Heading into the ALDS, the biggest question hanging over the Yankees was the health of Andy Pettitte. Last night, the veteran lefty allayed those concerns.
Over the first two innings, Pettitte’s command was a little shaky, particularly in the second when he loaded the bases on two singles and a walk. At that point, however, Pettitte did what he does best…he limited the damage to a sacrifice fly by Danny Valencia.
The Yankees entered the game with seven consecutive playoff victories against the Twins, all of the comeback variety. So, falling behind by one run in the second was hardly a reason for panic. Of more concern were the early returns from Carl Pavano, who limited the Yankees to one base hit over the first three innings. Aided by Hunter Wendlestedt’s generous strike zone, which seemed to include six inches off the plate to lefties (of which the Yankees lineup featured seven), Pavano pounded the strike zone early and then forced the batters to be aggressive later in the count. By the fourth inning, however, the Yankees’ game plan changed.
Curtis Granderson started the fourth inning with a leadoff double, his first of three hits, on a 2-0 pitch. Following the hit, the entire Yankees lineup went into attack mode. Pavano needed only six pitches to get through the next four batters, but was lucky to do so as all of them hit the ball hard. Singles by Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano, which came sandwiched around an Arod sac fly, helped plate the tying run, but when Nick Swisher rapped into a 1-6-3 double play, Pavano avoided further damage.
The Yankees eventually took the lead in the fifth inning when Pavano was felled by another 2-0 pitch. This time, Lance Berkman lined the offering over the left center field wall for only his second home run in a Yankees’ uniform. In his two months with the team, Berkman had desperately been in search of his first Yankee moment, but it never came. He finally found it with his initial post season swing.
While the Yankees were busy solving Pavano, Pettitte shifted into another gear. All of a sudden, the veteran lefty looked as if he was in midseason form, spotting his fastball, pounding his cutter and dropping curves into the zone at will. At one point, Pettitte retired 12 batters in a row, but when the string was broken, it was done in a big way. With one out in the sixth, Pettitte fell behind Orlando Hudson on a first pitch curve that seemed to dissect the plate. After not getting the call, Pettitte decided to go with the same pitch, but this time Hudson was waiting for it. While the Twins’ second baseman rounded the bases on his game tying blast, Pettitte could seen mouthing “stupid pitch”, while Jorge Posada walked toward the mound patting his chest as if to say “my bad”. Despite the frustration, Pettitte rebounded to retire the dangerous Joe Mauer and then induced a weak grounder from Jim Thome after Delmon Young’s triple that eluded the running try of Granderson.
As they have often done against the Twins in October, the Yankees immediately recaptured the lead by scoring in the latter third in the game. The top of the seventh began with a walk to Posada, but the focal point of the inning was the next at bat by Berkman. After falling behind 1-2, Berkman took a pitch that crossed the inside part of the plate, but received the benefit of a favorable call. Berkman then took advantage of his second life by lining the next pitch over Denard Span’s head in centerfield, plating Posada and giving the Yankees another lead. The Twins were infuriated by the turn of events and manager Ron Gardenhire was eventually ejected for arguing balls and strikes later in the inning. However, lost amid the outcry was the fact that the second pitch in the bat was called a strike despite being well off the plate. In other words, the count was exactly as it should have been, even if it took two missed calls to get there.
The Yankees eventually added an additional run in the seventh and ninth on RBI singles by Jeter and Granderson, respectively, but the extra insurance ultimately proved to be unnecessary. After a 27-minute top of the seventh, Pettitte polished of his effort with a quick 1-2-3 inning in the bottom half. Then, in the eighth, Kerry Wood upped the ante by blowing away the three batters he faced in the bottom of the eighth. Finally, Mariano Rivera put a cap on the evening by earning his 41st post season save and sending the Yankees back to the Bronx needing only one victory to advance to the ALCS.
Players with a HR in First Post Season Game with Yankees
|Lance Berkman*||10/7/2010||ALDS||2||Twins||Carl Pavano||W 5-2|
|Rondell White||10/1/2002||ALDS||1||Angels||Jarrod Washburn||W 8-5|
|Shane Spencer*||9/30/1998||ALDS||2||Rangers||Rick Helling||W 3-1|
|Jim Leyritz||10/4/1995||ALDS||2||Mariners||Tim Belcher||W 7-5|
|Rick Cerone*||10/8/1980||ALCS||1||Royals||Larry Gura||L 2-7|
|Roger Maris*||10/5/1960||WS||1||Pirates||Vern Law||L 4-6|
|Elston Howard*||9/28/1955||WS||1||Dodgers||Don Newcombe||W 6-5|
|George Selkirk*||9/30/1936||WS||1||Giants||Carl Hubbell||L 1-6|
*HR came in player’s first at bat.