Despite an imposing early-season schedule that has included 4 possible playoff teams in the Red Sox, the Rays, the Angels, and the Rangers, the Yankees have come out of the gates in 2010 looking every bit prepared to repeat as world champions. Today’s victory over the Rangers showcased how the Yankees have been able to defeat opponents in many different ways, with an offense as good as advertised (despite slow starts from Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, and Nick Johnson), and a rotation that (aside from Javy Vazquez) has been exceptionally effective.
Andy Pettitte took the hill for the Yankees against Rich Harden, the former fireballer whom injuries have reduced to a shell of his former self. At age 37, Pettitte was in vintage form. After 2 easy innings, Pettite ran into trouble in the third, giving up an RBI double to Elvis Andrus (15 years his junior) and an RBI single to Michael Young. After that hiccup, however, Pettite cruised through eight effective innings, giving up just four hits and three walks, and striking out four. Despite sitting in the high-80′s with his fastball, the veteran Pettitte was able to locate his pitches well (throwing 67 strikes against 40 balls), and mix in his cutter, curveball, and changeup to effectively keep the Rangers on their heels.
The Yankee offense got on the board quickly in the first, as spark plug Brett Gardner, manning the leadoff spot while Derek Jeter was given a day off, got on base by getting hit by a Harden offering. Not surprisingly, beaning the light-hitting Gardner came back to haunt Harden, as he eventually stole second, and scored on a sacrifice fly by Robinson Canó after the bases were loaded after another HBP (to Teixeira) and a walk to Alex Rodriguez. However, Harden was able to wiggle out of this jam and limit the Yankees to only one run.
After the Rangers took the lead with two runs off Pettitte in the third, the Yankee offense answered back. The slumping Mark Teixeira led the inning off with a solo home run to tie the game. Harden’s wildness got him into trouble again, as the bases were loaded with one out following a walk to Rodriguez, a strikeout of Canó, a single by Jorge Posada, and a walk to Curtis Granderson. Nick Swisher struck out swinging and looked terrible while doing so, and it looked as if Harden was going to wiggle out of trouble again. This time, however the Yankees were able to get the big hit with runners in scoring position. The clutch hit occurred from the unlikeliest source, shortstop Ramiro Pena, who was filling in for the ailing Jeter. Pena lined an 0-1 fastball to right field, scoring two runs, and giving the Yankees a 4-2 lead.
That would be all that the Yankees needed, as a Posada home run added an insurance run, and Mariano Rivera came in to slam the door. Rivera so far does not seem to be getting off to his typical slow start (that has the media, who apparently never learn from their mistakes, constantly questioning whether he is done), and he was very effective today. Rivera faced a dangerous trio of hitters in Vlad Guerrero, Nelson Cruz, and Chris Davis. 14 cutters later, Rivera sent them down in order, the last two via the strikeout. He notched his fifth save of the season, and has yet to give up a run.
After notching three infield hits yesterday, Gardner was a pest once again, going 2 for 3 with a walk and a HBP, and stealing two bases (giving him seven on the season). So far he has been everything that I could have hoped for him in a starting role: taking pitches, stealing bases, legging out infield hits, and driving opposing teams crazy. Posada continued his strong start by going 2 for 4 with his third homer of the season, and he’s hitting .378 thus far. Teixeira showed signs of life with the homer in the third, but but was also 1 for 4 with two strikeouts.
The Nicks, Johnson and Swisher, continued their struggles, combining to go 0 for 8 with five strikeouts and nine runners left on base and only one walk. Although their bats have been punchless, both Nicks have been able to maintain some value through their patience. Johnson is making up for his pathetic .158 average with a .407 on base percentage (that’s a ridiculous .249 isolated discipline folks) and Swisher has a .347 OBP despite batting .200. Obviously, both players should be expected to improve their offensive output (maybe it would help if Johnson got rid of the Miley Cyrus at-bat music), but at least they are not getting away from their selective, patient approaches.
Although several players are struggling (and the productive Jeter was not in the lineup), the Yankee offense was still able to provide more than enough punch to back a strong pitching performance from a reliable horse. If the Nicks and Teixeira can get clicking on all cylinders, this offense could move from great to scary and potentially historic.
The Yankees moved to 9-3 on the season following this win, and after a day off tomorrow, they will take on the Oakland A’s.
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