Will They or Won’t They?
(Photo by Gary Quintal)
By Howard Goldin
BRONX, NEW YORK, September 18- Two months ago, it appeared as if the Yanks were a sure thing to finish first in the American League East. The club led the conference by a season-high 10 games on July 18. Since that date, New York has faltered.
In the following 50 games after that high-point of the season, the Yanks won only 22. Although they have remained on top or tied for the lead in the A.L. East at the end of every day since June 20, it will take effort for the team to win the pennant or even qualify for the post-season.
Parity is alive in each American League division as each game during the final 2 ½ weeks of the regular season are critical to the Yankees and their A.L. East rivals, Baltimore and Tampa, to the White Sox and Tigers in the A.L. Central and to the Rangers, Athletics and Angels in the A.L. West. The addition of a Wild Card in each league has, as was hoped, increased interest in more cities as the season nears its conclusion.
The victories of the Yanks over the Rays on September 15 and 16 kept New York one game ahead of the Orioles and increased their lead over the Rays to four with 16 games remaining.
The outstanding work of the two starters, Ivan Nova and Hiroki Kuroda, and the hope instilled by the scheduled return of Andy Pettitte from the disabled list on Tuesday greatly increases the self-confidence of the team and its rooters.
Nova’s last start was on August 21. Two days after, he was placed on the DL with right rotator cuff inflammation. Nova only allowed his “cousins” only two runs and four hits in his innings of his first start in nearly one month.
After the contest, Tampa skipper Joe Maddon spoke words of praise for Nova, “Great command of his breaking ball again. His fastball was there, too. He was up to 95. So he was well, definitely well today. Whatever was bothering him is not bothering him right now. The curveball was really good again and then the fastball velocity was up.”
Nova has little difficulty with the Rays, especially in the Bronx. Nova, at home, is 4-0 with an ERA of 1.83 against the Rays. Maddon jokingly remarked, “He [Nova] likes our uniforms. I know that. He’s very comfortable when he sees our uniform.”
On the next day, Sunday, Kuroda demonstrated his talent. He almost duplicated his stats of 11 days earlier in his only other start against the Rays. In both games he gave up four runs in six innings, but earned the win, 6-4. He threw 101 pitches I both outing with 62 as strikes on September 5 and 61 on September 16. On Sunday, he fanned 10.
Although the win was Kuroda’s 14th, better hitting support from his teammates would have increased that number. After Sunday’s game, Yankee manager Joe Girardi commented, “His off speed was tremendous today; he really used it effectively.” He also spoke of the lack of run support during his appearances [3.07 during his previous 10 starts], “He hasn’t got a lot of run support.”
There is gleeful anticipation awaiting the schedules start of Andy Pettitte on September 18. Pettitte last started on June 27, when his left ankle was fractured by a ground ball.
Of his experience and the respect the other pitchers have for Pettitte, Girardi stated, “I think his presence is very important to our staff. He also pitched very well.”
The Yankees are hopeful the return of Nova and Pettitte and the presence of Kuroda will gave the team a berth in the playoffs.