The New York Yankees have obstacles aplenty on their path to the World Series: an aging lineup with precious little foot speed, a rickety infield defense that lacks range up the middle and a plucky ALDS opponent in the Baltimore Orioles—just to name a few.
Not among the litany of potential pitfalls so far? Pitching.
Even after a bitter 3-2 loss in Game 2, the Bombers should feel bullish about a starting rotation that once looked liked an impending Achilles heel.
C.C. Sabathia's dominant Game 1 outing played a hand in that impression, but the ace was already gathering steam prior to postseason play. Andy Pettitte, on the other hand, entered October as something of an unknown.
Strange as it is to write that about a man with 270 postseason innings to his name, Pettitte is in the age bracket where nothing comes as a given. Add his various ailments to the mix, and the silver-stubbled veteran became the fulcrum upon which this Yankees rotation rested.
What if Pettitte flopped? Would that eventually compel Joe Girardi to summon a three-man rotation? Could the Yankees survive without their veteran stalwart on the bump?
Even in a loss, Pettitte's performance on Monday night neutralized those concerns.
The 40-year-old October legend looked sharp over seven innings-plus, slicing through Baltimore's mash-happy lineup with an arsenal of biting curves, late-breaking cutters and well-placed fastballs. Though he lacked the velocity of year's past—or even late June—Pettitte's command was good enough to keep the Orioles out of big innings.
His final line: seven innings-plus, seven hits, three earned runs, five strikeouts, one walk.
It was a good outing by any measure, but even those dashboard statistics don't do the southpaw justice.
Here's a few more numbers to help contextualize Pettitte's night:
Pettitte's 98 pitches were the most he's made in a game since June 22. Coming into this game, you had the sense that New York would go to its bullpen early. Pettitte was effective and efficient enough that Girardi ending up needing just three outs from his relief corps.
Of the seven hits Pettitte allowed, only one went for extra bases, and even that lone double by Orioles catcher Matt Wieters was little more than a well-placed line drive. From wire to wire, few Baltimore swings had much menace to them.
The Yankees defense did Pettitte few favors on this night, punctuated by two infield errors that would've derailed a lesser pitcher..
Mark Teixeira "Buckner'd" a dribbler up the first-base line and Derek Jeter misfired after fielding a routine grounder. Jeter also failed to glove a ball to his right in the third that nearly cost New York a run, and one could argue that Robinson Cano should have kept Mark Reynolds' sixth-inning RBI single from getting to the outfield.
Despite some high-stress innings, Pettitte kept his pitch count low and managed to dance around the smattering of Yankee miscues. Not bad work for a man entering his fifth decade.
On October 9, 1996—almost exactly 16 years prior to Monday's game—Andy Pettitte made his first career postseason start against the Orioles (just his third overall). Pettitte didn't earn the win that night, but his team did—thanks in part to the efforts of a precocious youngster named Jeffrey Maier.
Four days later, Pettitte would help defeat the Orioles again, this time earning his first of 19 postseason wins and propelling New York to its first World Series since 1981. What does that mean for Pettitte today? Not much, except to say that he's been a damn good pitcher for a damn long time.
And on this nervous and ultimately disappointing night for the Bronx faithful—one that leaves their team squarely in the crosshairs as the series shifts back to New York—all of the above should give Yankee fans reason for cautious optimism.
Their beloved veteran lefty probably won't pitch again in this series, but his work tonight confirmed a truth that has held constant for nearly every great Yankee team of the past two decades:
If New York has the good fortune of calling Andy Pettitte's number somewhere down the line, he'll be ready.
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