May 18, 2012, Bronx, N.Y. – You had to wonder if Andy Pettitte’s approach to Friday night’s start vs. Cincinnati in Yankee Stadium was altered four pitches in. Following a swinging strike out, error and sac bunt, he faced a go-ahead Reds run 90 feet from home plate. While it’s true that Pettitte left the team to rest and prep for this game before last night’s 4-1 loss in Toronto, he has to be aware that the Yankees currently are doing just about anything they can not to score.
Trying to assess the potential damage, when Andy followed by falling behind Joey Votto 2-0 and 3-1, the plan became so clear in my head that I was tempted to pencil it in lightly on my scorecard: Walk the power hitter, even if he is a lefty, then get Brandon Phillips to bounce into a double play.
Wrong. Six pitches later, all of them strikes, three of them swinging, Pettitte was in the dugout with a three-strike-out frame behind him, and his mates prepared to do battle against Cinncy’s Bronson Arroyo. And the veteran Reds righty, famously referred to by one Yankee still on the team as “Brandon” nine years ago, proceeded to pitch the kind of game we’ve often seen from Andy.
Featuring mid- to high-80s cheese, mid-eighties changes and a low 70s curve, Arroyo routinely retired the struggling Yanks on ground balls (11) pop-ups (3) and the occasional strike out. He bent but barely broke, first denying the Yanks when Alex Rodriguez (the “Brandon” utterer) doubled to the left center field wall leading off the second by whiffing an overanxious Nick Swisher with one down and Alex on third. Although the Cinncy righty was nicked for a run on A-Rod fielder’s choice once Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano led off the home fourth with singles (though Cano was out at second trying to advance on a near error by Jay Bruce in right), he made the most potent parts of the Bombers brigade look anemic.
A leadoff Swisher single in the fifth went nowhere and, worst of all, back-to-back weak grounders resulting in forces at the plate and a pop-up denied the Yanks a run in the home sixth even though they loaded the bases with no one out on Derek Jeter and Granderson singles and a four-pitch walk to Cano. Tempted to call the whole gang useless, I had to rescind that thought when I realized how much more inept the bottom of the order was: When eighth-place hitter DuWayne Wise led off the home third, and seventh-place batter Eric Chavez the seventh, it took Arroyo six, then five pitches total to retire the side in order those innings.
Which kept the pressure on Pettitte, and a 42,000-strong crowd. Andy, who surrendered two home runs in the Bronx five days ago, gave up a long drive to center by Bruce leading off the top of the second, with Granderson making a fine running play, then pitched around a two-out Todd Frazier single. Catcher Ryan Hanigan smacked the first pitch of the top of the third up the middle for a single, but Andy the enforcer returned. Fourteen pitches later, Zack Cosart, Drew Stubbs, and Votto were strike out victims four through six, with all going down swinging. Mixing all of his pitches, with a fastball that topped out at 90, cutters through the 80s, a few changes, and a nasty low-70s curve, the crafty pinstriped lefty had them coming and going, and by the time he made Bruce strike out victim No. 7 in the fourth, he had coaxed 12 swings and misses and seven swinging punch outs.
Pettitte reinvented himself in the fifth, perhaps because 64 tosses through four was too much. But incredibly, he would pitch through eight, garnering just two more swings and misses, two more K’s, just one swinging. Still pitching with a 1-0 paper-thin lead, he used grounders and pops to make seven on 105 tosses, then with help from a nifty Cano grab of a liner and an A-Rod diving play toward the shortstop hole and strong throw to first survived the eighth on nine more throws.
With the crowd chanting Andy’s name intermittently throughout the late innings, the game moved on. His numbers were uniformly stellar. The 79/35 strikes/balls ratio outperformed the hoped-for 2/1, he gave up just four singles and one walk with nine strike outs, and threw 20 first-pitch strikes to 27 batters, and 13 of the first 14. And the moribund Yankee offense, once Andy left the game, drove Arroyo from the mound with a three-run, two-home-run eighth, with Cano’s one-out drive a tape-measure blast of beauty. The sudden explosion made Boone Logan’s ninth easier, and he converted it in one-two-three style for the 4-0 final.
So now the series moves to Saturday afternoon, a day that promises perfect weather. Some might spend it puttering in the yard, but many, including one pretty famous Yankee, will gladly opt for the ball “yard” in the Bronx. It was May 18 in 1830 that England’s Edwin Budding agreed to have his invention – the lawn mower – manufactured, ruining Saturdays forever for many, saving it for some. The Yanks have a new fan-interest feature this year, where they ask players to talk about their first jobs. More than a few admit their first paying occupation was the same as it is now – “baseball player” – but others had mundane pursuits. Jeter says that his grandfather had him mow the local football field, a task big enough that it would almost be ready to be done again once he finished. Derek leaves little doubt about what he wants to be doing on a field on Saturday afternoon.
But May 18 would also have been the birthday of legendary film director Frank Capra. Born on this day in 1897, the late Capra made a long list of memorable movies, among them Arsenic and Old Lace and It’s a Wonderful Life. Watching Andy Pettitte return to the game and go about his work in Yankee Stadium this evening, let’s reaffirm that bumbling, struggling offenses notwithstanding,
It’s a Wonderful Game