Igawa pens gem as Yanks snap skid
Left-hander pitches six-plus scoreless frames against Sox
NEW YORK -- One pitch into Saturday's game, the Yankees' starting pitcher was already crumpled on the mound, writhing in pain. This, fans assumed, would not be an afternoon that ended well for the home team.
Kei Igawa found something to say about that. Coming off a poor outing Monday against the Rays, the Yankees used a rainout this week as an excuse to bypass Igawa for his next turn around the rotation, instead opting to go with rookie Jeff Karstens against the Red Sox and relegate Igawa to long relief.
But after Julio Lugo ripped a line drive off Karstens' right leg, fracturing his fibula and sending him to the disabled list, the Yankees suddenly needed Igawa's services.
With no hard feelings, Igawa delivered, spinning six-plus innings of two-hit, shutout ball to lift the Yankees to a 3-1 victory over the Red Sox, snapping New York's seven-game losing streak.
"You know it's in there," Torre said. "You realize when you lose a pitcher in the first inning, he's the only name that comes to mind. We've got this long man in the bullpen and he gives us more than we could have expected."
Torre called Igawa's effort "great" and recalled spotting the 27-year-old left-hander standing among his teammates for the national anthem outside the Yankees' dugout.
When Torre scanned his bench for faces an instant later, with the medical staff assembled on the field and Karstens pleading to pitch on a leg he couldn't have known was broken, Igawa had already raced down to the Yankees' bullpen in anticipation of an unexpected early appearance.
"All of a sudden, I looked up and he was missing," Torre said. "I knew right away where he was headed."
For most of the last several days, the Yankees had spoken openly about needing one solid starting effort to shake the doldrums of an early-season skid that eventually saw them slip 6 1/2 games behind the Red Sox, taking up residence in last place in the American League East.
On this homestand, with five losses already piled high, rookie phenom Phil Hughes was schooled by Toronto's A.J. Burnett and veteran stalwart Andy Pettitte was kicking himself for surrendering a two-run lead to Boston.
"I felt the team surroundings," Igawa said through an interpreter. "It's been a negative seven days. I did my best today to help this team move forward."
The Yankees couldn't possibly have anticipated that the heroic effort would come from Igawa, the floundering member of the rotation who'd been relegated to their bullpen days earlier, for the simplistic reason that he could not repeatedly throw strikes.
"Baseball is a funny game," general manager Brian Cashman said. "There's a lot of twists and turns. That's why you've got to show up every day."
Igawa responded to the challenge, coming out of the bullpen to induce David Ortiz to hit into a 6-4-3 double play. Tossing the ball back to Igawa, first baseman Jason Giambi -- making his first defensive start of the season -- allowed a few warm thoughts to creep through his mind.
"That's large, for him to come in and get a big out," Giambi said. "Then he keeps going and going."
"I was hoping, when he came in, this could be a big turning point for him and us," Giambi added. "I hope it's that time. We'll look back 60 games down the road or whatever and say, 'Wow, that was the time that really turned it around for us.'"
After a walk to Manny Ramirez, Igawa struck out J.D. Drew swinging -- one of six strikeouts recorded by Igawa -- and enjoyed pitching from the stretch position so much that he continued it over all six innings of work.
"A long time ago, when I came out in relief in Japan, that's what I did -- come out of the stretch," Igawa said. "I feel like I have better control of the ball from the stretch."
He walked four and threw a wild pitch, but so goes progress.
"A game like today, for me, gives me confidence that Kei is going to understand what we've been telling him," said pitching coach Ron Guidry. "If you make these pitches consistently, you're going to win. It's that simple."
Igawa has been a project for Guidry this season, an odd intersection of Igawa's Japanese culture and Guidry's cajun twang, both mixing in the hopes of retiring Major League hitters consistently.
The Yankees' concern is not that Igawa -- a $46 million investment who arrived in New York by way of his former club, the Hanshin Tigers -- does not possess big-league talent, but more that it flashes too unpredictably. Guidry stressed pitch repeating in the bullpen sessions, instructing Igawa to trust his ability to dance inside and outside to hitters.
"That opens up other doors for you," Guidry said. "You can go back in. You can go with a breaking ball in. But you have to learn how to do it."
The spontaneous nature of Igawa's appearance may have helped that case. With little time to prepare and concern himself with how his fifth Major League effort might play out, Igawa was able to limit the Red Sox to just two hits -- a Mike Lowell double in the fourth inning and Coco Crisp's seventh-inning single -- before turning a lead over to the bullpen.
"He looked so comfortable out there, I think he probably could have gotten through the seventh inning," Torre said. "But we had a long bottom of the sixth, and got him. Right now, he's back in the rotation. All of the warnings are off."
Jorge Posada provided some of the offense against knuckleballer Tim Wakefield in the fourth. Posada slammed his third home run of the season, a two-run shot to right field, to give the Yankees the lead.
The Yankees caught a break in the sixth as Melky Cabrera's pop to left fell between three Boston fielders and bounced near the left-field line and into the stands. That allowed Posada to trot home with New York's third run off Wakefield, who scattered five hits and walked six over 5 1/3 innings in a 118-pitch performance.
Most of the overworked Yankees bullpen received a rare day of respite, as Igawa's effort enabled Torre was able to steer clear of most of his danger areas.
With Mike Myers, Scott Proctor and Luis Vizcaino looking on comfortably, Brian Bruney pitched a scoreless seventh and Kyle Farnsworth allowed a run on Lowell's RBI single in the eighth.
That set up Mariano Rivera, fresh off a four-run tune-up appearance on Friday, who set the Red Sox down in the ninth inning, recording his first save in three attempts.
Remarkably, it was the Yankees' first save of the season. But you could argue that Igawa had delivered an even more important save innings earlier.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.