By Larry LaRue The News Tribune
NEW YORK — As a boy in Schenectady, a two-hour drive from here, Casper Wells grew up watching the New York Yankees and dreamed of hitting a home run in their ball park.
When he did just that Sunday, it didn’t quite follow the script he’d created in his backyard, but it was a key blow in a 6-2 Seattle Mariners victory that let them take the final game of this series.
“My dream home run was pulled, a bomb off Mariano Rivera,” Wells said. “Instead, I went the other way off Andy Pettitte and hit the foul pole.”
Wells wasn’t complaining, and neither were the Mariners.
In a matchup for the aged, 39-year-old Pettitte came out of retirement and was matched up with 37-year-old Kevin Millwood. Neither had won a game in 2012.
“It was cool the way he came back after sitting out a year and a half,” Millwood said of the New York lefty. “Obviously, he’s still got a lot left in the tank. I do, too.”
Millwood won his first game with Seattle with seven strong innings, allowing only three hits and a run — that lone run the result of a bases-loaded walk.
Ahead 2-0 on Justin Smoak’s fourth home run, Millwood watched New York load the bases with no one out in the fifth inning, then struck out Eric Chavez.
“He’s been better than his numbers all year, and he’s had a few bad innings,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “But he worked off of his fastball, and you saw what he did when they loaded the bases in the fifth.”
After getting an out, Millwood walked the No. 9 hitter, Russell Martin, on a close 3-2 pitch to force in a run and bring up Derek Jeter.
“There could have been a little luck involved,” Millwood said. “I threw a sinker, a good pitch away and got a ground ball that (shortstop) Brendan Ryan made a good play on.
“That’s what was missing in my last three or four games, that pitch, that play.”
Shading Jeter up the middle, Ryan caught the ball behind second base, did a little hop to hit the bag and threw to first for an inning-ending double play.
Well aware of his .144 batting average, Ryan has taken pride in not having it impact his defense.
“I don’t have a choice — aside from Ichiro (Suzuki), I’m the most tenured guy out there,” Ryan said. “I can’t show how bad I’m feeling.”
When Ryan walked in the ninth inning, the Yankees made a pitching change. Standing at first, he looked up to find Jeter standing beside him.
“He was telling me he batted .190 a couple of years ago in April and was getting advice from cab drivers,” Ryan said. “We had a little chat. It was nothing I haven’t heard, but when it comes from a guy like Derek? That was really something.”
Millwood pitched a rock-solid seven, Smoak and Wells hit two-run home runs and the Mariners out-lasted the emotional return of Pettitte. That only left the final two innings.
Leading 4-1, the Mariners started the eighth inning with reliever Tom Wilhelmsen, and before it ended, Wedge had gone to reliever Lucas Luetge, Steve Delabar and Charlie Furbush to get three outs.
“Given the length, the power in their lineup, we had to mix and match given the situation,” Wedge said.
It was risky business, but in the end the Yankees loaded the bases with two outs — strike outs from Wilhelmsen and Luetge — before Furbush forced home a run with a walk.
With three Yankees on base and two outs, and a crowd of 41,631 screaming for a comeback, Furbush struck out Mark Texeira.
Seattle added two ninth-inning runs — Wells’ RBI infield single followed an Alex Liddi double and a pair of two-out walks.
Brandon League, who hadn’t pitched in days, needed an inning and got the ninth. The only help he needed was Wells, who caught two fly balls and threw Nick Swisher out at third base.
“I had family in the stands, everyone up there,” Wells said. “Pettitte was my sister’s favorite player, so it was, like, ‘Oh great, now I’ve got to face him.’
“Then my mom asked me to hit a home run for her for Mothers Day, like it was no big deal.”
Against Pettitte, whom he’d never faced.
“I scouted him as a little kid, expecting to face him here some day,” Wells deadpanned. “Running ‘round the bases, I realized a dream of mine, hitting a home run here.
“When I got to the plate, I gave a little acknowledgment to my mom.”
In honor of Mothers Day, and in a nod to breast cancer awareness, players wore pink arm bands, pinks shoes — if they wanted — and in some cases used pink bats.
Smoak homered with his.
“I’m going to use that pink bat in Boston (today),” he said.