Bronx, N.Y., May 23, 2007 — The strangest thing happened in Yankee Stadium Wednesday evening as the Yanks were beating the Red Sox, 8-3. Present (and former) Yankee southpaw Andy Pettitte pitched superbly, but there is nothing unique there. He did it here routinely from 1995 through 2003, and he has done it virtually every time out in this, his return season. The twist in this game was that the Yanks scored early with Andy on the mound, and that they kept on scoring all night long.
This win levelled Andy’s 2007 record at 3-3. He was under .500 since having lost to the Mets 3-2 five days ago in another game with minimal offensive support. It seems there is always one pitcher each year behind which the team scores, and one for whom they don’t. Yankee fans have accepted Pettitte back gleefully and wholeheartedly, but if his teammates have welcomed his return, they haven’t done it by scoring runs.
That changed Wednesday, and quickly. Pettitte shut down the Sox on 15 pitches in the first around a one-out walk by striking David Ortiz out swinging and picking Coco Crisp off first. Fifteen Curt Schilling pitches into the inning’s bottom half, the home team led 3-0 with nobody out. Leading off, Johnny Damon had stretched a liner to right center into a double vs. the sleepwalking Boston defense, and Captain Derek Jeter scored him when his base hit into the second base hole trickled into short right off second baseman Dustin Pedroia’s glove. Fans groaned when Hideki Matsui lined a high full-count fastball 20 feet foul past the pole in right. But when Schilling tried high heat again, a second liner landed well fair, and several rows back in the right field seats for a 3-0 Yankees lead.
Pettitte needed just 25 tosses to pitch around a Kevin Youkilis one-out double in the second and Pedroia and Crisp singles in the third, while the Yanks remained aggressive on offense. Robbie Cano shocked everyone, but most importantly Schilling, when he dropped a bunt down on a 1-0, one-out pitch in the third. Curt was tardy making the throw, and the Sox were a bit short on defense this night in virtually every scoring situation. Damon’s grounder into the shortstop hole became a hit and an error as Julio Lugo threw past second trying for a force. One pitch later Jeter delivered the only unearned run of the night when his bouncer between third and short wasn’t handled quickly enough for the Sox to make a play.
That 4-0 lead ballooned by one in the third on an Alex Rodriguez double to left and Jorge Posada’s single into right. The Red Sox are unique in defending against both Posada and Matsui when no one is on base with a right field overshift. With no A-Rod on second allowing the Sox to employ that shift, Jorge’s single would have been an easy 4-3. As it was, it delivered Yankee run no. four. Boston appeared to catch a break when first base ump Joe West ruled Ramirez safe at first leading off the visitors’ fourth. Alex Rodriguez charged the swinging bunt and threw quickly. Apparently not satisfied that he had cost New York any chance of a Tuesday comeback by incorrectly ruling Crisp safe at second in a steal attempt in that game’s seventh, West decided to punish the home team for pointing out he had been wrong by ruling against them yet again.
It became academic Wednesday when Youkilis followed by stroking a hard two-hopper up the middle. Cano’s deft grab startled the crowd, and the ensuing 4-6-3 brought them to their feet. Doug Mientkiewicz had surprised no one when he took strike three in the second, but he turned his night with a one-out home run off the right field upper deck facade to stretch the lead to 6-0. Boston was at it again in the fifth, threatening the Yanks with a lead-off Wily Mo Pena infield single, and a short fly to right center that Bobby Abreu dropped for an error. But Lugo lined a 1-2 pitch right at Pettitte. The Yanks have lost two pitchers this year to liners right at the box; not so this time, as Pettitte speared the missile, then wheeled and doubled Pena off second base.
Boston broke through for a run in a 27-pitch sixth against Andy on doubles to right center by Ramirez and Mike Lowell around a one-out swinging strike out of Youkilis. Pettitte then retired Boston one-two-three in the seventh, even if he did fall behind both the second and third place batters 3-0. Andy had a lead all night, and he pitched well, and when he didn’t he was gritty. He mixed 90- and 91-mph heat with his 75-mph darting curve, a cutter traveling about 87-88, and a change of pace that came in around 80 miles per. He threw 17 of 28 first-pitch strikes, and I had his strikes/balls ratio at an even 65/40 (two less pitches than the Scoreboard recorded). Three of eight hits he allowed were doubles, but three were infield singles as well. He struck out just two while walking one, and allowed just one run.
Boston reached Karl Farnsworth for two low-concern runs in the eighth, not worrying because the Yanks added single runs in seventh and eighth. The latter scored when both Damon and Mientkiewicz came up with their third hits, Doug’s a two-out double. If there were any concerns, one was that the Yanks did not earn one free pass after getting eight in each of the last two games. Another was that they had Schilling on the ropes and all but out of the game early after 44 pitches through two. But swinging from their heels with the nice lead, the Bombers pushed him to just 48 pitches over the next four, and only 29 in the third through fifth.
Derek Jeter received several stirring bursts of applause when he batted in the seventh. First, he had been credited on the matrix board in center with having passed Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio for fifth place among Yankees all time in hits when he hit his 2,215th to score Cano with one down in the second. Then he blasted a triple to left center leading off the seventh, forcing the Sox infield to defend in on the grass, which allowed Matsui’s seeing-eye grounder up the middle to score Derek.
Exactly six years ago, the Yanks met these same Red Sox in the Bronx on March 23, 2001. Or perhaps I shouldn’t say “same”; there were only four repeats among the position players tonight, with both Posada and Jason Varitek still catching on each side, Manny Ramirez playing left now while DH’ing back then, and Mr. Jeter manning shortstop in the Bronx. Like most Yankee/Red Sox affairs, it had the markings of a grudge match, as Boston sent ex-Yank David Cone to the mound that night. Jeter blasted a home run and went 5-for-5, a 7-3 Yankee victory. He scored three and knocked in one. Tonight he had but three hits, and scored just two, though his two rbi’s come in second among teammates to the four off Matsui’s bat. And the six-years-apart games had one more similarity: Andy Pettitte was the winning pitcher in both.
After a win Monday behind one in Flushing Sunday night, Yankee fans were afire with hope that a three-game sweep could have sent them on their way back from this year’s big second-place deficit to the Sox. But they won this series, and if Mike Mussina looked bad against the Sox Tuesday, Curt Schilling looked even worse against the Yanks Wednesday. It was 28 years ago today that rock icons The Who released their film, “The Kids Are Alright.” With all the pieces slowly coming together for these Yanks, things are looking up. The rotation, a problem all year, figures to be a strength in weeks. The pen is performing well. And tonight, wonder of wonders, the team even scored for Andy Pettitte.
They may still have quite a deficit to eliminate, but as for their play afield, we can at least say,
The Yankees Are Alright!