He was as animated on the mound as we've ever seen him—and exactly the way we always remember him.
For six-and-a-third innings and two-and-a-half hours Sunday night, Andy Pettitte turned back the clock yet again, as we've seen him do time and again in the most important of games, and gave the Yankees the victory they needed to advance to their fortieth World Series.
For his individual part, Pettitte won his sixteenth postseason game and his fifth playoff series-clinching game, both Major League records and two more lines on a potential Hall of Fame resume. But tonight wasn't just about Andy Pettitte, and he knew it.
This was for all the Old Men.
He seemed more than usual to sense the size and scope of this moment—his chance to create a climactic moment in the final chapters of these latest Yankee heroes' careers, and as his emotions burst through his trademark icy facade, so the old magic of his youth burst through his advancing age.
We saw him do the same tightrope walk the last time he started a must-win game, Game Two against Cleveland two years ago, allowing baserunner after baserunner and raising heart rates in every at-bat.
But when that big moment came, he was still Andy Pettitte. He would get the third out and get out of trouble. And though the bullpen and a swarm of locusts foiled him that night, he was the same as he always was. Six-and-a-third innings. No runs.
He lost the first such battle this evening, hanging a curveball to Bobby Abreu for an RBI single in the third inning. And for the first time, we saw him get angry at himself—even throwing his glove at a dugout wall a la A.J. Burnett when the inning was over.
And through that anger he came back to himself, focused and in complete control. And with a two-run lead in the sixth, with runners on second and third with two outs for Kendry Morales, he was still Andy Pettitte. He threw his cutter one more time, and coaxed a ground ball back to him.
And this time, his teammates stood tall and provided him with the cushion he needed. Johnny Damon—a man who, at 36, is likely playing his last days as a Yankee—drove in the eventual winning runs with a bases-loaded single in the fourth. Unable to get a power swing on the outside fastball, Damon simply laid back and served it into the opposite field, the way Jeter always does.
And after Pettitte walked off to a well-deserved standing ovation, Joba Chamberlain girded up his loins, pitched to contact without fear, and let his superior stuff retire the two Angels he faced. He did the job he could not get done when the flies descended two years ago.
Mariano Rivera earned his 37th postseason save the hard way, getting six outs like he used to for Mr. Torre in the Good Old Days. And yes, he gave up a run—the first he's given up in Yankee Stadium in October since the year 2000. But with help from his defense he held the lead, and when the Yankees struck back with two insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth, Rivera was back to his dazzling, unhittable self in the ninth.
Derek Jeter scored a run and worked three walks—an uncharacteristically patient performance for the free-swinging Yankee Captain—to help the Yankees wear down and eventually finish off the Angels' pitching staff.
Jorge Posada had an off night, finishing 0-5 with two double-play groundouts, but caught the final strike from Rivera's hand and then shared the first moment of celebration with his closest friend.
For his part, Jeter held tightly to the Yankees' two biggest and most expensive stars, Teixeira and Rodriguez, the three of them jumping up and down more like Little Leaguers than professionals as they soaked in their first taste of that oldest Yankee tradition, postseason victory. Both big hitters contributed a hit and an RBI apiece to get to their first Series.
This game was, in its element, a complete team victory. This is a complete team.
It's the first one we've had in a long while.
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Fox dug up some old footage of Pettitte's first World Series win—that 1-0 masterpiece in Game Five in 1996—and no one who saw it could help but notice the map of the world that is drawn on his face now, thirteen years later.
It made me feel old too.
I was eleven years old when the Yankees won that game, that Series. And since that October I have lived and died with every pitch. I fully expect to for the rest of my life.
But to see the same stars I saw emerge as a child, to see Pettitte, Rivera, Jeter, losing their hair, losing velocity on their fastballs or a step of speed —to see them standing tall and proud and still capable of being champions made me thankful for every minute of these last six years.
I sat through the agony of watching the Boston Red Sox come back from the dead and blow away the last remnants of a Dynasty. I watched three straight teams self-destruct in the first round. I watched Bernie Williams get forced into retirement. I saw Joe Torre run out of town on a rail. I watched as star after star went down last year, old and tired. I sat through a pinstripe-free postseason for the first time since I was eight years old.
And tonight, truly appreciating what I could not ever take for granted again, I got down on two bum knees to watch that final strike come out of Rivera's hand. I prayed for it, and my prayer was answered, and I tasted salty tears on my cheeks, and wasn't ashamed.
The Yankees are back where they belong. It was worth the wait for all the old men who are still playing, and all of us who are still watching, from Tino Martinez in his luxury suite to yours truly in his room, five miles from the Stadium, screaming like I was there.
Screaming like a kid.