Archive for Sunday, October 28, 2001

Big Unit no picnic for Pettitte

Yankees’ hurler isn’t eager to face Johnson tonight in Game 2

October 28, 2001

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— Andy Pettitte usually looks forward to getting a rare chance to hit in the World Series.

Not this year.

Arizona's Luis Gonzalez connects for a two-run home run against New
York's Mike Mussina. Yankees catcher Jorge Posada, far right, and
umpire Steve Rippley watch the action. The Diamondbacks defeated
the Yankees, 9-1, in the opening game of the World Series on
Saturday night at Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix.

Arizona's Luis Gonzalez connects for a two-run home run against New York's Mike Mussina. Yankees catcher Jorge Posada, far right, and umpire Steve Rippley watch the action. The Diamondbacks defeated the Yankees, 9-1, in the opening game of the World Series on Saturday night at Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix.

Pettitte has the tough task of matching up with Arizona's nasty left-hander Randy Johnson in Game 2 of the World Series tonight.

"It's exciting for us in the American League because we want to hit, but it's kind of a bummer I have to face him," Pettitte said. "It looks like I might be the only left-hander in the lineup."

New York Yankees manager Joe Torre is following the pattern most managers do when they face the Big Unit, loading up the lineup with as many righty bats as possible.

"Well, I'm looking forward to facing Andy Pettitte," Johnson said. "Over the last three or four years, I don't think it's any secret that I predominantly have faced right-handed lineups. I think managers feel like that's their best chance. So it will be no shock tomorrow to find a right-handed lineup."

Torre will play Shane Spencer instead of lefties Paul O'Neill and David Justice in right field, and might also sit first baseman Tino Martinez against the Diamondbacks tonight.

Randy Velarde, who has a .452 career average against Johnson, will likely be in the lineup either at first for Martinez or third base for Scott Brosius.

"There's no left-hander that goes to sleep with a smile on his face knowing that he's going to face Randy Johnson," Torre said. "He's intimidating. It seems like he steps on your foot every time he lets the ball go."

The 6-foot-10 Johnson is particularly tough on left-handers because of his wicked slider and his lanky frame that helps hide the ball. During the past four regular seasons, lefties are batting just .178 with one home run in 360 at-bats against the Big Unit although Johnson also did yield a homer to lefty John Olerud in the 1999 playoffs.

The Diamondbacks are used to seeing these kinds of changes when Johnson takes the mound.

"Everybody does that against Randy. It's the smart thing to do," Arizona manager Bob Brenly said. "He's tough for anybody to hit, righties or lefties. But he's particularly tough because of his wing span and his low three-quarters delivery. It is comforting to know that we have somebody that can force a team to alter what is a regular lineup to combat Randy."

The Yankees have had experience against Johnson in the postseason and it wasn't pleasant. He beat New York twice for Seattle in the first round of the 1995 playoffs to knock the Yankees out. New York has lost just one of 15 series since then.

New York took a 2-0 lead at home in that series before traveling to Seattle for three games. Pitching on three-days' rest, Johnson threw seven strong innings to beat the Yankees 7-4 in Game 3.

After Seattle's come-from-behind 11-8 win tied the series at 2, Johnson came out of the bullpen on one-day's rest to finish off the series.

"It was pretty electric," Johnson recalled. "For me, it's still a highlight of my career, coming back, being down two games to the Yankees and winning."

Johnson pitched three innings in the clincher, getting the win despite allowing Velarde's go-ahead single in the top of the 11th.

"I was a hero for about five minutes," said Velarde, who left the Yankees after that season before returning in August.

But Johnson is a different pitcher since, adding command and control to his overpowering fastball. That makes it even more difficult to hit against him.

"I think I'm more of a pitcher now," Johnson said. "I'm able to throw my pitches for strikes on both sides of the plate and make adjustments."

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