A-Rod and Andy a tale of two Yankees
Pettitte's big night, Alex's antics prove how different these two teammates are
One is A-Rod, the other the Anti-Rod, one humble and seemingly sincere, the other blatantly self-centered and spectacularly phony.
Friday night at Yankee Stadium should have been all about Pettitte, who won his eighth game of the season and earned his 200th victory as a Yankee, a win that put him on a plateau inhabited only by Whitey Ford and Red Ruffing, Hall of Famers both. If only he hadn't had that dalliance with HGH back in 2002, he might have someday joined them there, too.
Instead, he not only has to share a stigma, he had to share his special night with A-Rod, whose latest hip scare monopolized all pregame conversation, and whose impromptu news conference outside the locked door of the Yankees clubhouse just as Mariano Rivera was putting the finishing touches on a 4-3 victory over the Houston Astros took a good chunk out of the postgame time as well.
Suffice it to say little was learned from the A-Rod session except that he still insists he has a "groin injury" despite the fact that his manager and doctors say the problem is in the right hip flexor, the same hip that was surgically repaired last March. He was unavailable to play Friday night, is unlikely to play Saturday and probably won't play Sunday, either.
In fact, get used to Ramiro Pena at third and Robinson Cano in the cleanup spot, because for now -- likely until Tuesday's series opener with the Phillies -- they are going to replace Alex Rodriguez in the Yankees lineup.
And the Yankees will get by just fine without A-Rod's bat in the lineup and especially without A-Rod's constant distractions in their clubhouse.
But where would they be without Pettitte? Four days shy of his 38th birthday, the big left-hander with the graying hair and the youthful arm has unquestionably been the Yankees best starting pitcher this season.
Even with a brief elbow scare that robbed him of a start in May, he has been the most durable and reliable performer in their rotation. His record is now 8-1, his ERA 2.46. For the fifth time in 12 starts, he took a game into the eighth inning and had his manager allowed him to, he would have taken it out, too. Certainly, he would have preferred not to have given way to Joba Chamberlain, but as he said afterward, "I kinda realize there's no fighting Joe."
Contrast that with A-Rod, who alerted Pena that his "groin" was sore and to be ready to come into the game Thursday night but didn't bother to tell his manager, who might have preferred the option of constructing a lineup without the light-hitting El Nino as his cleanup hitter.
That is the difference between a player who puts his team first and one who puts himself first, and I needn't tell you which one is which.
Working on an extra day's rest due to an off-day in the schedule, Pettitte came out strong -- too strong, he said --and allowed two second inning runs on a second-inning double by Tommy Manzella. Since the Yankees were leading 3-0 at the time, it only served to create momentary interest in an essentially meaningless interleague matchup.
But after that second inning, Pettitte set down Astro after Astro, making, as Girardi said, "pitch after pitch after pitch," retiring 16 of the next 17 batters before surrendering a single to Manzella leading off the seventh. The next batter, Humberto Quintero, hit a perfect double play grounder to Cano, but Derek Jeter uncharacteristically fumbled Cano's flip in his haste to make the transfer and everyone was safe.
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After Michael Bourn advanced both runners with a sacrifice, Girardi came out to get Pettitte, after just 98 pitches, to a standing ovation from the crowd and the pitcher's obvious displeasure.
"You always want to finish up, you want the game in your hands and not somebody else's," he said. "But I've been blessed to have a great bullpen behind me my whole career and I've got a great one behind me now."
Chamberlain immediately gave up a rocket to Jeff Keppinger that Nick Swisher ran down in right, and the sac fly cut the Yankees lead to 4-3 and moved the tying run to third. Then, Joba and the Yankees caught a huge break when third-base umpire Tony Randazzo punched out Lance Berkman on a check swing that was more like a hiccup.
In the ninth inning, Rivera came on and did what he does and that was that.
Mo handed Pettitte the baseball as a souvenir. Ron Guidry, who is about to be eclipsed by Pettitte for second place on the all-time Yankee strikeout list -- with 1,777, Pettitte is two behind -- called with early congratulations. No doubt, Ford will be calling him, as well.
"It's special," Pettitte said. "I really didn't think about it before the game, I'm able to block that out once I get out there, set everything aside and just get locked in."
Quietly, even with his brief sojourn to the Astros, he has been the pitcher of the past decade for the Yankees, the way Ford was in the '50s and Guidry was in the '70s. He will be remembered fondly by Yankee fans of this era, even if many historians and Hall of Fame voters like myself will never quite be able to put aside those three little letters that forever link him with the likes of A-Rod.
But that is the only thing that connects these two such different men, one who is revered by his teammates and the fans, the other, it seems, only by himself.
GAME NOTES: The big hit in the game was a two-run single by Francisco Cervelli in the first following a bases-loaded walk to Nick Swisher that drove in the first run. The Yankees added the fourth, and deciding, run, on Teixeira's broken-bat bloop single in the fifth. ... Brett Gardner, diagnosed with a Grade 1 sprain of a ligament in his left thumb, took some swings in the cage before the game and will take live BP before Saturday's game. He is hoping to return to the lineup this weekend. ... Girardi said he had been preoccupied discussing A-Rod's injury with team physician Chris Ahmad and so had no update on when Jorge Posada can return to work behind the plate. Before the game, Posada performed some strenuous catching drills and proclaimed himself ready to catch again; meanwhile, he continues to struggle as a DH, striking out twice before singling in the sixth. He is now 3-for-33 since returning from the DL after suffering a hairline fracture of his right foot. ... Saturday's pitching matchup: RHP Javier Vazquez (5-5, 5.63) vs. LHP Wandy Rodriguez (3-8, 4.95).