Before the start of the ninth inning, Joe Girardi found Bartolo Colon on the Yankees bench. Colon was approaching 100 pitches, and Girardi wanted to know if his starting pitchers felt strong enough to finish the job. Could Colon pitch one more inning?
“He told me he had two more in him,” Girardi said. “I said, ‘Well, I don’t want to go two more. I want this to be it.’”
Of course, that was it. Colon keeps finding ways to surprise, and today it was by pitching the Yankees first shutout since last September. It was Colon’s first shutout since 2006. Obviously he can pitch at this level, as several people in the Yankees clubhouse pointed out, he’s been doing this for three months, since his first spring training start. Hard to call it a fluke at this point.
The question, then, is a big-picture variation of the one Girardi asked this afternoon: How much longer can he go?
“We weren’t really sure what we were going to get out of him,” Girardi said. “As he logs more innings, he’s kind of in some different water for him because he’s older, and he hasn’t done this for a while where he’s made 32 starts, but his stamina looks fine. The big thing about Bartolo is he never throws a lot of pitches. Very seldom do you see him throw 100 pitches in five innings. He may throw 100 in a game, but his innings are pretty economical. He doesn’t have long innings and it doesn’t take a lot out of him.”
Colon needed just 103 pitches this afternoon, but he also pushed his total innings count to 66.1. He’s already reached his second-highest single-season workload since 2005. He turned 38 years old last week, and he didn’t pitch at all last year. Derek Jeter joked that when the Yankees signed Colon, his first through was, “He should be well rested.”
“Bartolo’s never had issues with his stuff,” Jeter said. “He wasn’t healthy there for a while. As long as he’s healthy I don’t see any reason why he can’t produce.”
How long can he stay healthy? Impossible to say or even guess, but that’s really the only question that remains. Those spring training results have carried into the regular season, and the production seems legitimate.
“I feel really good,” Colon said. “I thank God that I’m healthy, and I’m helping the team to win. I feel really strong physically and mentally right now.”
Here’s Girardi, talking a lot about his starter.
• Trevor Cahill had allowed as many as three runs in a start only twice this season. The Yankees scored that many in the first inning. “Cahill’s one of the best pitchers in baseball,” Mark Teixeira said. “We didn’t get a lot of hits off him, but we made them count. Scratching out a couple of runs early was big for us.”
• Speaking of Teixiera: He has a seven-game hitting streak and has four home runs in his past five games. He’s hit seven homers in his past 11 games and is now tied with Curtis Granderson for the second-most homers in the American League.
• Jeter extended his hitting streak to five games. He’s hitting .359 in that span and has reached base to start the first inning in 20 of his 41 games as the Yankees leadoff hitter this season.
• Speaking of leading off: Colon has not walked any of the 69 batters he’s faced to leadoff an inning. No other American League pitcher has started more than 30 innings without walking the leadoff hitter.
• This was Colon’s ninth career shutout and his first since July 5, 2006 in Seattle. It was his 32nd complete game.
• Colon said he actually feels like a better pitcher now than when he was in his prime because he’s throwing more strikes now. “When he first came up he threw the ball as hard as he could,” Jeter said. “Now he’s hitting spots, his ball is moving, he’s getting ahead of guys. He’s become more of a pitcher. I think he was more of a thrower.”
• Not so much a thrower and now more of a pitcher, Colon still hit 95 mph with his final pitch tonight. “That has always been his trademark (to throw hard late in games),” Girardi said. “Even when he was with Cleveland and the Angels, that was who Bartolo was. I don’t know if you necessarily expect it with all the innings he’s logged and all the injuries that he’s went through, but that was in his DNA.”
• Brett Gardner snapped an 0-for-13 stretch with a bunt single in the ninth. He also stole two bases tonight, the second one as part of a double steal that setup a sac fly in the seventh. It was a shallow fly ball to center. No chance any of the Yankees except Gardner would have so much as attempted to score on that ball.
• Jorge Posada is 0-for-10 on the road trip and has one hit in his past 17 at-bats.
• Alex Rodriguez snapped a season-high nine-game hitting streak.
• Jeter on seeing his friend Hideki Matsui: “He needs four more home runs for 500 so I’m happy for him. Obviously I don’t want him to get it while we’re here, but I’ve always told you he’s one of my favorite teammates. He was fun to play with, fun to watch. It’s good to catch up with him.”
• The Yankees are 22-4 against Oakland since Girardi became manager in 2008.
Associated Press photos