Yankees 5, Twins 2
Yankees lead ALDS, 2-0
What went right …
1 Steady Andy — The Yankees turned to their trusted veteran to take command of the series and Andy Pettitte answered the call. The lefty showed no rust, as he entered the game with just three starts since coming back from a groin injury. His most dominant stretch occurred in the middle innings, retiring 12 straight before Orlando Hudson’s one-out home run in the sixth tied the game at 2. Pettitte threw 58 of 88 pitches for strikes and 19 of 27 cutters for strikes, getting six swings and misses on the pitches.
2 This is why they traded for him — Lance Berkman had two of the biggest hits off Carl Pavano. In the fifth, Berkman launched a solo home run to left to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead. Two innings, later Berkman roped a tie-breaking double off the Twins’ starter that scored Jorge Posada from first.
3 Hit parade — As impressive as Berkman was, the showing by Curtis Granderson in two playoff games is equally as impressive. Granderson is hitting .500 in the series after going 3-for-4 and scoring the tying run in the fourth.
What went wrong …
1 Left stranded — Three times with less than two outs, the Yankees left a runner at third. They did so in the fourth, sixth and seventh. In the ninth, they finally produced in that spot when Curtis Granderson’s base hit scored Brett Gardner.
2 Jeter, Swish off the mark — The Yankees are hitting .292 (21-for-72), but Derek Jeter is just 2-for-10. The captain, though, did produced an RBI single in the seventh. Nick Swisher has yet to drive in a run and is 2-for-9.
3 Behind early — The Yankees won Game 2 just like Game 1 — with a comeback. Delmon Young, the thorn in their side, crossed home in the second to put Minnesota up, 1-0. The Bombers then blew a lead in the sixth, but just like Wednesday, reclaimed it for good in the seventh.
As Andy Pettitte’s 2010 playoff debut approached, apprehension and concern lingered.
The extensive track record from 40 previous postseason starts seemed irrelevant because of what Pettitte showed in three regular-season starts that essentially were like spring training starts while the Yankees were attempting to win ballgames.
Perhaps some of the nervous feelings can be erased because Pettitte was spectacular over seven innings as the Yankees moved to within one game of advancing to the AL Championship Series with a 5-2 victory over the Twins.
Before winning his 19th postseason start, Pettitte did not look sharp down the stretch and even experienced back stiffness two weeks ago against the Red Sox. Last week, the physical pain did not exist but command was lacking, causing questions about how he would perform.
“I felt that, you know, he was kind of in a funny situation because he was trying to get back and trying to get all of his pitches going, but we were also trying to win ballgames,” manager Joe Girardi said.
“He wants to make sure all of his pitches are there when we get to this point. So he was in kind of a funny predicament. And I felt that what I saw on Saturday in Boston with his slider, it made me feel a lot better about him. Then when he talked about his bullpen, it gave me an easy feeling.”
Over the course of 88 pitches, Pettitte did not display any kind of mentality that was going to concede anything even as three of the first five Twins reached base.
Nowhere was that more evident than in the second with runners at second and third and one out. Pettitte fell behind Jason Kubel and walked the Minnesota right fielder on four pitches.
Instead of leaving one over the plate for a potential extra-base hit or home run, Pettitte gambled. He allowed a sacrifice fly to Danny Valencia – the first of 12 straight hitters to be retired – and then retired J.J. Hardy on a lineout.
“I probably felt like I threw a pretty good pitch to Kubel 2-0,” Pettitte said. “I didn’t get the call, so it went to 3-0. And it’s just I am not going to throw a cookie in there. I will take my walk and take my chances or getting a double play or getting what I got, a sacrifice fly.
“It is like one run is not going to kill me. So (I am) just not giving in there and just not going to give Kubel anything to hurt me with there.”
During that stretch, Pettitte threw 13 of 27 cutters and recorded six outs on them. He conceded nothing after allowing Orlando Hudson’s home run to left on a curveball and went back to his cutter to retire Jim Thome for the final out of the sixth with Delmon Young on third.
“He attacked,” catcher Jorge Posada said. “He was aggressive and he established his cutter. That was the biggest thing throwing it for a strike and throwing it down in the dirt for a chase.”
As for the rest of the “Core Four,” they were hardly surprised Pettitte defied some of the doubters.
“He’s been successful,” Derek Jeter said. “He’s a guy that we know when he’s out there, he’s not going to be fazed by too much.
“Andy’s being Andy,” Mariano Rivera said. “Today wasn’t different.”
Pettitte gambled because he had confidence.
He was confident that he would get locked in and find a groove like he has done during most of his previous postseason wins. He was also confident his teammates would do enough against Carl Pavano, the ex-Yankee pariah turned 17-game winner in Minnesota.
“Giving up one run is kind of a victory because you feel, like I told you all a hundred times. I feel really good about my team,” Pettitte said. “The guys on my side are hitters, and we feel like we’re going to put some runs up on the board.
One teammate he was extremely confident in was also one of his newest ones and closest friend from three years in Houston.
That would be Lance Berkman, who delivered two tie-breaking hits. The first was a solo home run to left-center field in the fifth off Pavano’s changeup and the second was a double to center field in the seventh that scored Posada all the way from first.
“I am just so happy for him,” Pettitte said. “He has been extremely frustrated, feeling like he hasn’t contributed like he feels like he should. And he came up big tonight and contributed in a big way tonight, that’s for sure.”
And with some help from their Texas connection, the Yankees are now one win away from advancing.
“That’s why I wanted to come over here – just to get a chance to play in these games,” Berkman said.
Seconds after Berkman’s double, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire came out to discuss strategy with Pavano.
On his way back to the dugout, he stopped by to discuss a pitch that appeared to be strike three with plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt and was ejected. Although Gardenhire’s history or arguing with Wendelstedt dates back to 2005, he said it had nothing to with past incidents.
I thought the ball was a strike, he didn’t call it a strike and I wanted to make sure he knew that,” Gardenhire said. “But I wanted to get him away from my guys, because there are a lot of guys full of emotion at that time and I wanted Carl to concentrate. They were going to bomb over and get the outs. That’s what I told my guys on the mound.”
It was similar to the call that went against San Diego’s Mark Langston in Game One of the 1998 World Series when Tino Martinez hit a grand slam after getting that call.
“I thought it was a ball or else I would’ve swung at it,” Berkman said. “It was a very borderline pitch.”