When the Yankees and Andy Pettitte decided to get back into business together, they had to imagine games like Tuesday night.
They might not have imagined turning out as well as it did, though. Pettitte was nearly flawless in a 7-0 win that left the Yankees just half a game out of first place.
Pettitte struck out 10 and allowed just two hits in 7.1 innings of the kind of well-crafted performance that made Pettitte famous in the first place. It's almost as hard to think about where the Yankees would be without his return as it is to remember that Pettitte actually took all of last season off.
The Yankees got all the runs they needed when they scored two in the first inning on an error by Rays shortstop Elliot Johnson, but they got the biggest blow in the fourth. The Yankees loaded the bases for Russell Martin and Martin delivered a grand slam that broke the game open.
Martin's grand slam comes during a season in which the Yankees' inability to hit with runners in scoring position has been much discussed, but it also gives them the most grand slams of any team in the league this season. That dissonance speaks to the kind of offense the Yankees have as any slump is just one grand slam away from being obliterated.
As satisfying as it was to see the Yankees pound the Rays with first place hanging in the balance, it was still hard not to marvel a little bit at how Tampa manager Joe Maddon blazes his own trail in the dugout. Hideki Matsui was the key player in this installment.
Even though the Rays were facing Pettitte and lefties give Matsui some pause, Maddon slotted him fourth and put him in right field for the first time since 2008. What was the rationale for these dual risks?
"We stay in the theater district when we're in town and I thought it might be good theater," Maddon said. "Why not hit him fourth and have him hit a home run?"
It didn't work out to Maddon's wishes, but you've got to love the thought process that went into the decision. Even though they've been the Yankees' chief rival for almost five years, things have never moved into the acrimony you see with the Red Sox and the fact that it is almost impossible not to like Maddon has something to do with that.
Warm feelings or not, the win was a very good one for the Yankees. Pettitte is right where they need him to be, the offense is finding its way to big innings and first place is just a heartbeat away.
There are worse ways to kick off summer.