Bronx, N.Y., October 19, 2003 — The Yankees tied the Marlins at a game apiece Sunday night behind the brilliant pitching of Andy Pettitte. Now, repeat that three times. Because at least three Andy Pettittes appeared in this game, with one taking the mound to start each of the first three innings.
Andy Pettitte number one threw the game’s first pitch at 8:01 pm to Marlins center fielder Juan Pierre. It was ball one, as was the first pitch he threw to second baseman Luis Castillo, and then again the initial offering to catcher Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez. As a matter of fact, Pettitte fell behind, 2-0, to the first two, and then 3-0 on Pudge after Castillo had beaten out an infield single. But this was not a case of Andy being afraid to throw strikes (“Ron Darling Syndrome,” my father-in-law calls it); he was just trying to find the plate. And if his strike him out, throw him out double play to end the frame doesn’t prove that, consider this: Aside from those seven throws off the plate (the first two to both Pierre and Castillo and the three to Pudge) 12 of the remaining 14 Pettitte fired in the inning were for strikes, the last one a called strike to the Marlins’ receiver, which started the double play.
On the other hand, only one Mark Redman appeared for the Marlins, and he wasn’t a very good one. Apparently not at all heartened by Pettitte’s early struggle and the 21 pitches it took the Yankee southpaw to navigate the first inning, he came out wild. Yankee fans took heart after he did the almost impossible by walking Alfonso Soriano on five pitches. But then unwittingly, Jeter and Soriano actually gave Redman considerable help. The Yankee shortstop tried to bunt down third twice, took a ball, and then flailed awkwardly at a slow outside curve for the inning’s first out. And after a ball and a strike to DH Jason Giambi (moved up to third this night, probably in anticipation of the way the lineup will have to be reworked for Florida), Soriano was out on a 1-3-6 after being picked off first.
But Redman couldn’t handle the prosperity of two outs and no one on, and promptly plunked Giambi with his next offering. Bernie Williams singled through the shortstop hole after working the count full, and the self-destructive Marlins portsider followed by falling behind lefty-hitting Hideki Matsui, 3-0. You may imagine that Redman threw the next one down the middle; now pick it up a notch by envisioning Matsui, with a green light, jumping on such a pitch. He lined it over Pierre’s head in center, and it carried over the 408 mark for a quick 3-0 Yankee lead.
Pettitte number two trotted to the mound after Redman retired Posada on a grounder, and the Yankee starter was firm in the knowledge that he had a three-run lead. He fired a 1-0 pitch right over to Cabrera, who lined it hard to Williams in center. And Travis Lee drove his 1-0 offering toward the foul pole in left, but homer-hitter Matsui made a fine play in tracking it down. And then this Pettitte trotted off the mound after Mike Lowell drove the next pitch deep and hard to Bernie’s right, a liner the speedy center fielder tracked down as he reached the warning track.
Though delighted with the quick 3-0 lead, Pettitte’s two vastly different innings had me puzzled and a bit concerned. A 21-pitch first for a guy on three days’ rest was a little unsettling, but the five pitches and sprinting Yankee outfielders who starred in his second act had me wondering if that was any better.
Redman continued to struggle, as Nick Johnson surprised him, the Marlins third baseman, and many of the Yankee Faithful with a one-out push bunt single toward Lowell, playing too deep to have a chance. The Florida lefty threw two balls to Juan Rivera and then fed him something hard and straight that the young Yankee right fielder drove hard into left center field. Mark stayed in the game on the strength of the 7-2-5 his defense turned in to nip Rivera at third after Johnson scored, and his own subsequent strike out of Soriano. But he was removed with one out in the third after Jeter singled, Giambi’s hard liner was corraled by Pierre in left center, and Williams worked a 3-2 walk.
Pettitte number three arrived on the home team mound to toss the third. He showed neither the inability to find the plate of number one, nor the “throw it down the middle and hope for the best” bravado of number two. His first three pitches were tough strikes, as were nine of the 12 tosses in the third inning. Among them, Conine, Encarnacion, and Gonzalez swung at four strikes and had five called, and Pettitte scooted off the mound after Gonzalez swung and missed for strike three, the third strike out of the inning.
The fans took heart. The 12 tosses were a manageable number, and the Marlins were hitting no more shots to the warning track. From that point on, Andy seemed to make a synthesis of the three approaches. From the fourth through to a point two outs into the ninth he struck out three of 23 batters, coaxed 11 outs on grounders, and another three on flies to the outfield, while averaging five balls and 7.5 strikes an inning. He was so in control that the fact that Marlins batters reached first base safely to lead off the next five innings barely posed a threat. Double plays removed both Pierre after his leadoff bunt in the fourth and Pudge following his seventh-inning single up the middle. The Boone fifth-inning error on Cabrera (a very tough and undeserved scoring call), Conine’s free pass leading off the sixth, and Lowell’s single in the eighth, were each followed by three harmless outs in a row.
The Yanks, meanwhile, saw an old playoff friend take the mound in Redman’s place in the third. Rick Helling pitched for the Rangers in the late nineties when the Yanks dispatched them in the ALDS three years running and, although he appears to throw hard, they’ve usually managed to time his fastball eventually. In fact, Andy Pettitte bested him, 3-0, in Game Two of the 1998 ALDS, as righties Shane Spencer and Scott Brosius zeroed in and drove his pitches over the wall, the latter with Spencer waiting on first base. As you can imagine, this was all very good news for the struggling Soriano, who swung hard at and missed two of Helling’s offerings in the fourth with Johnson on base with his second of three hits. Helling threw one off the plate, then came back with heat that had already been timed, and Soriano closed the Yanks’ scoring by blasting it “high” and “far” over the wall in left for a 6-0 Yankee lead.
But the story of the game was Pettitte. He seemed amoeba-like in his ability to be a power pitcher one minute, then reform as the coaxer of ground balls who gives up base hits but not runs the next. He threw six of seven first-pitch strikes in retiring the Marlins on a mere 15 total pitches in the fourth and the fifth, but threw 18 in the sixth. Andy managed only a 17/15 first-pitch strike ratio, and the 70 of 111 tosses for strikes was lower than the two-to-one average he usually maintains. But if the numbers point to a pitcher struggling to a win, they lie on this night, or at least they do in every inning after the first.
It is well known now that the Yanks have lost the first game of each of their three postseason series in 2003, and each was at home. And now we know that Andy Pettitte has been the stopper all three times, beating the Twins, the Red Sox, and now the Marlins in succession in must-win games. Joe Torre answered the speculation as to whether he would allow Andy a shot at the complete game by sending him back out for the ninth, but on a short leash with Jose Contreras warming in the pen. And Andy rewarded Joe’s faith by finally retiring the inning’s lead-off batter, getting the speedy Pierre on a bouncer to short. Castillo, however, smacked a 2-1 pitch up the middle for a single, before Rivera tracked down a Mike Redmond (in at catcher for Pudge) liner in right for the second out.
But Aaron Boone made his second error (and his first real one, as the barehanded attempt at Cabrera’s topped roller in the fifth was a bing/bang play, but not an error), and when Travis Lee singled, Andy’s shut out and complete game were gone. Contreras got Lowell to smack a tricky hop to Boone, who got a bit of redemption by closing out the contest on a toss to second.
Much has been made after the seemingly miraculous way the Yanks came back to steal the seventh game of the ALCS from Boston on an eighth-inning rally and Boone’s 11th-inning home run about the “ghosts” that seem to inhabit the Baseball Cathedral, and how things just seem to go the Yankees’ way in this ballpark. Perhaps a ghost of Yankees past had something to do with righting Andy Pettitte after his shaky first, allowing him to master the Marlins for the following seven and two thirds. Rock ‘n’ Roll immortal Chuck Berry celebrated his 77th birthday Saturday. He penned, recorded, and performed Roll Over Beethoven before the Beatles immortalized the song, a rocking anthem capable of rousing more spirits than just the 18th-19th Century composer named in the title.
The Bronx Bombers homered from both the left and right sides of the plate in Sunday evening’s victory. Pondering a past hero capable of such a deed, we needn’t look any further than the beloved one who would have been 72 years old Monday morning, the day the Yanks travel South to continue the Series in Florida. I can’t speak for all Yankee followers, but I for one am glad that we have a day off so I can turn my thoughts to that player, responsible for so many baseball enthusiasts becoming Yankee fans. I wonder how many times a shaky Yankee starter returned to the mound refreshed once the one and only Mickey Mantle had gone yard to give them a multiple-run lead. I’m sure both Matsui and Soriano would be flattered by the reference.