A day after A.J. Burnett and the Rays exposed the weakness of the Yankee bullpen, Andy Pettitte would exit in the 3rd inning with a groin strain, once again leaving the team's fate in the hands of its relief pitchers. This time the pen was up to the job, keeping the Rays off the board long enough for the Yankees to get to David Price.
Neither pitcher was sharp out of the gate. Pettitte gave up a 3 run home run to Carlos Pena in the first inning. Normally 3 runs would be more than enough for David Price to take over, but he was not sharp. Alex Rodriguez came about an inch shy of tying the score in the bottom of the 1st, with Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira on base. Robinson Cano came up next and just missed a home run. Robbie would instead settle for a 2 run triple.
After an uneventful 2nd inning, Pettitte came up lame after a pitch with one out in the 3rd inning. Pettitte grabbed his leg and tried to shake it out. Joe Girardi and Gene Monihan came out to examine the lefty, who was in clear pain after trying to throw a practice pitch. Pettitte left the game, and was eventually taken to the hospital for an evaluation. In the postgame Girardi announced that Pettitte suffered a grade 1 (that's a good thing) groin strain. Although the strain is mild, Girardi predicted a DL stint for the big lefty. The team won't know for sure for a few days. Sergio Mitre may replace Pettitte in the rotation, but it remains to be seen.
When A.J. Burnett left in the third inning Saturday Joe Girardi appeared to concede the game, turning to the woeful Dustin Moseley and Chad Gaudin. On Sunday Girardi was more aggressive. He gave the ball to David Robertson, who inherited a 3-1 count and runners on base from Pettitte. Robertson was up to the task, allowing no runs and only 1 hit in 1.2 innings of work. Mark Teixeira rewarded the move in the bottom of the inning, scoring Derek Jeter on a game tying single.
Girardi then turned to Chan Ho Park. Anyone following this season expected the wheels to come off when Park came into the game. Instead, the right hander was sharp. Park gave up no hits and walked none in 1.1 innings of work.
While the Yankee bullpen was performing (for a change), Price was struggling for the Rays. He walked 4, allowed 7 hits and gave up 7 runs in only 5 innings of work. The Yankees also exploited Price's poor move to first base. Jeter tied the game after stealing 2nd in the 3rd inning. In the bottom of the 5th inning Brett Gardner stole 2nd easily, and then gave the Yankees the lead on Jeter's 2nd hit of the game. Jeter reached 2nd on a wild pitch, and would later score on an Alex Rodriguez single. Robinson Cano walked, and then both runners came home on Jorge Posada's long double off the wall in left center. That made the score 7-3, Yankees, and ended Price's day after only 96 pitches.
Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain performed to expectations in the game's later innings. Each pitcher allowed 1 run in 1.2 innings of work. In fact, Joe Girardi turned to Mariano Rivera to get the final out of the game, which he did on one pitch.
Sunday's game was a reminder of how strong Girardi has been at managing the Yankee bullpen since he became the manager in 2008. Other than Pettitte, no Yankee pitcher tossed more than 1.2 innings or 34 pitches. The Yankees have an off-day Monday, so the five relievers who pitched in the game have plenty of time to recover.
Although the injury to Pettitte looms large, it is difficult to feel anything other than good about the win. The Yankees and Rays seem to be on a collision course right now, and will play each other 10 more times this year. It was important for the Yankees to win the series at home, and level the season series at 4 games a piece. It was also important for the Yankee offense to have a big day. These teams will meet again in Tampa on July 30th.
Finally, Alex Rodriguez hit a thing of beauty in the bottom of the 7th. He crushed a first-pitch hanging slider about 430 feet on a no-doubt-about-it bomb that was reminiscent of the A-Rod of old. Alex now has 598 career home runs, and may be able to reach 600 on the current home stand.