Pettitte's wildness sets Yankees back
Broken rallies no help as lefty walks six en route to defeat
NEW YORK -- The five walks that Andy Pettitte surrendered in his previous start were relatively easy to shrug away, considered a byproduct of the back problems that had undermined his entire evening. Nothing to worry about, the Yankees insisted after that game.
Yet it was much harder to explain away the six free passes Pettitte offered the Rangers on Wednesday, considering both Pettitte and manager Joe Girardi's contention that the left-hander's back had healed just fine. And so the Yankees were instead left scraping for an explanation after Pettitte's control issues led to a 4-2 loss to the Rangers in the Bronx.
"Obviously, I was scuffling with my command," Pettitte said. "Really, that was it."
It was hardly a comforting explanation, but it was one that the Yankees would have to accept. In their first game as the American League's best team, the Yankees watched Pettitte walk three of the five leadoff batters he faced, allowing the Rangers to reclaim their title as tops in the league.
And once the Red Sox put the finishing touches on their win over the Tigers, the Yankees -- just like that -- were no longer even the best team in their division. They were tied.
"It was frustrating," Pettitte said. "It was embarrassing, actually. It's just so frustrating to try to preach to these younger guys to go out there and set the tone in the first inning, and I've been scuffling doing that here the last few starts. It's no good."
In his first outing since leaving last Friday's game against the Indians with back problems, Pettitte provided no indication that he was healthy. He walked Ian Kinsler to start the game, then allowed Kinsler and two others to score on another walk and three hits. Before the Yankees could come to the plate, they were losing, 3-0.
The Yankees would have preferred Pettitte to have inspired a bit more confidence, considering they announced earlier in the day that Chien-Ming Wang -- still something of an unknown commodity after a stint on the disabled list and in the bullpen -- would start Thursday's series finale against the Rangers. Knowing that, Girardi was intent on keeping long man Alfredo Aceves confined to the bullpen, aware that he might need him Thursday.
But Girardi hardly anticipated that Pettitte would last only five innings, allowing four runs.
"That's going to happen from time to time," Girardi said. "We can't expect these guys to be robots and be perfect every time. But he still had a chance to win that game."
And that's where the frustration set in. Pettitte at least managed to quell his hiccups after the first inning, allowing a run on Kinsler's single in the second -- but nothing more. But after Alex Rodriguez singled home Nick Swisher in the bottom of the first, the Yankees did not score again until Jorge Posada launched a solo home run in the seventh.
By that point, Rangers starter Scott Feldman had nearly notched his fifth win (against zero losses), baffling the Yankees with his cutter and sinker.
"He never throws the ball straight," Derek Jeter said, offering a verbal tip of his cap.
But Feldman is not a robot either, and he was hardly perfect. In the third, he walked the bases loaded with one out, only to induce Rodriguez to ground into an inning-ending double play. And in the sixth, a pair of errors put Johnny Damon on third base with one out -- but this time Rodriguez struck out swinging.
"He's not going to be perfect all the time, either," Girardi said of Rodriguez.
A-Rod had a more candid assessment of his night.
"Tonight I just stunk," Rodriguez said. "One hit, and I think we win that game."
Those searching for silver linings could look toward Brett Tomko, who came on in relief of Pettitte and fired three scoreless innings, effectively keeping the Yankees in the game. But the offense was coming in trickles against Feldman, setup man C.J. Wilson and closer Frank Francisco, who held the Yankees to six hits.
Perhaps the Yankees might have won had Pettitte not touched Nelson Cruz's hot grounder in the first inning -- one that deflected past Robinson Cano and went for an RBI single instead of what may have been an inning-ending double play. Girardi certainly believed so. But Pettitte wasn't about to latch onto that potential excuse, or any other.
His back was fine. And his offspeed pitches were fine, despite his inability to complete his regular bullpen work after last Friday's start.
It was simply Pettitte's fastball that vexed him, sailing wide of the plate on pitches that he intended to send right down the middle. Control, for a 36-year-old pitcher, is key.
"You can't walk the guys that I walked and expect to have a solid outing," Pettitte said. "If I go out there and keep it closer like I felt that I should have, we probably win that game."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.