Yankees

Pettitte Sparkles In Return; Yankees Regain AL East Lead In First Of Double-Dip

Andy Pettitte (Photo by Jason Szenes/Getty Images)

Andy Pettitte (Photo by Jason Szenes/Getty Images)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Andy Pettitte was a little unsettled by an uncharacteristically thin crowd at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday afternoon, as compared to the raucous environment found at many of his big September and October starts. Still, the 40-year-old lefty was pumped to finally be back on the mound when it mattered most to his team.

Pettitte pitched five sparkling innings in his return from a broken leg and Ichiro Suzuki made a difficult catch to preserve a lead, keeping New York atop the AL East with a 4-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays in the opener of a day-night doubleheader.

“The beginning of the game it was almost like you could hear people talking — I’m just trying to focus,” Pettitte said. “I think for me it probably would’ve been better if we had a packed house.”

LISTEN: Yankees starting pitcher Andy Pettitte speaks with Mike Francesa

Pettitte (4-3) looked like his old steely self in giving up four hits in his first September start since 2010. Injured on June 27, the postseason career wins leader boosted the Yankees into a half-game division lead over the pesky Baltimore Orioles.

“When you see these guys go through what they’ve been going through, and I’ve been sitting here watching and just trying to cheerlead for them, it’s great to be able to go out there and feel like you contributed,” he said.

Rafael Soriano escaped a bases-loaded jam in the eighth after Toronto closed to 3-2, and New York extended a winning streak to three for the first time since Aug. 13-15.

In the makeup of a game washed out Tuesday night, Suzuki had three hits batting leadoff as Derek Jeter was given the opener off. Bothered by a sore left ankle, Jeter was expected to start at shortstop for the first time in a week in the nightcap.

Robinson Cano had an RBI double in a three-run first against Henderson Alvarez (9-13) that also included Alex Rodriguez’s run-scoring groundout and Curtis Granderson’s sacrifice fly.

Pettitte threw 75 pitches in his first start since a line drive off the bat of Cleveland’s Casey Kotchman broke his left fibula. Then manager Joe Girardi mixed and matched liberally, using six relievers

“I’ve got two more starts this year, so I believe after those two starts I’ll be built up to where I need to be,” Pettitte told WFAN’s Mike Francesa after the game. “I want to help this team win. That’s what I came back for. I’m just excited to be back.”

Does Pettitte’s comeback have him thinking about returning next season?

“It’s definitely a consideration now,” the three-time All-Star told Francesa.

Clay Rapada, Derek Lowe, Joba Chamberlain and Boone Logan held Toronto scoreless through seven innings. Then David Robertson gave up an RBI single to pinch-hitter Kelly Johnson and a run-scoring double to Omar Vziquel in the eighth.

“Our bullpen guys understand they can be used at any point,” Girardi said.

Soriano relieved with two outs and runners on second and third. He walked Anthony Gose after a foul drive about a foot foul down the left-field line just missed being a two-run double. Rajai Davis followed with a sinking liner to left field that Suzuki caught against his stomach for the third out.

“I’m glad I don’t have a big belly, because if I did it might’ve hit the belly and popped out,” Suzuki said through a translator.

Nick Swisher had an RBI single in the bottom half. Soriano pitched a perfect ninth for his 41st save in 44 chances.

Toronto’s 45-year-old Vizquel had two hits to move past Babe Ruth for 41st on the career list at 2,874.

The Blue Jays, playing their first doubleheader against the Yankees since 1986, were without Yunel Escobar, who began a three-game suspension for wearing eye black displaying an anti-gay slur written in Spanish during a game last weekend against Boston.

With ace CC Sabathia struggling and the Orioles refusing to lose, the Yankees are looking to Pettitte to help lead them to the playoffs.

Pettitte was in fine form in his return from retirement, going 3-3 with a 3.22 ERA before his injury, and all throughout his rehab for his leg he insisted his arm felt good. And he felt that way afterward Wednesday.

“My arm feels great. My break area feels great. I’m a hundred percent,” Pettitte said. “Just real happy with how my arm is feeling. More than anything it’s my legs. I just got to get my legs back in shape.”

Pettitte struggled a bit with his command, walking two, but kept the Blue Jays from hitting the ball hard with a biting breaking ball. He put runners on in each of his first four innings and had a runner on third in the second through fourth innings. But he got timely groundouts in the second, third — a double play — and fourth to avoid trouble.

“He gave us everything that we asked for,” Girardi said.

NOTES: Robinson has a 7.00 ERA in September. … Alvarez allowed five hits in seven innings and struck out a career-high seven. … Toronto DH Edwin Encarnacion (sore right big toe) was not in the starting lineup for the opener. … The Blue Jays will play another doubleheader Monday, making up an Aug. 26 postponement at Baltimore. They will play nine games in seven days. … To make room for Pettitte on the 40-man roster, the Yankees recalled RHP Dellin Betances from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and placed him on the 60-day DL.

A huge win for the Yankees, and a very refreshing sight to see Andy doing his thing on the mound again. Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…

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