Heading into Monday afternoon?s Game 3 in Anaheim, the Yankees have a commanding 2-0 lead in the ALCS, and all the momentum is in their dugout after Saturday?s 13-inning walk-off win. It?s Andy Pettitte?s job to keep it that way.
The 37-year-old left-hander has done it before — time and time again. With 15 postseason wins, he is tied with John Smoltz for the most playoff wins by a starting pitcher. Pettitte will take the mound at Angel Stadium with the chance to become the winningest pitcher in postseason history. He was solid in the clinching game of the ALDS, limiting the Twins to just one run on three hits and a walk, while striking out seven in 6 1/3 innings. That victory tied him with Smoltz.
But Pettitte struggled mightily in his attempts to contain the Angels? dynamic attack during the regular season, and nearly every hitter in Mike Scioscia?s lineup seemed to have him figured out. Chone Figgins and Kendry Morales were kept off the stat sheet in Pettitte?s three outings against the Halos, but the rest of the order — led by Erick Aybar (5-for-9) and Bobby Abreu (4-for-8) — teed off on the veteran, who went 0-2 with an ugly 7.88 ERA and 1.81 WHIP against the Angels, by far his worst numbers against any team he faced more than once this year.
Overall, Pettitte struck out 148 batters and walked 76 in 194 2/3 innings during the regular season, but he handed out eight free passes and fanned just six batters in 16 frames against the Angels. He was far better on the road this season than at the hitter-friendly Yankees Stadium, shaving almost a full run off his ERA (4.59 at home, 3.71 pitching elsewhere), but that mattered little in Anaheim, where Pettitte was 0-2 with a 7.84 ERA. In fact, those two defeats accounted for half of Pettitte?s losses on the road in 2009.
So even though fans in the Bronx are brimming with confidence that they?ll host World Series games for the first time since 2003, the pinstripes face a significant question on Monday night: Which Andy Pettitte will take the mound?
The Yankees? offense gets a tough assignment in Game 3, with Jered Weaver — who dominated the Red Sox in Game 2 of the ALDS and went 9-3 with a stellar 2.90 ERA and 1.06 WHIP at home this season — toeing the rubber for the Angels. If the postseason stud version of Pettitte shows up, Joe Girardi?s hitters will be able to bide their time, wait for mistakes and take what they can get. But if the Angels are able to shell Pettitte once again, the whole flow of the ALCS may shift.
A convincing Halos win in Game 3 would bring them right back into the series. Scioscia will have arguably his best pitcher, Scott Kazmir, on the mound to counter CC Sabathia in Game 4, and the Yankees would hardly like to have A.J. Burnett pitching with the series tied 2-2 in Game 5.
That means Game 3 is a bigger game for the Yankees than their current 2-0 lead suggests. They?ll need the big-game version of Andy Pettitte on the hill to keep the momentum and come within a game of their first Fall Classic appearance in six years.