitch.

With damage averted for the second straight inning, the Yankees middle of the order cranked it up against the Twins’ suddenly beleaguered bullpen. After Nick Swisher coaxed a walk (despite batting righty against a right handed pitcher due to his bicep injury), Mark Teixeira sent a long distance “Tex message” that carried all the way into the luxury suite level just below the upper deck in right field. Arod then followed with a booming double off the very top of the right centerfield wall, and eventually scored on Jorge Posada’s titanic blast just below the batter’s eye in center.

Perhaps even more important than the 7-1 victory, several positive signs emerged from this afternoon’s game. First and foremost, Andy Pettitte’s clean bill of health and strong return to the rotation allows the Yankees to return Sergio Mitre back the bullpen after Sunday’s start against the Twins. If Pettitte remains healthy and Javier Vazquez can build off his last outing, the Yankees will have the five man strong rotation they envisioned. (more…)

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The 2004 Yankees are no longer the last team in the three major American sports to lose a playoff series after being up 3 games to 0. That ignominious honor has now been passed to the Boston Bruins. What’s worse, not only did the Bruins blow a 3-0 series lead to the Flyers, but they also let a 3-0 lead in game 7 slip through their fingers. At least the Yankees had the decency to not offer any false hope in their game 7. Even though the sting of 2004 has mostly been extinguished by the Yankees championship in 2009, it still is nice to pass the baton, especially to a team from Beantown. So, while sports fans across the Hub lament their newly acquired infamy, don’t feel too bad. After all, no city appreciates a good collapse more than Boston.

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Because of a combination of squandered opportunities and curious managerial decisions, whichever team lost tonight’s series opener was going to have plenty of moments to regret. Until the bottom of the seventh, it seemed as if that team was going to be the Yankees.

Arod exults after hitting grand slam off Matt Guerrier. The Yankee third baseman has been no stranger to heroics against the Minnesota Twins. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

The Yankees entered the seventh inning leading 3-2, but with two outs, the Twins advanced the tying run to second base for Joe Mauer. Naturally, that was Joe Girardi’s cue to bring in his designated lefty, Damaso Marte. With A.J. Burnett at 100 pitches, you could probably forgive Girardi for going with the lefty/lefty matchup, but that doesn’t mean Mauer’s game tying single to center was unexpected. An ill advised throw home by Brett Gardner allowed Mauer to advance to second base with the go-ahead run, and it was at that point Girardi made a serious blunder. Instead of walking the white-hot Justin Morneau and bringing in the more capable Joba Chamberlain to face Michael Cuddyer (who entered the game with a .671 OPS against righties), Girardi allowed Morneau to swing the bat, which is precisely what he did. Morneau promptly doubled into the right centerfield gap, plating Mauer and giving the Twins a 4-3 lead. Incredibly, Girardi then walked Cuddyer so Marte could remain in the game to face Jason Kubel. Marte eventually retired Kubel on a fly ball to left field, but the damage had already been done.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, Francisco Cervelli led off with an infield single and then Derek Jeter followed with line drive off the leg of Twins starter Scott Baker that caromed into short right field for a double. Lefty Brian Duensing was then summoned to replace Baker, and he retired Gardner on a liner to shallow left. After having Duensing load the bases by intentionally walking Mark Teixeira, Ron Gardenhire decided to see Joe Girardi’s Damaso Marte and raise him a Matt Guerrier. In seven previous matchups against Guerrier, Arod had drawn a walk and recorded four hits, including three home runs. After two pitches, and several scratches of the head, Arod was making yet another trip around the bases against the Twins righty. The grand slam by Arod catapulted the Yankees into a 7-4 lead and erased any bad taste left over from the top of the inning.

Including Arod’s home run, the two through five hitters in the Yankee lineup were a combined 8-15 with five runs and seven RBIs. That level of production was sorely needed by the Yankees, who saw an already depleted lineup weakened further when Nick Swisher had to leave the game after one at bat. The soft underbelly of the batting order was on display in the bottom of the fourth inning when Randy Winn, who replaced Swisher, Marcus Thames and Juan Miranda all struck out with runners on second and third. The same trio of hitters also squandered a lead off double by Robinson Cano in the bottom of the sixth. In total, Winn, Thames and Miranda stranded 10 of 16 runners.

The Twins also had their share of missed of opportunities in the game. In the top of the second, the Twins loaded the bases on a hit, walk and error before AJ Burnett forced in a run by issuing a free pass to light hitting Nick Punto. In such circumstances, AJ Burnett has been known to implode, but this time he induced a 1-2-3 double play from Denard Span before striking out Orlando Hudson to retire the side.

Despite scoring eight runs, the extent to which injuries have taken a toll on the Yankees lineup has become evident. Winn, Thames and Miranda are simply not good enough to play every day, so as long as they remain in the lineup, the Yankees will need the middle of the order to come up big. Compounding the problem is Derek Jeter’s deepening slump. The Captain has continued to expand the strike zone and hit an inordinate number of ground balls, two trends that have caused his production to plummet over the past two weeks. Until Jeter snaps out of his funk, or the lineup is lengthened by Curtis Granderson’s and Nick Johnson’s return, Girardi is going to need to be more creative, both with how he constructs the lineup and conducts in-game strategy. In particular, the Yankees need to consider limiting the playing time of Winn and Thames by increasing the number of games in which Jorge Posada serves as the DH and Cervelli catches.

  • Alex Rodriguez’ HR was the 587th of his career, pushing him past Frank Robinson for sole possession of seventh place on the all-time list.
  • Arod’s grand slam was the 19th of his career, which ties Eddie Murray for third most all time. Only Lou Gehrig (23) and Manny Ramirez (21) have hit more.
  • In a rare, but entirely justifiable move, the official scorer decided to give Joba Chamberlain the win despite Damaso Marte being the pitcher of record when the Yankees took the lead.
  • After being removed from the game, Nick Swisher underwent an MRI on his right bicep. The results were negative and Swisher is once again listed as day-to-day.
  • Derek Jeter is now 9 for 62 in May, and has seen his OPS drop from .866 to .717.

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