The Yankees kicked off the second leg of interleague play with some sobering news: Alex Rodriguez was diagnosed with tendonitis in his right hip flexor. Even though the third baseman and Joe Girardi declared this to be “good news”, the fact remains that any mention of Arod and hip in the same sentence should be a major concern for the Yankees. Whether he winds up just missing the weekend series or much longer, the rest of the Yankee lineup needs to start compensating for the loss of the team’s most potent offensive weapon.
Against that backdrop, the Yankees took the field against the woeful Houston Astros. Despite entering the game winners in eight of their last 10 ballgames, the Astros fielded a lineup that featured four hitters with an OPS under .600. What’s more, the entire team has posted an astonishingly low OPS+ of 69, with only Lance Berkman’s .764 OPS grading out above league average. So, when the Yankees took a 3-0 lead on Francisco Cervelli’s two out, two run single, it seemed as if the game was primed for the win column.
The Astros immediately jumped back into the game, however, scoring two runs in the top of the second on Tommy Manzella’s RBI double. In the inning, Pettitte seemed to lose command of the strike zone and wound up throwing nearly one-third of his total pitches for the game. After recovering to retire the side with the lead still intact, Pettitte resumed dispatching the Astros lineup with his usual efficiency by setting down 16 of the next 17 batters.
The Astros weren’t the only ones making outs quickly, however. After seeming to be on the verge of an early shower, Brett Meyers also settled into a rhythm and retired the Yankees in order over the next three innings. In the fifth inning, the Yankees finally gave Pettitte some breathing room when Mark Teixeira’s bloop singled plated Kevin Russo, who had walked to lead off the inning and then stolen second base.
With Pettitte dealing and the Astros lineup acting like an assembly line for making outs, the insurance run seemed like window dressing, but it would eventually prove to be the difference in the game. After Manzella led off the top of the eighth with his second hit of the game, Pettitte induced an easy double play ball off the bat of pinch hitter Humberto Quintero. Unfortunately for Pettitte, however, Derek Jeter, in his haste to turn the twin killing, dropped the throw from Robinson Cano. With Quintero running, there was no need to rush the transfer, but Jeter’s shocking error set up a sacrifice bunt by Michael Bourne that knocked Pettitte from the game.
All of a sudden, the Yankees easy victory was hanging by a thread. Joba then retired Jeff Keppinger, who hit the ball hard in every at bat, on a sacrifice fly to right, which set the stage for a pivotal showdown with Lance Berkman, by far the Astros’ biggest threat. For some reason, Girardi decided to pitch to the switch hitting Berkman (.831 OPS vs. righties) instead of set up a righty-righty confrontation with the struggling Carlos Lee (.611 OPS vs. righties). Had the move backfired, it would have been a legitimate second guess, but luckily for Girardi, Joba was able to strike the Big Puma out on a slider.
Not only did Joba pick up the Captain by pitching out of the eighth inning jam, but he also helped preserve Pettitte’s 200th win in pinstripes. Mariano Rivera made the victory official by retiring the Astros in order to end the game, but on this night, it was really Joba who earned the save.
The Yankees starting pitching has been a strength all year, so if Joba and Dave Robertson can continue to get big outs, the team should remain in contention all year. The Yankees are built to do more than just hang around, however, but the dwindling offense seems to be preventing the team from pulling ahead in the division. Even though the Yankees still lead the AL with over 5.5 runs per game, the lineup’s output has been far from consistent, particularly on the road, where they have been scoring two fewer runs per game. What’s more, the Yankees have scored four or fewer runs in six of their last seven games, forfeiting a chance to take over the division lead by only going 4-3 over that stretch of games. So, with Arod out of the lineup and Posada still struggling to regain his form, it now becomes imperative for Mark Teixeira to start carrying the load. If the Yankees are going to make a move in June, Teixeira has to get hot along with the weather.
- Andy Pettitte became only the third Yankee to win 200 games. Whitey Ford (236) and Red Ruffing (231) are the others.
- With his four strikeouts, Pettitte also moved within one of Ron Guidry for second place on the all-time Yankees list.
- Derek Jeter’s streak of reaching base in 28 consecutive games came to an end with his 0-4 performance.