Work in Sports
OAKLAND, California (Ticker) -- Facing a potential 0-2 hole in the American League Division Series and the continuation of an interminable slump, the New York Yankees turned to Andy Pettitte to lead them -- and he did just that.
The lefthander added to his history of big postseason starts and continued his recent domination of the Oakland Athletics by tossing 7 2/3 scoreless innings as the Yankees got even in the ALDS with a 4-0 victory.
Pettitte (1-0) took the mound with the pressure of the Yankees' dynastic run on his shoulders and shrugged off New York's eight-game losing streak and 16 losses in 19 games by pitching like the 19-game winner he was during the regular season.
Pettitte was 2-0, surrendering just two runs in 17 innings against the A's during the regular season, and was even more impressive tonight. He allowed five hits, struck out three, walked one and retired 14 straight batters from the second to the sixth inning en route to his third straight ALDS win.
"Obviously, coming in you know how big it is," Pettitte said. "But again, it's just a matter of trying to get out there and get locked in. And I was able to do that tonight. My focus was really good and really I was able to make all my pitches. I put them right where I wanted for the most part."
Oakland starter Kevin Appier (0-1), making his first postseason start, was up to the task for five innings, before wilting in the sixth.
David Justice grounded out to second before Bernie Williams laced a double down the right field line. After Tino Martinez struck out looking on a questionable inside pitch, the A's opted to intentionally walk Paul O'Neill, who has been hobbled by a sore right hip and has not delivered an extra-base hit since September 6.
Glenallen Hill, who looked awful in striking out on three pitches in his previous at-bat, took ball one and drilled an RBI single into center field, moving O'Neill to second.
"Well, that was a consideration," Oakland manager Art Howe said of the decision. "That's why I went out there to talk about it. We felt like our best shot was going after Glenallen. (Appier) had gotten (Hill) twice and O'Neill has been there so many times in the past, coming up with big hits for them. I know he's been struggling of late, but I just felt like we were not going to let him beat us and Glenallen did."
"I kept trying to calm down. It's a very exciting time," Hill said. "I decided to hit a pitch that he didn't throw. My bat speed seemed like it went from 100 to 350 (miles per hour). I had to tone it down. The ball looked like it was coming in at me at two miles per hour. It was a big mistake to walk O'Neill."
Luis Sojo, who doubled home a run in Game One, followed with a double just inside the third base line and into the right field corner. O'Neill and Hill, both slow of foot, lumbered around for a 3-0 lead before Appier got Scott Brosius to ground out to end the inning.
"We had the intentional walk, which got me nervous," Appier admitted. "But with Glenallen Hill, he can just kill you. I got a ground ball, which ended up going up the middle. I would have liked to strike him out there and Sojo, again a ground ball."
Protecting a seemingly safe 3-0 lead entering the bottom of the eighth inning, Pettitte nearly watched it all fall apart after a bizarre play on a slow roller to second with two out. Sojo, starting because of Chuck Knoblauch's season-long defensive struggles, fielded what appeared to be an inning-ending grounder off the bat of rookie Terrence Long.
But Sojo tripped over his own feet and could not make a throw to first.
"It was the first time that it happened to me," Sojo said. "It was embarrassing."
With runners at the corners, New York manager Joe Torre called for closer Mariano Rivera.
Rivera, who entered the game with an 0.38 ERA over 31 career postseason appearances, got former Yankee Randy Velarde to ground to third, where Brosius knocked down a bad hop with his bare hand before firing to first to end the inning.
"The guys on the bench were all over me," Sojo said. "When I came running in, they yelled, 'Don't fall down.' I didn't want to go to the mound after that play. I usually go there, but I thought they'd make fun of me. I just wanted to get my concentration back for the next play. I said to the ump, 'What the (heck) are you laughing about? I said it to loosen me up."
Clay Bellinger blooped a two-out RBI double down the right field line in the top of the ninth and Rivera pitched a scoreless bottom half for his 14th postseason save. The victory sends New York back to Yankee Stadium for Game Three on Friday.
Pettitte improved to 7-4 career in postseason play, but has been on the hill for several key moments during New York's run of three World Series championships in four years.
"This year he went toe-to-toe with Pedro (Martinez) twice and won both times in Boston," Torre said. "You know he's tough. He doesn't get a lot of attention because we have high profile people on the club like Roger (Clemens), (David) Cone, and "El Duque" (Orlando Hernandez). But he can pitch a big game and I don't think he's pitched one bigger than tonight."
He tossed 8 1/3 scoreless frames in the pivotal Game Five of the 1996 World Series, blanked the San Diego Padres for 7 1/3 frames in the Game Four clincher of the 1998 World Series and yielded two runs and eight hits over 7 1/3 innings in Game Four of last year's AL Championship Series against Boston at Fenway Park.
Pettitte has allowed two runs and 15 hits over 22 innings in his last three ALDS starts. He made his major league debut at Network Associates Coliseum on May 27, 1995, suffering the loss in a 3-0 setback.
"I definitely think (I get more locked in for a playoff game).
It's a different ballgame once you get in the playoffs, different atmosphere," Pettitte said.
Appier was not crisp at the outset. The righthander walked Jorge Posada and Justice with one out in the first before Williams flied to right. Martinez drilled a line drive to the right side that Velarde knocked down for a single, keeping Posada at third.
Appier fell behind O'Neill 3-1 but battled back and got an inning-ending flyout to right to end the threat.
Pettitte also looked shaky in the first, walking Velarde with one out before Jason Giambi stroked a single to right to put runners at the corners. But Olmedo Saenz grounded into a double play as both starters escaped first-inning jams.
"We're not going to win every game," Giambi said. "We got Game One. It'd be nice to be up 2-0, but we'll go to New York and keep trying to play good baseball. (Pettitte) is a big-game pitcher. He pitched himself out of jams, pitched a good game."
Pettitte allowed just one hit through five frames before Eric Chavez led off the bottom of the sixth with a double to right.
But the lefthander came right back to get Ramon Hernandez on a grounder to shortstop and Long on a comebacker before Velarde also grounded meekly to shortstop.
"It's just frustrating going out there, knowing a guy has got your number," Chavez said. "And when we got a hit, we couldn't do anything with it. There were two times where we should have got at least two runs and we didn't do it."
New York threatened again in the top of the seventh when Posada smacked a double off the wall in left-center with one out, chasing Appier. But lefthander Mike Magnante came in and got Justice and Williams to ground out.
Appier yielded three runs and six hits over 6 1/3 frames, walking five and striking out seven.
"My stuff was good. Unfortunately in the sixth, they took advantage of us and Pettitte did a great job," Appier said.
Oakland nearly knocked Pettitte out in the bottom of the seventh. Giambi led off with a single into left and Pettitte fell behind 3-1 to Saenz before inducing the cleanup hitter into a foulout. Miguel Tejada followed with a base hit to center, moving Giambi to second and relievers Mike Stanton and Jeff Nelson immediately got up in the Yankees bullpen.
But Ben Grieve, who hit into a major league-high 32 double plays during the regular season and two in Game One, grounded to third on the next pitch to start an inning-ending twin-killing.
"(Pettitte) didn't have to do much to get me out," Grieve said.
"I wasn't swinging the bat well. I've got good pitches to hit, I'm just fouling them off. I have no idea (why I hit into so many double plays). It's hard to relax at times in situations like this."
"I've faced a lot of great pitchers, but that guy is tough," Tejada added.
New York is attempting to become the first team since the 1972-74 A's to win three straight World Series.
"We're going home now," Martinez said. "We've all been there before and you know not to press. We know what to do."