Miller: Pettitte bests Mauer in key at-bat

Posted: May 26, 2010, 10:20 p.m.

By Phil Miller

MINNEAPOLIS — Andy Pettitte had no doubt it was the pivotal at-bat of the game. He just didn’t know why he was part of it.

Eighth inning, tie game, one out, runners on first and third and — gulp — Joe Mauer at the plate.

Biggest crowd in Target Field history on its feet, and the 37-year-old Yankees starter felt a little surprised to be on his feet, too, standing on the mound ready to pitch.

“It was intense,” Pettitte said shortly after New York’s 3-2 victory over the Twins. “Usually, especially late in the game, I’m not in there. Joe usually comes and pulls me. If I go through a situation like that, it’s the third or fourth or fifth inning, and it’s not as big a deal.”

This was big, no doubt. Mauer was 5-for-16 lifetime against Pettitte as he stepped in, and the pitcher had already experienced a couple of Mauer moments in the game. In the first inning, with Denard Span on third, “I threw him a ball the I didn’t think he could hit, and he drives in a run,” Pettitte said, shaking his head. “He hit it the other way — you don’t know how he does that. He’s amazing to watch. He’s like Derek (Jeter) — he takes balls that other hitters can’t handle and gets hits.”

Three innings later, Mauer crushed a Pettitte fastball to left-center field, and the pitcher mentally chalked up a Minnesota run. He was shocked when left fielder Kevin Russo ran under the ball a stride from the wall. “I know that would have been a home run in the old ballpark, the Metrodome,” Pettitte said. “Thank God (Target Field) played big tonight.”

He struck out Mauer in the sixth, but after a Drew Butera double and an Alex Rodriguez error on Span’s bunt, he faced the three-time batting champ again with one out and the 2-2 game on the line.

“Really, I almost (thought), maybe give them a run and we’ll score one. It might be the smartest play,” Pettitte admitted. “I didn’t care if I walked him or not, I wasn’t going to give in. I was trying to get a ground ball to Derek or Robbie (Cano) — that’s all I was thinking.”

He got down 3-1, but had no intention of throwing a pitch Mauer could drive. “There was no way I was going to go to the middle of the plate,” said Pettitte, who has now beaten the Twins six straight times. “I was just trying to keep him guessing with me.”

Pettitte went to a cutter, down and away, a perfect pitch. Mauer rolled his wrists reaching out for it and grounded it to Jeter, who started a 6-4-3 that kept the score tied. Nick Swisher lined a home run to right off Jon Rauch in the ninth, and the Yankees won their fifth straight game in Minnesota.

A couple of other reactions after another jinxed day for the Twins:

— Gardenhire was angry that Pettitte went to the mound and warmed up before the ninth inning, having thrown 94 pitches. Yankee closer Mariano Rivera jumped up once Swisher’s home run left the park, but after saving the first game three and a half hours earlier, it took him awhile to get ready.

“Joe (Girardi, the Yankee manager) told me that Mo needed some time to get ready. I didn’t know how much time, so I was trying to get ready to face (Justin) Morneau,” Pettitte said. “I threw all my warmup pitches and he wasn’t out there. Then (catcher Francisco Cervelli) came out to stall a little bit more so I thought he must be close.”

As Morneau approached the plate, Girardi finally emerged from the dugout and signaled for Rivera. The stalling tactic bought Rivera three extra minutes and perhaps 10 extra pitches.

It also enraged the Twins’ manager.

“He wasn’t going to go pitch. He was kind of tired, to tell you the truth. You don’t normally get that long between innings,” Gardenhire said. “But we know what’s going on there.”

There should be a rule against such stalling, Gardenhire said.

“It’s a situation Major League Baseball needs to take care of. If your starter goes out there, he should have to face a hitter. That’s just the way it should be,” Gardenhire said. “You don’t get a guy up, that’s the way it should be, unless the other team makes a change.”

Rivera pitched a quick ninth, and picked up two saves in one day for the first time since May 3, 2007. He also did it against the Twins on Sept. 29, 2004.

— Francisco Liriano broke his three-game losing streak with seven strong innings, striking out seven and allowing eight hits. But the Twins, as is always the case against New York, could not provide run support.

— Rauch entered a tie game for the first time all season, but quickly untied it. He threw “my fourth-best pitch,” a changeup, to Swisher and took his first loss of the season as a result. “It’s not something I’m proud of, obviously. But I thought I threw with conviction. It was the right pitch to call,” said Rauch, who has given up runs in two straight outings. “I just made a bad pitch. When I make a bad pitch, it usually costs us a ballgame. I blew it for us.”

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