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One of the most remarkable things about the unlikely race for the AL East crown with the Orioles is that the two teams battled from Sept. 2 to Sept. 23 without the Yankees leading the division by more than one game or the Orioles taking sole possession of first.
It was always Yankees by one game or a tie for the division lead, day in and day out, making for an almost ludicrously close race between the two teams and heightening the sense of certain doom that accompanied every wrong step. If you called the closeness between the two teams creepy, no one would disagree with you.
Andy Pettitte decided to put an end to it. With the Orioles stuck playing a doubleheader on Monday, there was a good chance that the Yankees would have an opportunity to nudge their lead up a half-game before the end of the night and Pettitte did everything he could to make sure they took advantage of that opportunity.
Pettitte threw six shutout innings, which gives him 11 frames without a run in his two starts since returning from a broken ankle. Everyone hoped that Pettitte would come back to give the Yankees a little boost in the final weeks of the season, but there probably weren't too many that expected him to return with two of the best starts the Yankees have had in months.
Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson, both of whom seem to be over their extended slumps, each hit home runs in support of Pettitte and it looked like a laugher. Cory Wade and Justin Thomas provided reminders of why they weren't on big league rosters all season, though, and David Robertson had to come in to stop the bleeding they allowed the Twins to create.
The relatively tension-free road to a 6-3 win left time for some extended scoreboard watching as things unfolded in Baltimore. The Blue Jays and Orioles were playing a close game until the seventh inning, when J.P. Arenciba's grand slam blew things open on the way to a 9-5 Toronto win.
So the lead is now 1.5 games and the Yankees will get a chance to add the other half of that game on Thursday while the Orioles get a day off before the very last push. The timing actually works out very well for the Yankees, assuming they don't run into disaster in the next two days, because they can extend that lead when there will be just six games left for the O's to do anything about it.
Maybe we should have seen this coming with Pettitte. His reputation as a Game Two master is built on his ability to stop the worrying around the Yankees when things seem to have moved in the wrong direction.
He's just doing a variation on that now. Pettitte's comeback act has finally given the Yankees a little more breathing room and no one's hoping to see a return to the claustrophobia.