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Behind Pettitte, Yanks solve Halladay

Behind Pettitte, Yanks solve Halladay

TORONTO -- When Hideki Matsui faces Roy Halladay, he finds it too demanding to keep an eye out for both Halladay's sinker and his cutter, so he looks for only one of them. When Johnny Damon digs in against the right-hander on Rogers Centre's artificial surface, he makes a concerted effort to hit the ball on the ground. When Alex Rodriguez runs the bases against Halladay, he does so with increased aggression.

The Yankees all alter their game plans against Halladay, because they have no other choice. Historically against New York, the 2003 American League Cy Young Award winner has won too many games and made too few mistakes.

"He pitched well against us today, too," Derek Jeter said after the Yankees hit three homers en route to a 5-3 victory over Halladay and the Blue Jays. "He's no fun to face."

Yet the results, for the Yankees, have recently been fun. Coming off a July 4 game in which they pounded Halladay for five runs in seven innings, the Yankees on Tuesday scored another five. Halladay, naturally, pitched his requisite complete game, needing only 103 pitches to do it. But three of those pitches proved to be costly mistakes.

At the time, the back-to-back homers Halladay served up to Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira in the eighth inning didn't even seem too harmful, because the Yankees had managed to muster an early lead against him as well. But when the Jays made a late charge against Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera, the Yankees suddenly needed to cash in that insurance. And they left Halladay regretting his mistakes.

"A poor curveball and not a very good cutter" was how Halladay described the pitches to Damon and Teixeira. "It's happened. It's not the first time. It's bad pitches. I don't know what to tell you. I just didn't execute, especially late, and it cost me."

Damon, also, had no explanation, despite his status as a bona fide thorn in Halladay's side. Coming into the game, Damon owned a .349 lifetime average against Halladay with a Major League-leading 30 hits -- largely, Damon explained, from his days in Boston, when the left-handed hitter would shoot balls up the middle against a skewed defensive alignment. Yet Damon continued that success against a standard defense on Tuesday, singling and scoring in addition to his homer.

"He can throw 94, 95 miles per hour at any time," Damon said. "You just really don't know if it's going to cut or sink. Today, on that home run, he happened to hang a curveball. I was off balance and not where I wanted to be, but sometimes things work out."

After Damon singled in the first, Rodriguez doubled with two outs to score him. And then A-Rod began his aggression on the basepaths, never thinking the Yankees would later hit three home runs off Halladay.

Rounding second after his double, Rodriguez was nearly gunned down venturing too far off the base. And on Hideki Matsui's slow roller back to the mound with two outs, A-Rod slid home safely just ahead of the throw after first baseman Kevin Millar made an errant toss to the bag.

"I just got very lucky," Rodriguez said. "It was actually a very soft slide. I think the ball was so exposed that I nipped it a little bit, and it just popped out."

Rodriguez, for his part, called Halladay "a handful," drawing on the Yankees' previous struggles against him. In 33 career outings prior to July 4, Halladay had posted a 16-4 record and a 2.79 ERA against the Yankees, rarely giving them much of a chance at all.

So imagine Andy Pettitte's shock when he walked to the mound in the first inning, staked to a 2-0 lead. Already flush with the confidence of a cut fastball that he has commanded far better in recent outings, Pettitte threw heaps of strikes early and ceded just one run, on Alex Rios' sacrifice fly in the fourth.

"That's what pitching is," said Pettitte, who -- despite pitching well recently -- won his first game since July 1. "And if I don't use [the cutter] as one of my weapons, that makes it a lot more difficult."

There were moments when Pettitte was inefficient, walking four batters -- including the free pass he issued to Rod Barajas that ended his evening with two outs in the seventh. But Hughes, who allowed two hits but threw 22 of his 26 pitches for strikes, fanned Jose Bautista for the final out of the inning.

Hughes' line was spoiled an inning later when Rivera, attempting a four-out save, allowed a two-run double to Vernon Wells to cut the margin to one. Rivera also nearly blew the save, serving up a booming fly ball to the deepest part of the ballpark with the tying run on base in the ninth.

Had Matsui not launched a deep home run off Halladay to lead off the inning, the Yankees might have drawn an even more nervous breath when Bautista's fly ball soared toward the warning track. But Melky Cabrera caught it, and the Yankees capped their win -- not just against the Jays, but against Halladay and the Jays.

And that, as every one of them knew, was no small feat.

"We knew we were going to be in for a tough game, and we knew Andy was going to have to have a big game for us," manager Joe Girardi said. "And Andy went out and did it."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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