Andy Pettitte: The New York Yankees' Left-Handed Ace Has Never Been Scared

Harold FriendChief Writer IApril 13, 2012

Pettitte's Return: Spring 2012
Pettitte's Return: Spring 2012Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

“As far as baseball, I've never been scared," Andy Pettitte told The New York Times back in 1996. "When I faced our lineup then, I was definitely nervous. I remember shaking out there on the mound."

Pettitte was referring to the time he faced the New York Yankees  in spring training in 1994 as a Triple-A minor league pitcher.

Pettitte was getting ready to face the Kansas City Royals in the New York Yankees home opener on April 9, 1996. After winning their first two games at Cleveland, the Yankees were swept by the Texas Rangers in a three-game series.

When he was told that he would be the youngest pitcher to start a home opener for the Yankees since Hippo Vaughn, who was 22 years old when he started for the Highlanders at Hilltop Park in 1910, 23-year-old Pettitte was excited.

"I really didn't realize it was that big a deal," he said.

In his 1995 rookie season, Pettitte was 8-2 with a 2.61 earned run average at Yankee Stadium. When manager Joe Torre told Pettitte that he was starting the home opener, all Pettitte said was, "Oh, OK."

Pettitte had started the second game of the season at Cleveland in 35-degree weather. He worked six and two-thirds innings, allowed a single run and received credit for the Yankees’ 7.2 win, which impressed everyone, including Torre.

The fact that Pettitte was the Opening Day pitcher and that he was expected to end the losing streak didn’t make Pettitte nervous. He explained why.

"I'm not scared of going out there and messing up," he said. "I know I'm going to give it the best I can. If it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out."

Pettitte pitched decently, allowing three runs in six and one-third innings. He left in the seventh inning when, with one out, Bob Hamelin on first and the Yankees ahead, 4-1, he walked Johnny Damon to bring the potential tying run to the plate.

Bob Wickman took over and was ineffective, but Steve Howe got out of the inning after the Royals had pulled to within one run. The Yankees scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh, and the Yankees won, 7-3.

The Yankees won the 1996 pennant, and Pettitte started the second game of the World Series against the Atlanta Braves. To state that he was ineffective is being kind.

In Atlanta, Pettitte started the fifth game on Oct. 24 after the Yankees had tied the Series by winning the first two games in the Braves’ home park. He wasn’t nervous, because Andy Pettitte is never nervous when he is on the mound.

He pitched the best game of his life, beating John Smoltz, 1-0 on an unearned run. It wouldn’t be the last time that Pettitte was a key player in leading the Yankees to a world championship.