Andy Pettite turned in one of his best starts lately, throwing 6 2/3 strong innings and getting strong relief from Joba and Mariano to nail down his second-straight victory as the Yanks avoided the sweep in Baltimore. Only four Yankees mustered hits, but Giambi cranked a big homer in the fourth and drove in two, while Matsui continued his hot hitting with two doubles. Melky the Clutch also hit two doubles and JD had a three-hit night with a big insurance run in the ninth. Not the prettiest offensive game, but that matters little when the pitching is strong.
The Yanks scored first when Matsui hit a bloop double over past short, moved to third on a wild pitch, and scored on Giambi’s single. But the Orioles took a 2-1 lead on Mora’s big homer to left-center. Yet the Yanks responded right away in the fourth when Giambi cranked his second homer onto Ewtah Street in two nights to tie the game. New York impressively manufactured the go-ahead run in the fifth. With one out, Melky the Clutch hit a hustle double to left-center, aggressively taking the extra base that ended up being crucial. JD singled on a bloop to center, and Jeter’s sac fly to left made it 3-2 Yankees. Pettite worked out of trouble with his trademark pick-off. After Roberts doubled with one out, he got picked off second as Pettite caught him leaning to third. This was huge, for Mora walked and Markakis doubled, surely costing Baltimore the tying run at least with shoddy base-running. Millar’s F8 ended the Orioles’ rally.
Pettite finished strong, retiring the last six batters he faced, including the first two of the seventh, before Girardi lifted him in favor of Joba. Part of it was for Joba’s stretching out, but I imagine Mora’s success against Pettite tonight also had something to do with it. Mora promptly singled to right, and Joba then walked Markakis, but fanned Millar on a 2-2 fastball to escape. After the Yankees stranded JD at third with two outs in the top of the eighth, Joba worked a 1-2-3 inning that including two impressive strikeouts of Hernandez and Payton.
New York added a big insurance run in the top of the ninth. Matsui doubled to right, Giambi walked, Cano’s 4-3 moved the runners to second and third, the Orioles then intentionally walked Moeller to get to Melky, who has hit into 5 DPs this year. Melky struck out in a ten-pitch at-bat for the second out, but JD’s grounder to first caught Orioles lefty Jaime Walker faling toward third off the mound, and JD’s sprint to first easily beat Walker to the bag to score Matsui, 4-2 Yankees. Mariano worked around A-Rod’s letting the ball go between the wickets to record his 13th save this year, the 456th of his illustrious career, and to lower his already microscopic ERA to 0.39.
Giambi has been big lately, going 2-3 with his 11th homer, 2 RBIs to give him 27 this year, and a much-improved .244 average. Giambi is 14 for his last 30, raising his average 63 points over the last week and a half. JD was 3-5 with an RBI, his 24th, raising his average to .288 with an eight-game hitting streak in which he’s 16 for his last 35 to raise his average 38 points. Matsui was 2-4 with 2 doubles and 2 runs, and is batting a hot .330. He’s a blistering 14 of his last 27 in a seven-game hitting streak that has raised his average 33 points. Melky the Clutch was 2-4 with 2 doubles and a run and, although his 0-4 night makes Jeter 3 for his last 30, his sac fly for his 25th RBI was key. The Yanks left 7 on, 4 in scoring position, but got enough production from a few sources tonight.
Pettite was strong and got better as the game went on, allowing only the two-run blast to Mora in 6 2/3. Otherwise, he scattered eight hits and a walk, allowing two runs earned and fanning three on 96 pitches/59 strikes. Lefty was the stopper tonight, just what the Yanks needed–not lights-out, but solid. Joba had a rough seventh but an easy eighth, going 28 pitches and doing the rest of his work in the bullpen instead of last night, Ahem. Mariano, still and always, is The Man.
On to Minnesota for four games after tomorrow’s day off. Friday night and Sunday afternoon will be HDLR games for anyone interested. Can the Yanks please move to and beyond .500?