Bronx, N.Y., August 28, 2007 — The Red Sox and the Yankees played a very deceptive first inning in Yankee Stadium in the first of three Tuesday night. Andy Pettitte started things by retiring the visitors on seven quick pitches, just one of them off the plate. Then his teammates jumped on Daisuke Matsuzaka for a walk, a hit by pitch, two hits, and two quick runs, forcing the Japanese import to 26 throws, just half of them in the zone. As the game progressed, Matsuzaka would continue to struggle with his control, not an uncommon 2007 trend, but very little else that occurred in the first would be repeated.
Seemingly affected by the long time his mates batted, Pettitte was a different pitcher in the second, and for the rest of the night. Losing his feel for the strike zone, he immediately fell behind Manny Ramirez 3-1, and the Boston left fielder made him pay with a home run to right field. Andy escaped with no further damage, but partly due to a walk to Jason Varitek with two down, it took him 25 pitches to close the frame. Light-hitting (for much of 2007anyway) Julio Lugo reached him for a triple leading off the third. He would score the tying run on a one-out David Ortiz sac fly, but Kevin Youkilis battled Pettitte to an 11-pitch walk then too. A Ramirez strike out closed that inning, but not until the Yankee lefty had added 22 pitches to his rising total.
Matsuzaka, conversely, took the mound in the second a sharper, more confident pitcher. Featuring a 93/94-mph fastball most of the night, he retired 10 of the next 11 Yanks on 36 pitches, coaxing five grounders, two popups, and one strike out around a third-inning walk to Alex Rodriguez, whom he had hit with his first pitch in the first. Daisuke would hit no more batters, but he came in hard inside often, driving Yankee hitters off the plate. To anyone who remembers a televised image of teammate Julian Tavares tutoring him on buzzing batters inside back in April, this style begs the question of whether or not he threw this way in Japan, or did he just adopt the intimidation tactics once he arrived in the states.
Pettitte stiffened after the third, allowing one hit an inning through the next four, three of them to leadoff hitters. Andy brought to mind actor John Houseman’s words in the guise of Professor Kingsley from the old Paper Chase TV series. Pettitte persevered in this game the old-fashioned way, he earned it. Andy pounded fastballs in the one-two-three first, but as the game wore on he incorporated his old reliable cutter, a killer change, and a slow breaking curve that produced some very ugly swings.
He struck out one each in the second, third, fourth, and seventh, and two in the fifth. The one free pass in each the second and third were the only two he allowed. Andy usually reaps ground balls galore to gather his outs. This night he was reached for seven outfield flies to go with the six strike outs and six outs on grounders. It took 17, 17, 15, and then 16 pitches to navigate the fourth through the seventh, and Joe Torre sent him out for that last frame having already amassed a pitch count of 103.
The Yanks, meanwhile, were doing nothing with Matsuzaka, and would not reach the Bosox righty for a third hit until the fifth inning. Team captain and shortstop Derek Jeter has been struggling mightily of late, and he sat out a rare start the other day, so his fans know he is hurting. But he surprised Matsuzaka by breaking the 2-2 tie with a home run to right field with two down in the fifth. With both combatants considering their late-inning relief a strength, grabbing a lead as the game progressed toward its closing stages was huge.
Pettitte got his only double pay of the night to coast through the sixth while facing just three batters; if he could blank the Sox for just one more frame, the Yanks had the horses to close it out. But old foe Varitek reached Andy for a leadoff home run, and Pettitte woud retire after seven in a 3-3 tie. Although he started the game by throwing six of nine first-pitch strikes, his final tally was just 14 of 28. He threw 70 strikes with 49 balls, and got all six strike outs swinging by missing 13 Boston swinging bats. He allowed three singles, a triple and two home runs.
But Andy got the well-deserved win because his mates rallied in the bottom half. Andy Phillips battled Matsuzaka to 3-2 leading off the home seventh, then singled past short. Melky Cabrera moved him to second on a sac bunt back to the box and Johnny Damon strode to the plate. One of the few times the Yanks had come close in the middle frames came on a Phillips foul toward the base of the right field foul pole. The ball started 10 feet or more fair and arced high and just into the first row of seats, but it tailed badly and landed two seats to the foul side.
At that time it became noticeable to fans across the Stadium behind home plate that this game had attracted an unpaying customer, something that probably was known in right field much sooner. A squirrel adopted the pole as his very own “tree,” and spent much of the night scurrying up and down. Thankfully, he had drifted pretty high by the seventh, because Johnny Damon laced the next Daisuke pitch right down the line. From a perch that affords a view right down the right field line, I was amazed. Johnny’s ball started several inches fair, and it landed several inches fair, not slicing even the tiniest bit toward the pole. With the squirrel safely planted well above, it landed untouched several rows back and the Yanks had a 5-3 lead.
From there it was Joba for three outs, then Mariano. Though typically dominant, Chamberlain did walk Kevin Youkilis to start, and Mike Lowell reached him for a bloop single to center with two down. But Ortiz lifted a harmless pop to left and Joba got Eric Hinske, pinch-hitting in the eighth, and J. D. Drew on swinging strike threes. Rivera upped the Pinstripe K total to 10 by fanning Varitek and Coco Crisp, and Lugo lined to Cano to end the game.
Despite the key Jeter and Damon long balls, this one was won on the mound, which is only fitting, as August 28 is the 57th birthday of current Yankee pitching coach Ron Guidry. Ron shares the celebration with current Cubs Manager Lou Piniella, a teammate on some of Gator’s best teams. And perhaps of even more interest is that their 1977 teammate Mike Torrez was born this day too. Mike’s wins helped the Yanks to the 1977 crown. And his biggest loss of the 1978 season helped the Bombers too, and crushed his new team that year, the Boston Red Sox.
Betty Smith’s novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, published in 1943, deals with hardships in the Irish community in that borough in the first and second decades of the 20th Century. The squirrel-adopted “tree” featured in tonight’s game played a part in our passion play about one century later. And one more thing: The squirrel that frollicked up and down the pole in the House That Ruth Built was visible to so many in part because most of this game was played under a big, beautiful full moon. We’ll look for its return Wednesday night.