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.
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.
Also of utmost importance, the middle of the lineup has begun to exhibit increasing levels of productivity, particularly in the power department. Mark Teixeira has been hot for most of May, but with Arod and Posada also finding their home run swing, the heart of the Yankees order should keep the offense beating. If Jeter can also break out of his two week funk, the lineup should be more than able to make up for its vulnerability at the bottom. That is of particular importance because Curtis Granderson and Nick Johnson are not expected back anytime soon. Before the game, Brian Cashman announced that Johnson was given a cortisone shot and could return in three weeks if he responds well to it. If not, however, surgery would be likely and Johnson’s absence could be considerably longer. Granderson, meanwhile, has just begun to do some light running, so his return is still several weeks away.
- After the game, Joe Girardi announced that the Yankees have set up their rotation for next week. Javier Vazquez will pitch on Friday against the Mets, which means his start will be skipped once again. The other four starters will remain on regular rest.
- Alex Rodriguez’ first inning RBI was number 1,733 for his career, tying him with Honus Wagner for 20th place on the all-time list.
- The Twins have now lost 10 straight regular season games at Yankee Stadium. Since 2002, the Twins are now 14-43 against the Yankees, including 3-25 in New York.
- Brett Gardner’s stolen base in the sixth inning was his 17th of the season, tying him with Juan Pierre for the league lead.
- Andy Pettitte improved his record to 5-0 for the first time since 1997. Pettitte has never started a season at 6-0.