“He’s been so good all year,” Melvin said. “He’s the guy that gets out of all the jams for us.”
The Yankees had already scored a run to shrink the A’s lead to three and were threatening for more with two outs and runners at first and second. As he’s been asked to do so often this year, Petit was summoned from the bullpen and tasked with limiting the damage.
Petit doesn’t own a blazing fastball -- it topped out at 89.3 mph on Wednesday -- but he has developed an encyclopedic knowledge of hitters over his 12 big league seasons.
Facing Cameron Maybin, a teammate of his with the Angels in 2017, the 34-year-old Petit knew Maybin would be looking to jump on a fastball. To counter that, Petit started with a curveball that was swung through for strike one and followed with a pair of fastballs, the second of which was fouled off. Keeping Maybin’s mind on the fastball, Petit then dropped in the curveball again, getting Maybin to guess wrong with an off-balance swing for strike three to end the threat.
“I’m looking to get the out however I can there,” Petit said. “I know I have seven fielders behind me that can help. I just wanted to make sure if there was contact, it was soft. The two fastballs I threw were outside. He was thinking I was going to throw the fastball again, and I threw the curve.”
Few relievers have been as clutch with runners on base as Petit. Stranding two runners on Wednesday, he leads all American League relievers with 36 inherited runners stranded.
Entering the game with traffic on the basepaths is not for everyone. It requires a certain confidence, one that Petit said comes with knowing you have supreme control of your pitches. That’s certainly been the case for the righty, whose 0.96 walks per nine innings is the lowest among AL relievers. His 2.74 ERA is also in the top 10 among non-closing AL relievers.
“In those situations, you have to enter the game aggressive,” Petit said. “You can’t be passive, because the batter will jump all over you. You have get on top of the batter. You have to be able to locate your pitches. That gives you confidence. It’s a mental battle between the batter and pitcher. I think I’ve been successful because I have good control of my offspeed pitches.”
With the A’s finding themselves in so many close games this year, Petit’s workload has become somewhat of a concern for Melvin. He entered Thursday night’s game against the Yankees leading the AL in relief appearances (64) by four games. But as he’s shown over his career, avoiding the injured list in the Majors since 2009 with the D-backs, Petit is as durable as they come.
“It’s just all confidence and knowing what he’s doing, knowing the hitters, and subtle movement,” Melvin said. “He’s just been so fantastic for us that it’s tough not to use him, but I also have to be cognizant of his workload, which has been pretty extreme.”