Pettitte, revamped lineup power Yanks
New No. 2 hitter Cabrera leads offensive charge in Kansas City
KANSAS CITY -- It wasn't necessarily going to make or break the Yankees' season, but with the hype and drama of their first Fenway Park visit looming straight ahead, it sure beat the alternative.
Clawing out of their toughest season-opening offensive drought since the Dallas Green era, the Yankees found some relief on Thursday. Melky Cabrera homered to back Andy Pettitte's strong start, and Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada went deep back-to-back late, helping the Yankees salvage their series with a 6-1 victory over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium.
"We needed a win today," said Rodriguez. "Our team was desperately needing a win today. The only thing in our minds was getting a win, somehow, somewhere."
Making his second start of the season, Pettitte looked much improved following a rough opening outing in New York. The 35-year-old left-hander threw 30 pitches in a troublesome first inning but held the damage to Jose Guillen's run-scoring double, then returned to blank Kansas City before turning the game over to reliever Joba Chamberlain with two outs in the seventh.
"You just want to stop losing streaks," Pettitte said. "We lost the first two here, and it's always good to win and not get swept, that's for sure."
Having scored their fewest runs (25) in their first nine games of a season since 1989, Cabrera got the Yankees' offense rolling in the third inning when he connected off left-hander John Bale for his second home run of the year, part of a two-RBI night. The homer was a rarity for Cabrera, who had slugged just three of his previous 16 career home runs off left-handed pitching.
Then again, the Yankees should have expected the unexpected, as manager Joe Girardi shuffled his lineup, bumping Cabrera to the No. 2 hole in Derek Jeter's absence. Cabrera's homer ended a string of 19 scoreless innings against Royals pitching. Cabrera and three other Yankees had two hits in the effort.
"No matter where we've had him, he's done the job," Girardi said of Cabrera. "Everyone contributed tonight. That's how you want your offense to work."
It was enough for Pettitte, who feared a flashback to his rough first outing, when the Royals also put up a first-inning run. Saying that he had little early and relied on catcher Jose Molina to get him through, Pettitte was just beginning to hit his stride in the fourth inning when home plate umpire Rick Reed called for the tarpaulin to hit the field at 8:23 p.m. CT, anticipating winds of more than 50 mph and a brief rain storm that would prompt a 22-minute delay.
Pettitte wondered if he would lose that progress as he waited, but he actually came back better.
"I thought his stuff got sharper," Girardi said. "Sometimes that happens. It wasn't a long delay, but he did get sharper."
|"We needed a win today. Our team was desperately needing a win today. The only thing in our minds was getting a win, somehow, somewhere."|
|-- Alex Rodriguez|
Pettitte threw 92 pitches (58 for strikes) in the effort, scattering five hits while walking two and striking out one. Pettitte also flashed some self-preservation defense, flagging down a hot Esteban German liner back to the mound in the sixth. With the victory, Pettitte passed Mel Stottlemyre for sole possession of sixth place on the Yankees' all-time wins list with 164.
"It was nice to get back out there and get a good rhythm," Pettitte said. "I felt like I got locked in. Hopefully I can continue this into my next one."
The Yankees added another run in the fourth inning when Posada singled and scored on a Molina double play. New York came back with two more runs in the fifth off Bale when Cabrera fisted a bloop into right field to score Morgan Ensberg, and Johnny Damon came home when German juggled a potential Rodriguez double-play ball to second base.
"We didn't really come out of the box extremely good," Rodriguez said. "We had a feeling with these conditions out here that one or two runs might do it, and that's why we bunted guys over and tried to get one at a time. Today was much better."
Bale, the first southpaw New York has faced this year, lasted six innings and allowed four runs on eight hits, walking one and striking out three. He was relieved by Hideo Nomo, who made his first big league appearance since 2005 and got fellow countryman Hideki Matsui to fly out, leaving the bases loaded after two walks.
Chamberlain came on for the final out of the seventh inning, getting Buck to fly out to left and strand a runner in scoring position. The University of Nebraska product -- cheered loudly by the 16,143 in attendance, including his father, Harlan -- worked a scoreless eighth as well, though he pitched around two singles before blowing a 99 mph fastball by Guillen to end the inning.
The Yankees got to Nomo in the ninth, with Rodriguez and Posada slugging back-to-back solo shots. Rodriguez's was his 520th career homer and his 175th as a Yankee, tying him with Bobby Murcer for 19th on the club's home run list. Rodriguez also passed Mickey Mantle for 46th place on baseball's all-time list with 1,510 career RBIs.
Posada, unable to catch with a strained right shoulder, showed that he can still swing the bat with some power, launching his first of the year -- a welcome sight for New York, considering that Posada could see some at-bats as a designated hitter in the Yankees' upcoming weekend series against the Red Sox beginning Friday.
"It's obviously always better to have a win when you're going someplace," Girardi said.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.