It's been a while, but the Yankees still know how to win the close ones.
The Bombers jumped out to a 4-0 lead behind Andy Pettitte and then withstood a late-inning surge by the Indians as they downed Cleveland 5-3 on Sunday afternoon and swept the weekend series. Pettitte pitched brilliantly into the eighth, Jason Giambi smacked another homer and Mariano Rivera made it exciting but eventually slammed the door as the Bombers remained tied with Seattle for the wild card lead and moved to within four games of the BoSox in the AL East.
Andy Pettitte. Pettitte followed the template set by Phil Hughes and Mike Mussina in the first two games of the series and picked up his third straight victory. He induced 13 ground ball outs and kept the Indians off balance all afternoon. The Yankee offense has been getting all the press lately (and with good cause), but this pitching staff is really rounding into form. It almost feels like every pitcher is going out there and trying to out-do the previous starter's effort. Pettitte also made one of the plays of the game when he picked off Jhonny Peralta at first with the bases loaded and no outs in the seventh. Don't see that every day. The Yanks were up 4-0 at that point and that play really destroyed the Indians' rally. The wily vet escaped major damage and gave up only one run in that inning. Pettitte improved to 8-7 with this: 7.1 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 4 K.
Jason Giambi. I'll go on record (again) and say I didn't really like the idea of Giambi rejoining the team at this point. I was afraid that his return would upset the chemistry this team has created during his absence. Well, Giambi is really trying to show me that maybe I was mistaken. The Giambino blasted his second homer in as many days on Sunday afternoon. I'm still not sure where he fits with this squad, but he's doing a great job so far. Also, it's fun to watch Shelley Duncan's reaction when Giambi comes into the dugout after a home run. Classic stuff. Giambi finished 2 for 4 with a run scored and 2 RBI.
Mariano Rivera. It was a bit sweaty for Rivera and the Yankees in the late innings, but the Sandman wouldn't be denied. Rivera maneuvered through trouble with two outs in the eighth and then worked himself into a real corker of a jam in the final inning. Mo started the ninth with the Yanks up 5-2, but gave up three straight hits which sliced the lead to 5-3 and put the tying runs at second and third with no outs. Mission impossible? Not for Rivera. Mo calmly struck out the next two batters and then got Casey Blake to fly out to right. Game. Set. Match. Maybe Brian was right when he wrote that Rivera was the best baseball player of his lifetime. Rivera earned his 19th save of the year with this: 1.1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 2 K, 1 Hit Batsman.
Derek Jeter. Jeter made a fabulous backhanded play in the first inning to rob Casey Blake of a base hit. It was patent Jeter, but it still amazes every time. He also continued to torment the Cleveland faithful by upping his career average at the Jake to .383 with a key RBI single in the ninth. The ribbie gave Rivera and the Yanks a more comfortable 5-2 advantage. The Captain finished 1 for 5 with the big run batted in.
Luis Vizcaino. The Viz came into the game in the eighth with runners on first and second with one out and the Yanks up 4-1, but couldn't get out of the inning. Vizcaino didn't pitch terribly, but if he's going to be the bridge to Rivera, he's going to have to work out of jams like that. Maybe I'm being a little to hard on Luis, but if he has a few more outings like this, it won't be long before Torre turns the keys over to Joba in the eighth. His line won't reflect it, but Vizcaino gave up an RBI single to Victor Martinez to cut the Yankee lead to 4-2. Vizcaino's vitals: .1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 0 K.
Delayed call. Tim McClelland was behind the plate on Sunday and you know what that means. It means every call is delayed and John Sterling complains about it at least twice an inning while calling the game on the radio. McClelland has been around forever and nearly everyone agrees that he's one of the best in the game, but his slow, deliberate calls at the plate are just awful. I really don't understand why he does it. McClelland also ejected Yankee pitching coach Ron Guidry late in the ballgame. Guidry wasn't complaining about McClelland's slow calls, but about his strike zone. But I'm guessing Gator didn't like McClelland's style behind the plate either.
The Yanks return home and welcome in the Baltimore Orioles for a three-game set beginning on Monday night. The O's may not be in the playoff hunt, but they're playing well since Dave Trembley took over. Jeremy Guthrie gets the ball for the Birds and will go against Chien-Ming Wang. Guthrie is putting together a solid season and has pitched well against the Yanks this season (1-0, 2.97 ERA). Wang was roughed up in his last start in Toronto (2.2 IP, 8 R), but holds a stingy 2.77 ERA in the Bronx.
And the Yanks have been stingy about losing games lately.