By Steve Silverman
» More Columns
Suddenly, shockingly, the New York Yankees are no longer just trying to hold off the rampaging Baltimore Orioles in the American League East.
In one day, the Yankees found three of their old-timers — not the ones who show up for pomp, circumstance and a two-inning game during the summer — making significant contributions once again.
In order of shock, start off with the pitching of Andy Pettitte, who came back from nearly three months on the sidelines after fracturing his ankle. Pettitte was sharp in his start against the Toronto Blue Jays in the first game of the doubleheader.
He went five innings and threw just 75 pitches, but it was enough to show that he is going to be a force for the Yankees the rest of the way. He had command, he had control. He struck out three batters and he threw with confidence.
Unless Pettitte suffers from day-after or two-day-after pain following his performance, manager Joe Girardi can pencil him in the rest of the way.
Who would have thought that was possible? Pettitte took the 2011 season off in an abortive retirement and didn’t like having all the free time. He wanted to get back to his craft, something that’s a lot easier said than done at the age of 40.
His injury short circuited what probably would have been a pretty good season. Had Pettitte been healthy for a full season, the Yankees might not be in a fight for their lives right now.
The doubleheader win over the Blue Jays may have been jumpstarted by Pettitte, but the Ichiro Suzuki story may have been even more shocking.
He has not been a difference-maker in the American League since 2010. He had an ordinary 2011 season and appeared to be regressing even further before the Yankees acquired him from Seattle earlier this summer. He has had a couple of moments in pinstripes, but Ichiro seemingly didn’t have the energy he had early in his career with the Mariners, when he was slashing doubles all over the lot and impacting games with his speed, glove and arm.
But yesterday Ichiro had seven hits in eight at-bats. That may be the most famous doubleheader performance since Ted Williams went 6-for-8 in the last game of the 1941 season against the Philadelphia A’s to clinch his .406 average.
Well, that may be overstating it a bit, but Ichiro was a dominant performer on the field, making a sensational catch off a Rajai Davis line drive in left field while staring into a harsh sun in the eighth inning with two outs and the bases loaded.
The catch saved the first game for the Yankees.
He followed those heroics by getting four hits in the nightcap and driving in the game-winning run.
It was the kind of performance the Yankees were hoping for from Ichiro, but probably didn’t have the right to expect. However, he is doing fairly well for the Yankees. Even before fulfilling the hero role yesterday, his numbers with the Yankees have been somewhat better than they were with the Mariners.
He could be ready for a great finish and a chance to play for all the glory in the postseason.
Speaking of glory, Derek Jeter was back in the lineup in the second game and playing at shortstop for the first time in a week. He had one hit, giving him 200 for the season.
The metric-savants will tell us that Jeter is no bargain in the field at his position. His range does not compare with the other great shortstops in the game.
Somehow, the Yankees are a much better team with Jeter at shortstop despite those who are UZR-dependent (Ultimate Zone Rating).
It’s the Cal Ripken factor. In his final years at shortstop for the Orioles, Ripken was not zipping all over the field, either. He just knew how to position himself and make plays.
You knew Jeter would be back. You hoped Ichiro would perform. You crossed your fingers and closed your eyes when Pettitte took the mound.
Yesterday, all three worked out well for the Yankees.
There’s a certain energy around the team that wasn’t there before.
The Orioles are still charging, but the Yankees have their own swagger back.
Huge day yesterday for the “old-timers.” The Yankees will certainly need them as the stretch run continues. Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…