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Yankees sweep behind vintage Pettitte

Yankees sweep behind vintage Pettitte

NEW YORK -- After a 5-2 win completed a three-game sweep of the Rangers and a 5-1 homestand, the Yankees encountered a small issue: There are no big issues with this team.

The only problems left to discuss are of the petty variety -- questions regarding when Mark Teixeira and Javier Vazquez will turn it around, and not if; the extent of Derek Jeter's head cold; whether Nick Johnson, on a day in which he struck out looking three times in a win, can sometimes be too patient at the plate.

Focusing the microscope on such minutiae is what happens when a New York team plays as well and as harmonically as these Bombers have two weeks and four series victories into the year. And while in the past, Yankees' games may have occasionally been bereft of drama, their clubhouse never was. Early in 2010, however, all -- in the most extensive sense of the word -- seems well.

"It's nice to start off well and see everyone contributing, and your starting rotation on a roll," manager Joe Girardi said. "You just get a sense that everything's going our way right now."

Sunday's effort was spearheaded by Andy Pettitte, who overcame early mechanical issues to shut the Rangers' offense down over eight innings -- his longest outing since last Aug. 31 in Baltimore. After yielding back-to-back RBI hits in the third, Pettitte didn't allow another hit or another Texas runner in scoring position. He retired 12 consecutive Rangers at one point and 17 of the final 19 batters he faced.

"I was in survival mode, just trying to get through innings, just trying to not get hurt too bad and keep us in the ballgame," Pettitte said. "You go from that to knowing you're going to put the ball exactly where you want to for the last few innings. That's obviously a real good feeling."

Pettitte's performance continued a very strong stretch of starting pitching for the Yankees early in the season. During the 5-1 homestand against expected contenders from the American League West, Yankee starters allowed nine earned runs in 37 1/3 innings, good for an ERA of 2.17. The starters allowed three runs across three games and 21 innings against Texas.

"That's why we're 9-3 this year -- our pitching," said Teixeira, who hit his first home run of the season to tie the game leading off the third.

"The sky's the limit for them," Nick Swisher said of the starting staff. "It's a lot of fun playing defense behind them."

Even with Jeter out of the lineup because of a lingering head cold, the Bombers' offense was able to rattle Rich Harden and eventually knock one of Texas' best pitchers out before he had completed four innings for the second straight day. In 3 2/3 innings, Harden walked six Yankees and hit two more.

The big blow was struck by the unlikeliest source: Jeter's backup, Ramiro Pena. Pena got around on an inside fastball from Harden and hit a sinking line drive to break open a 2-2 game with two outs in the third. It was Pena's first hit of the season.

"He was throwing a lot of fastballs in," said Pena. "I didn't hit it that good, but it was a hit."

Harden recognized he committed the cardinal sin against the deep Yankee offense by supplying it with extra outs and baserunners. He departed with two outs in the fourth having allowed four earned runs on five hits.

"Too many pitches and too many walks," Harden said. "You do that, and the result is one broken-bat hit results in two runs. You can't do that. That's unacceptable."

The entire series magnified the differences between the defending World Series champions and a team that's trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 1999. While the Rangers made errors and miscues in the field, the Yankees have a 10-game errorless streak. While the Rangers aggressively expanded their strike zones, the Yankees were a model of patience at the plate -- they drew eight walks on Sunday.

The end result was a sweep that bore a resemblance to the two AL Division Series these teams played late last decade -- the ones in which the Rangers appeared overmatched and scored one run each time.

"I like the way we're playing," Girardi said. "Fundamentally, we've been sound. Our rotation has been outstanding. Our bullpen has been good. Offensively, we're scoring runs -- and it's not always on a home run. Defensively, we've played well. Usually when you put all those things together, you get off to a good start."

The Yankees' 9-3 beginning to the season is their best through 12 games since 2003; it's the first time since that year that New York is over .500 through a dozen contests.

"It's been fun. Winning's fun -- that's all there is to it," Pettitte said. "It feels good to feel like we're going to go out and win on a daily basis."

Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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