Two years ago, the New York Yankees were below .500 entering a three-game June interleague series with the Pittsburgh Pirates. A sweep helped them turn around their season en route to another AL East division crown.
The Yankees hope history repeats itself when they try for their first four-game winning streak of the season in the opener of a three-game home set with the Pirates on Friday night.
New York was 30-32 and had lost 11 out of 14 games on June 14, 2005, as it began a three-game home series against Pittsburgh. That set marked the teams’ first meeting since the memorable 1960 World Series that ended on Bill Mazeroski’s game-winning homer in the seventh game for the Pirates.
This time, the Yankees enter with a 27-31 mark. New York still trails first-place Boston by 10 1/2 games in the AL East after winning the last nine division titles.
There are signs, however, that the Yankees are turning their season around. They won the final three games of a four-game set against the Chicago White Sox, as Alex Rodriguez hit his 15th career grand slam in the ninth inning to highlight a 10-3 victory on Thursday - Joe Torre’s 2,000th career managerial win.
“That’s awesome. It’s pretty incredible everything that Joe’s been able to do, especially with the Yankees,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez has 22 homers to lead the majors and he is 9-for-17 with six home runs and 16 RBIs in the ninth inning this season. The third baseman has hit .387 (12-for-31) with 12 RBIs to help the Yankees win six out of their last eight games.
New York is beginning a nine-game homestand as it tries to avoid a fourth straight loss at Yankee Stadium.
Andy Pettitte (3-4, 2.96 ERA) has pitched very well for New York, but his last start wasn’t one of his better efforts. He lasted 4 1-3 innings and gave up five runs in a 6-5 victory at Boston on Sunday.
Pettitte has never faced the Pirates in a Yankee uniform, but he dominated them with the Houston Astros. The left-hander is 7-1 with a 2.54 ERA in eight starts against Pittsburgh (26-34), including five straight victories.
Despite that success, Pirates slugger Jason Bay is 8-for-15 against Pettitte.
Pittsburgh, which has lost six out of nine games, is playing its first interleague contest of the season. The Pirates were baseball’s worst team in interleague play last season, going 3-12 against AL opponents.
This will be Jim Tracy’s first game managing in Yankee Stadium.
“It’s something that you should look forward to,” he said. “I don’t think we have anything to be afraid of.”
Tracy will send his best starter to the mound in Tom Gorzelanny (6-3, 2.53), who is fifth in the NL in ERA. Gorzelanny has given up two runs or fewer in nine of his 12 starts this year.
He surrendered three runs and seven hits over 6 2-3 innings Sunday in a 5-4 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in which he failed to get a decision. The left-hander, who is 4-2 with a 2.56 ERA in six road outings, has never faced the Yankees.
The Pirates have had their problems on offense all year and own the worst on-base percentage in the National League at .311. Reigning NL batting champion Freddy Sanchez, however, is hitting .356 (16-for-45) over his last 12 games.