Pitch to Daylight

Andy Pettitte

Going for his 200th Yankee win, Andy Pettitte earned it by "pitching to daylight."

Bronx, N.Y., June 12, 2010 — Only the Yankees and their fans, with a considerable assist from the Sports Authority, could throw a party for Hall of Famer-to-be Mariano Rivera, and then put him to work on his own night. The sporting goods chain sponsored what was clearly this season’s most popular promotion in the Bronx, as a Rivera statuette was given to the first 18,000 early arrivals, at least the ones who were 21 and over. The fans may have had to show up a little early, but the ever-gracious Rivera not only put the finishing touches on his “party,” he did so by sending the happy fans home just 2:19 after the first pitch.

Kudos for the quick game time don’t rightly “go to Mo,” so to speak, though; that was thanks to the quality pitching of Houston’s Brett Myers and Andy Pettitte of the Yankees. Each pitcher had a challenging early inning. That Myers walked two in the first on top of three hits got the Yanks three quick tallies; Pettitte walked just one in the two-run Houston second, an early edge he was able to eventually convert into his eighth season win.

Myers was actually effective enough to survive the shaky first except for the “Cisco factor.” Having surrendered one run on one-out hits by Curtis Granderson and Robbie Cano interspersed with walks to Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher, the ex-Phillies and current Astros righty came back strong, striking out DH Jorge Posada on four pitches and pounding his way to an 0-2 count against titular backup catcher Francisco Cervelli. Thrust into the starting catching role a month ago, Cervelli’s almost surreal early-season success at the plate has paled of late, and the batting average that flirted with .400 is down in the .280’s now. But Myers found out what much of the American League has: Cisco is a different guy with “ducks on the pond.” The following curve caught too much of the plate, Cervelli bounced it right up the middle, and the Yanks had a 3-0 lead. His 26th and 27th rbi’s would have placed Cisco in a tie for third in that stat on the 2010 Astros.

But Pettitte couldn’t handle the prosperity. He managed to coax two of his four popups in the game on cutters in the second, but with one out he allowed his only walk of the night to Hunter Pence following a nine-pitch battle. Also an ex-Phillie, third baseman Pedro Feliz lofted an opposite-field bloop single to short right with two down, which left Pettitte facing young shortstop Tommy Manzella. One of Andy’s best 2010 pitches has been a killer curve, but he didn’t have his best one this night, despite the fact that he struck out center fielder Michael Bourn with it three times (he would post just four Ks). But on 2-2 vs. Manzella Andy missed with the curve, a pitch choice that came back to bite him. With Feliz running on 3-2, Andy threw the fastball that might have fooled Manzella one throw earlier–we’ll never know. The youngster doubled into the left field corner now, and with Feliz running he scored easily; it was 3-2, though Pettitte did escape the 30-pitch frame by producing that other strike out against one-time Yankee catcher Kevin Cash.

But Andy made the one-run lead stand up, did so easily, which was a good thing, because Myers dominated the middle frames. Following the Cervelli rbi single in the first, the righty closed the frame on a Ramiro Pena foul pop. He then proceeded to set down the next nine Yankees on just 44 pitches. Young Kevin Russo worked a leadoff walk in the home fifth, and Kevin stole second, seemingly for naught as Jeter bounced out and Granderson struck out. Russo was just one of three Yankee baserunners their last seven innings, and the only one who got to second. The struggles of Mark Teixeira have dominated Yankee news for two months, but he has been better lately, and he fought off a 1-0 Myers slider, blooping it over an overshifted Houston infield just beyond Jeff Keppinger for a key rbi base hit, and a 4-2 Yankee lead.

Once the Yanks had scratched that key tally on the quietest of rallies, Myers would allow no more. A double strike out victim, Posada stroked a one-out single in the sixth, but was removed on a dp when Cervelli lined back to the mound. Derek Jeter got the crowd up with a long drive to left center in the home seventh, but Bourn made an impressive run to catch up and flag it down. The worst thing that can be said about how Myers pitched is that he surrendered more runs than you would expect, with four runs crossing on just three walks and five hits, only Granderson’s double in the first going for extra bases. He’s pitching for a struggling team, but he kept his team in the game.

But Pettitte had a two-run lead and it was getting late. He retired 11 straight following a Pence infield single in the fourth, but Manzella struck again, singling leading off the top of the eighth. Pinch-hitting for Cash, Humberto Quintero may have hit a dp ball to second, but Jeter boxed Cano’s throw for an error, and the Stros had the tying runs aboard. Bourn sacrificed the runners into scoring position, and Girardi replaced a reluctant-to-leave Pettitte with Joba Chamberlain.

Joba fell behind Keppinger 3-1 and the Houston second baseman lined a sac fly to right to forge a 4-3 score, with Quintero moving to third. But Joba got ahead of Lance Berkman 0-2, then stuck him out on a checked swing. Mariano came on for the ninth on his special night, and the fact that he threw first-pitch strikes to all three guys was great to see; it’s the approach we are used to. He retired all three, the last two on strike outs, and the Yanks had a 4-3 win.

It was a pleasant night in the Bronx, and a promising start to a nine-game home stand. Debate continues apace about interleague play, as it does regarding the unbalanced schedule. But although I continue to believe that the six games every year against the Mets are too much, I do like seeing the NL teams and their fans come to the Bronx. I had a great conversation with Astros fans Jim and and his son Cobly waiting on line before the game. Houston natives and neighbors of Andy Pettitte back in the Lone Star State, these two are on a trip we all can envy, following a Thursday game in CitiField with this one in the Bronx, with a Philly/Boston tilt in Fenway still to come. Needless to say, I wished these NL fans greater success in Boston than here in New York.

It was a big night for Pettitte, as the win not only gave him an 8-1 record, but made him the third pitcher in the history of the storied franchise to garner 200 wins hurling for this team, following Hall of Famers Red Ruffing and Whitey Ford. In other Yankee history, June 11 represented the day that both Babe Ruth (in 1927) and Roger Maris (1961) hit the 19th and 20th home runs of their legendary long ball seasons. And on this day in 1990, Nolan Ryan threw his sixth no hitter, notching 14 strike outs as rookie phenom Stephen Strasburg did the other night. In so doing Ryan became the first guy to throw no-nos with three different teams, and also in three different decades; he retired three ex-Yanks to close it out. Also, when Pettitte got Keppinger to fly out in the first in this game, he joined Jamie Moyer as the only active pitchers with 3,000 innings pitched. Andy had a good night, while Moyer was allowing nine runs in one inning up north in Boston.

Although the fact that Andy has 200 Yankee wins is huge, what’s bigger for him, one assumes, is the 8-1 mark this season, unprecedented territory. Pettitte has developed an impressive arsenal, and the knowledge of how to use it. He got through the early game on strike outs on the big curve, popups on the cutter, ground balls on his two-seam fastball. He threw 18 of 28 first-pitch strikes, the 68/30 strikes/balls ratio was stellar, and he surprisingly managed to fool the visitors into swinging and missing 14 times. Still, it was after his mates gave him a two-run lead in the bottom of the fifth that Andy managed to take this game and head it into the home stretch.

Legendary late NFL coach Vince Lombardi would have turned 97 this day. Vince’s game and name are closely tied to one of his favorite expressions, “Run for Daylight.” The sentiment behind it easily could have been what inspired Pettitte in the latter innings of this win. With the two-run lead, Andy threw with no fear, challenging batters as he hadn’t earlier. Through five frames he allowed just three fly outs to the outfield. But realizing that with the 4-2 lead no opposing batter carried the tying run with him to the plate, the approach changed. The Astros lined hard to left, to right and then to center field in the sixth inning, and Jason Michaels almost got a fly ball into the right field corner over Swisher in the seventh. But the frame ended with the Yanks still up by two runs. With a 4-2 lead, Pettitte was able to,

Pitch to Daylight