OAKLAND, Calif. (AP)—Hideki Matsui had no use for the birthday cake he was given before the game, not wanting to add the extra calories to his waistline.
He found a much better way to celebrate his 34th birthday than eating a piece of cake. Matsui hit a grand slam to help Andy Pettitte move into a tie for fourth place on the New York Yankees career wins list with a 4-1 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Thursday night.
“That’s what you’re supposed to do on your birthday,” manager Joe Girardi said.
Pettitte (6-5) bounced back from giving up a career high-tying 10 runs last Saturday against Kansas City to shut down the A’s and tie Ron Guidry with his 170th victory with New York. Pettitte allowed one run and five hits in a season-high eight innings.
That’s the kind of performance the Yankees had been missing from Pettitte of late. After opening the season with three wins in his first four starts, Pettitte has struggled the past seven weeks. Expected to be an anchor of the staff, he was 2-4 with a 6.20 ERA in nine starts heading into this game and a big reason why the Yankees have been so inconsistent this season.
The worst of those starts came last Saturday, when the Royals battered him for 10 runs in 6 2-3 innings before New York rallied to a 12-11 win.
“I had no doubt that he would bounce back,” Girardi said. “I said before the game I had a feeling that he would have a good game. It took him a little while to find his rhythm but he just seemed to really pick it up after that.”
Pettitte retired the final 12 batters he faced after the first two batters reached in the fifth. He pitched his best once the Yankees went ahead after blowing leads his previous two starts.
“After the grand slam I was just telling myself, ‘Don’t you dare give this lead up after the last two games,”’ Pettitte said. “I didn’t have a really good mind-set. That’s really not the mind-set you want to have. I’m thankful I was able to shut them down.”
In a curious situation in the ninth inning, Pettitte came out to warm up even though closer Mariano Rivera had started running in from the bullpen. It proved to be only a decoy so Girardi could give Rivera a few more warmup pitches. Rivera threw a hitless inning for his 18th save in 18 chances.
Rivera has saved 52 of Pettitte’s wins, three shy of tying the record held by Dennis Eckersley for Bob Welch with Oakland, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“I have no problem with Mariano coming in and closing out my games, that’s for sure,” Pettitte said.
Joe Blanton (3-9) held the Yankees scoreless through five innings, allowing only one runner to reach third base. Derek Jeter then opened the sixth with an infield single that second baseman Mark Ellis knocked down but couldn’t control. Blanton then walked Bobby Abreu and Alex Rodriguez to load the bases and appeared upset with umpire Paul Nauert’s strike zone.
Matsui then drove a 1-1 pitch over the right-field wall for his fifth career grand slam to give the Yankees a 4-1 lead.
“It was huge in the sense to be able to get a couple runs in that situation,” Matsui said through an interpreter. “That was huge for the team.”
That proved to be more than enough to deal Blanton another loss at the Coliseum. He allowed four runs and six hits in 6 2-3 innings to drop to 1-7 in 10 starts here this season.
“A couple of close pitches didn’t go his way that inning, but he’s going to have a lot of borderline pitches because of his great control,” manager Bob Geren said. “In his last two outings he’s been throwing the ball better than he has all year. Joe is on his game.”
Oakland got on the board first on an RBI single by Carlos Gonzalez in the second inning, but that’s all the A’s could manage in what is becoming a familiar pattern. Oakland was unable to add to the lead despite putting runners on second and third with one out in the fifth. Bobby Crosby struck out and Jack Cust flied out to the warning track in left field.
Oakland has been held to less than two runs 11 times in the past 40 games. Oakland has scored more than half of its runs (89 of 173) in just eight games in that stretch.
“We’re either scoring a lot or not at all,” Crosby said. “We need to have consistent at-bats.”
The A’s have lost eight of their last 10 series. … The Yankees hadn’t won a series in Oakland since September 2005. … The A’s signed second-round pick Tyson Ross to a contract Thursday. The right-hander, who starred in college at California and grew up in the Bay Area, threw a bullpen session at the Coliseum before the game.