Sunday, September 27, 2009

Yanks Hit Century Mark, Sweep Sox, Clinch AL East & Homefield

As Jay laid out in the preview, with a single victory this afternoon, the Yankees had an opportunity to accomplish a great number of things: reaching the 100 victory mark for the first tie since 2004, sweeping the Sox and evening the season series, clinching the AL East for the first time since 2006, and clinching homefield advantage for the duration of their stay in the post-season. Mother Nature delayed things by about an hour, but neither the rain nor the commentary of Joe Morgan and Steve Phillips were enough to put a damper on today.

Andy Pettitte made his second post shoulder fatigue start. Despite allowing ten baserunners in six innings and staking the Sox to an early 2-0 lead, Pettitte's start was an encouraging one. Once again he showed no signs of trouble stemming from the issues that hampered him earlier in the month, and in classic Pettitte fashion, he found a way to work himself out of the trouble he worked into. The Sox extracted some retribution for Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka by getting Pettite with a Mike Lowell comebacker in the first, but Pettitte survived unscathed.

His offense got him out of the early hole he dug. Melky Cabrera cut the deficit in half with a solo shot to right field in the third inning, and Hideki Matsui delivered a big two out two RBI base hit in the sixth to give the Yankees the lead. Mark Teixeira capped the scoring with a towering solo shot in the eighth, leaving him one short of Carlos Pena for the AL lead.

How good were things for the Yanks this afternoon? With Phil Hughes and David Robertson unavailable, Brian Bruney relieved Andy Pettitte and retired all five batters he faced while throwing two thirds of his pitches for strikes. Phil Coke finished the eighth by striking out David Ortiz. Mariano Rivera came on for the third day in a row, and just as he did Saturday, he brough the tying run to the plate. He worked out of the jam though, and closed out the game to clinch the division, just like old times.

A post-game clubhouse champagne celebration ensued; with any luck it will be the first of four this fall. While the youngsters and new-comers like Teixeira, Nick Swisher, A.J. Burnett, and CC Sabathia enjoyed the moment, the guys that had been there a bit longer were somewhat more subdued. Regardless of seniority, to a man, all recognized that this was just the first step. The team now has the season's final week to get prepared for step two.

Game 156: Symbol In My Driveway

The Yankees have the opportunity to record a symbolic victory in a number of different ways this afternoon. First and foremost, they can close out the division with a win over the Red Sox. In so doing, they can also secure homefield advantage throughout the playoffs since the Sox are the only team that still has a mathematical chance to catch them in the standings. The Bombers also have a chance to notch their 100th win of the season, complete a three game sweep and even out the season series which seemed like a pipe dream at best after losing the first eight against Boston.

Andy Pettitte will take the ball for the second time since skipping a start due to shoulder fatigue. Against the Angels, he wasn't dominant but was efficient, meeting the minimum requirements for a quality start (6IP, 3ER) and needing only 91 pitches to get through those six frames. While Andy's last start did alleviate some of the worry surrounding his status for the postseason, another solid outing would certainly further that cause.

As he did last year, Paul Byrd joined the Red Sox in August. However in 2008, he was exchanged in a waiver wire deal with the Indians but this season Byrd hadn't pitched for another team at all before signing with the Sox. At 38 years old, the soft tosser probably didn't have enough gas to make it through an entire season but the Sox brass felt he could help for the stretch run after they cut ties with both Brad Penny and John Smoltz.

In his first start, Byrd was solid, throwing six shutout innings but in his 4 outings since has given up 34 hit and 17ER in 19IP while striking out 8 and walking 8. He last faced the Royals on Tuesday and gave up 5 runs in the first inning but recovered to throw 5 2/3 scoreless after that.

According to PeteAbe, the tarp is off the field and they should be primed for a start close to 1:00. [Update: 1:16] Not so much... the game is being delayed as there are a couple of patches of rain currently over New Jersey but the coast appears to be clear after that. [Update: 1:40] According to various tweets start time is tentatively scheduled for 2:05.

Since Yom Kippur begins at sundown tonight, the three major New York sports teams in action have been bunched into action at 1:00 so as to cater to the large Jewish population in the New York area and avoid conflict with the most solemn of the Hebrew holidays. The Yanks and Sox were originally scheduled to play on Sunday Night but were moved to the early afternoon. The Giants visit Tampa Bay and the Jets play the Titans, which should probably lead to some furious channel changing throughout the overlapping fan bases.

I know I said that I didn't really want the Yankees to sweep in the preview on Friday night, but now that the blood is in the water, superstition and the Law of Averages be damned. No one wants to see the Yanks celebrate against the Royals tomorrow. Let's drive the nail into the coffin, reach the century mark, complete the sweep, even the season series and knock all this symbolism out in one fell swoop.

I've got a symbol in my driveway,
I've got a hundred million dollar friends,
I've got you a brand new weapon,
Let's see how destructive we can be.