While one explosive inning of offense decided the Yankees' 11-3 victory over the Blue Jays yesterday, it overshadowed an accomplishment that has spanned more than 100 innings and helped determine the team's success this season.
Andy Pettitte went six innings and gave up three runs to improve his record to 10-2, the most wins he has earned at this point in a season since 1998.
Along with CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes, Pettitte is the third Yankee to win 10 games before the All-Star break (the three of them have gone 30-7). In the past 50 years, the Yankees have achieved such a feat three other times - in 1976, 1998 and 2003 - and gone on to reach the World Series each time.
"Andy has been huge for us this year," manager Joe Girardi said of the 38-year-old lefthander. "Age doesn't seem to be affecting him a whole lot. He's gotten smarter. He's developed his repertoire as time has gone on. He's been extremely consistent in what he does for us. You go back to the second half last year, the clinching wins and all the [playoff] series for us - he's an amazing pitcher."
Pettitte, who has a 2.82 ERA, struggled early in the game before making adjustments and settling in after his teammates scored 11 runs in the third inning.
Just three batters into the game, Jose Bautista hit a shot over the centerfield fence for his league-leading 21st homer, putting the Blue Jays up 2-0. "I didn't want to be too careful with him in the first inning of the game, but obviously I should have," Pettitte said, adding that he was overthrowing and hung a sinker to Bautista.
After the Yankees gave Pettitte an 11-2 lead, he was able to relax, but he had to do agility and throwing drills to stay loose during the 37-minute half-inning.
"Obviously, you want your guys to keep scoring and stuff, but it was a long time before 11 ," Pettitte said. "You're hoping you can get out there [and pitch]. But it's great. The guys were fired up in the dugout, and to see them put together an inning like that is awesome."
He retired 14 straight batters before allowing a homer by Alex Gonzalez on his second pitch of the sixth, then exited after 97 pitches and six innings. Pettitte has thrown at least six innings in all but two of his 16 starts.
"Wins are hard to get in this division,'' he said, "but coming into this year, I felt I had to give us a solid year and sometimes things work out for you, and I've been fortunate this first half."
Pettitte, known for blossoming in the second half of the season, said he has started off so well because he has had to adjust as an aging pitcher. With a stricter pitch limit and an inability to overpower hitters, he said he has learned to be more economical with his pitches and rely on a finesse approach.
"This year, it was unusual," Pettitte said of his stellar first half. "I just felt like I've been in a real good groove as far as changing my speeds, which was allowing me to get some real quick outs in the game and get deeper in the game."
Pettitte is a candidate for the Amaerican League All-Star team, and if he is selected, it will be his first appearance since 2001. He said he hopes to be chosen but is not thinking about it. Then again, he probably has little to worry about. He's got an in with the guy managing the AL squad on July 13 - guy by the name of Girardi.