The Yankees 5-3 win over Oakland on Tuesday was dualistically a very common and yet historic victory. For the 57th time the Yankees won a game in the "common" fashion of featuring Andy Pettitte as their starter and Mariano Rivera as their closer. While this combination has been "commonly" consistent 57 times, this particular connection in victory proved historic as it tied Bob Welch and Dennis Eckersley for the most win/save combinations all-time.
While this mark obviously isn't the most publicly prominent achievement in the baseball record book, it is — at the very least — a testament to the consistency, efficiency, and durability of both men as they led the New York Yankees to four World Series titles and ten postseasons together. On Tuesday, with the dynamism of their youth stripped away by the progression of years, both men showed the grit, spirit, and tenacity that enabled them to elevate from — in a proverbial sense — the plateu of greatness to the mountaintop of champions.
Pettitte surrendered only two runs over his seven innings of work Tuesday, but it was a struggle the entire way. Andy was unusually hittable, getting smacked around for nine hits and most uncharacteristically striking out no one. But every time Pettitte allowed a man to reach base he never got rattled and never lost his focus or composure. He simply bared down and consistently executed his pitches, never giving in to the hitters, and forcing contact on his own terms.
While Pettitte didn't have his best stuff on the mist-covered, rain-drenched Oakland evening, he found a way to win the ball game with the limited arsenal he had; a highly positive sign for both Andy as well as the Yankees as they struggle to solidify their staff. When Pettitte is healthy and comfortable, possessing the consistent command to locate his pitches even when he's not at his best, and winning those games as he did on Tuesday, he possesses the potential to post a much higher win total this season than many preseason projections saddled him with.
It was his ability to rely on his knowledge and guile — when necessary — that originally
made Pettitte the "stopper" in the star-laden Yankees pitching rotations his first time around with the team. His performance against Oakland — an outing in which although Andy gave up the nine hits and struck out one he also did not walk a single batter — Pettitte showed that the aforementioned attributes have only increased with his experience and seasoning.
Rivera also did not have his most dynamic stuff on Tuesday. Recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, Mariano's velocity is still not at the level it was last season, and even his pinpoint accuracy has failed him at times. And yet in the six innings in which Rivera has worked this season he has yet to give up a run, has posted four saves, while striking out eight, and walking no one. Rivera has given up five hits (one on Tuesday) in that span but he — like Pettitte — has evolved his respective approach in an effort to be able to work out of tough situations without top velocity, movement, etc.
Utilizing a four-seam fastball, a two-seamer, and even an occasional changeup to compliment his signature cutter, Rivera — a pitcher who once exclusively threw hard and inside — now changes speeds and works both sides of the plate, using his intelligence and strategy to maintain his effectiveness. On Tuesday, Rivera's expanded approach was prominently on display as he worked around a leadoff single by Kurt Suzuki to retire the next three men in a row, with only one going down by strikeout.
Andy Pettitte at 37 and Mariano Rivera at 39 are not the same pitchers that were part of the homegrown, youthful core that was essential to the foundation of the Yankees dynasty of the 1990s. But unlike some very good starters and many dominate closers, Pettitte and Rivera have evolved with age. Power pitchers who once possessed hard cutters and nasty dispositions, both have accepted the necessity for the aforementioned evolution, and in doing so, have become the most successful starter/closer pair in the history of the game.Powered by Sidelines