Pettitte rediscovers cutter, winning ways

You can turn the panic button off regarding Andy Pettitte. Perhaps a dose of Kansas City was all the lefthander needed.

Pettitte has had a lot of success against the Royals over the years, although it is only fair to point out that Kansas City had been a downtrodden franchise for much of that time. This is a different Royals team this season with Kansas City threatening to be a contender in the American League Central. Nevertheless, they looked like the same old Royals against Pettitte, who bounced back from two awful games to post a 3-2 victory, his first winning decision in four starts since April 19.

That improved Pettitte’s career mark against the Royals to 15-3 with a 3.40 ERA, including 9-2 with a 3.11 ERA at Kauffman Stadium.

The cut fastball that had abandoned Pettitte in his recent starts made a triumphant return as Andy pitched seven strong innings against a much meatier lineup than the Royals had in the past. He gave up five hits, including Billy Butler’s fourth home run, walked only one batter and struck out eight.

Pettitte pitched well in situations, a signature strength of his. With runners on first and second and one out in the second, Andy got two soft groundouts to avoid damage. He gave up an infield single to Eliot Johnson leading off the third. Johnson was able to steal second because of a ball in the dirt. It proved a big steal. He came around to score on two groundouts. But that and Butler’s bomb were all that marred the sort of effort we have come to expect from Pettitte but what had been missing of late.

Pettitte’s ERA over his past three starts was 7.04 and over his past two 9.64. Ouch! Even worse was his statement after a dismal game against the Athletics that his cut fastball was nonexistent. When a 40-year-old pitcher makes such an admission, there is cause for serious concern. But to his credit, Pettitte kept working between starts to find the lost pitch, which he rediscovered to help the Yankees win their fourth straight game and maintain first-place standing in the AL East.

The bullpen came through again with shining colors. David Robertson struck out the side in the eighth (the Royals have struck out 21 times in 17 innings in this series), and Mariano Rivera withstood a two-double to make it 14-for-14 in save situations this season. Vernon Wells, whose two-run home run in the fifth had given the Yankees the lead, ran down Mike Moustakas’ drive to left-center for the final out.

As much a patsy as the Royals have been for Pettitte so have the Yankees been a nemesis for James Shields, who had one of his better games against them but was a loser for the 15th time in 22 career decisions. The righthander was hurt not only by Wells but also by a throwing error by Moustakas, his third baseman, that allowed Chris Nelson, who doubled, to score with two out in the third inning.

Shields also hurt himself by hitting Chris Stewart with a 1-2 pitch to begin the fifth inning. Stew scored on Wells’ home run. Jayson Nix entered the game with two hits, both home runs, in four career at-bats against Shields and added two more hits, a double and a single. Nix has done very well spelling Eduardo Nunez at shortstop on this trip.

The best news, naturally, was the return to form of Pettitte, whose 249th career victory tied him with Hall of Famer Vic Willis for 45th place on the all-time list. Next up in 44th place is another Hall of Famer, Bob Gibson, at 251.

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