Pettitte turns in thumbs-up effort Yankees' rotation gets much-needed boost

Sidelight

Cone to throw today

September 12, 1997|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

It was just a week ago that New York Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte rolled to his knees at Yankee Stadium and reached up to see if he still had any front teeth. The line drive off the bat of Cal Ripken glanced off his left hand and hit him squarely in the face, leaving him bruised and bloodied, and leaving the Yankees pitching staff in crisis.

Pettitte knew it would be a challenge to block that out of his mind when he returned to the mound last night at Camden Yards, but he survived a shaky start to dominate the Orioles lineup and record his 17th victory of the year.

"I wasn't going to get it out of my head until I threw a fastball away [to Ripken] like I did the last time," Pettitte said. "When he was coming up to the box, I imagined the ball coming back at me. Just that one time. Then I got that out of the way."

He got the Orioles out of the way with surprising ease. He gave up a single and a walk to the first two batters he faced, then retired the next 17 in a row. Pettitte went on to finish seven innings and give up just one run on five hits to win his fourth straight decision and keep hope alive for a second consecutive 20-win season.

Manager Joe Torre would have been happy with a shaky five-inning performance. He just wanted to see Pettitte prove that the bruised thumb would not be a problem the rest of the season. Ripken's liner had left it badly swollen, which left open the possibility that it would become a nagging problem at a time when the Yankees are trying to get their pitching staff healthy for the playoffs.

The contrast between the last time Pettitte had left the mound and last night's return was so dramatic that Torre could hardly believe his good fortune.

"I had no idea what I was going to find when I went out there that night]," Torre said, "and then going into the clubhouse and seeing his thumb. To have him come back the way he did with that thumb, it was a remarkable recovery."

The lopsided 14-2 victory was nice, but it wasn't nearly as important. The Yankees have been trying to pull their banged-up starting rotation back together and last night's game was another big step in the right direction.

The emphasis last night was on Pettitte. Today, it will shift to right-hander David Cone, who will pitch in simulated action to see if his sore shoulder has healed sufficiently to allow him to return to the Yankees rotation next week.

"David is huge for us," Torre said, "because he gives us stability. We need him to come back, but we need for him to be healthy first."

Torre hopes that having both of them back will pull the club's fragmented pitching staff back together and take some pressure off left-hander David Wells, who has not pitched well with the weight of the team's recent slump resting on largely on his durable shoulder.

"If that happens, David is going to be better, too, because then we won't be holding our breath and waiting to see how he pitches," Torre said. "He's been out there trying to hold up the club."

The Yankees' postseason prospects depend heavily on all of them, but Cone's workout today may be as important as anything that happens during the club's four-day visit to Baltimore. If he gets through it without incident, he'll likely make his first start in a month on Tuesday.

Cone has been sidelined since Aug. 19 with a sore shoulder. He tried to throw a simulated game last week in Philadelphia, but cut the workout short when the pain returned. He received a cortisone shot the following day and has reported steady progress since.

The series holds no do-or-die significance for either team, but Torre said yesterday that the time is drawing near when the Yankees must begin to win regularly if they hope to enter the playoffs with any kind of momentum.

"I think it's important," Torre said. "You'd like to be able to do that get there on a little bit of a roll and then maintain it in the postseason."

Pub Date: 9/12/97

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