09/24/07 9:42 PM ET
Yankees lose ground in home finale
Magic number at one after three-run second costs Pettitte
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
Though it was the Blue Jays who had their starting pitcher scratched on Monday, the Yankees were the ones unable to get going. Andy Pettitte's offense couldn't bail him out of a rough second inning, as the Yankees put home game No. 81 into the books with a 4-1 loss to the Blue Jays.
"You could definitely tell it was a makeup game, let's put it that way," Pettitte said. "We just weren't able to get much going. Their guy threw the ball well, and unfortunately, I gave up those three runs early. That was really the ballgame."
"Their guy" was emergency fill-in Jesse Litsch, pressed into action when scheduled starter A.J. Burnett was scratched due to personal reasons. A former Devil Rays batboy, the Toronto rookie held the Yankees in check through 7 2/3 innings of one-run, five-hit ball, keeping New York off balance with an array of offspeed pitches.
"He was deceptive to the point of throwing pitches that looked like one pitch, then changed to another," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "That's where changing speeds as a pitcher is very effective. I know we pay a lot more attention to guys that are overpowering, but anybody who can change speeds and have a little movement on the ball is going to have a good result."
Litsch (7-9) fired five scoreless frames before New York finally cracked through in the sixth with a run, as Alex Rodriguez tapped in Derek Jeter with a grounder back to the mound. Jeter had doubled to open the inning, extending his hitting streak to 11 games.
Litsch left after Bobby Abreu's eighth-inning double, one of five hits allowed by the right-hander, who seemed to take advantage of a Yankees team dragging after a weekend filled with lengthy, back-and-forth affairs. Monday's contest was the third consecutive afternoon game at Yankee Stadium, where New York closed out its home slate at 52-29.
"The kid did a good job, but maybe the three day games caught up to us a little bit today," said first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz.
The Yankees, who drew a franchise record 4,271,356 fans to the Bronx in 2007, played their final game in front of more than 30,000 empty seats, a rare event for a club that sold out 50 home dates. New York nevertheless reduced its magic number for clinching a playoff berth to one with the Tigers' loss to the Twins on Monday night.
"You've seen the games we've been playing the last few days and the way that Joe has been managing," Pettitte said. "We're not playing around here. He's been managing like we're trying to win a World Series game here to clinch this thing. You want to wrap it up as quick as possible."
If the Yankees clinch the playoffs, they will do so on the road. Dressing their rookies as characters from "The Wizard of Oz," the Yankees followed Monday's game by traveling to Tampa, where they will play a three-game series against the Devil Rays before finishing the regular season in Baltimore.
"Our focus is one game at a time," Jeter said. "That's been our focus since early in the first half. Seriously, I don't sit around and think about the Wild Card, the division, anything like that. It's like I said two months ago -- if we go out and win our games, at the end of the year, we'll be where we want to be."
Tabbed as the replacement starter for Roger Clemens, who traveled on to Tampa in anticipation of Tuesday's start at Tropicana Field, Pettitte (14-9) allowed four runs (three earned) and five hits in a game that Toronto never trailed, suffering just his second loss in a span of 11 starts.
Curtis Thigpen and John McDonald had run-scoring doubles and Hector Luna had an RBI groundout off Pettitte in the second inning. The Blue Jays brought a fourth run home in the third inning, as Alex Rios stroked a one-out double and scored on Aaron Hill's two-out grounder, which Jeter booted for his 18th error.
Though Torre lamented that "we just weren't there offensively," he said that he did not sense his club had lost focus of the importance of its remaining six games. The Yankees fell two games behind the idle Red Sox in the American League East.
"You have to clinch the Wild Card before you can think about the division," Torre said. "That's where we are right now. I don't sense that anybody is looking past what we need to do."
The Yankees endured a scare in the fourth inning, when second baseman Robinson Cano banged his right knee on the tarpaulin down the right-field line, chasing Thigpen's foul popup. Cano received attention on the field from trainer Steve Donohue and Torre but remained in the game.
Kyle Farnsworth pitched a perfect seventh inning and Jose Veras set the side down after a leadoff double in the eighth before Ross Ohlendorf pitched the ninth, but the Yankees were unable to crack through against the Blue Jays' bullpen. Casey Janssen relieved Litsch with two on in the eighth and got Hideki Matsui to fly out to left field for the third out, a ball that Reed Johnson absent-mindedly threw home to a phantom catcher.
"There are going to be a lot of boys getting some rest tonight, that's for sure," Mientkiewicz said. "Our intensity was there, but after the last two games, those five-hour fiascos, you show things you're not used to seeing in the big leagues."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.