Smile, Andy Pettitte. That was one sensational career.
"Dear fellow Yankee fan,
It's Andy Pettitte after a loss. He's going to be completely out of gas, and find a way to hold them to two runs anyway."
Now let me provide some context for the following quote. It's the Fourth of November, 2009. Having had a chance to win the World Series for the first time since 2000, the New York Yankees dropped the fifth game in their duel with the Philadelphia Phillies. AJ Burnett had decided that one good World Series performance was enough for him and he decided to take his talents on a vacation. We haven't seen much of the good AJ since.
That said, enough with the cheap shots. I published a Yankees article in the wee hours of the morning that day. Game Six was that night. Thanks to the Yankees, I was reeling and finding myself unable to sleep. What I wrote was very much a rant, criticizing any player that I felt warranted it.
I began to conclude the article like so:
"How confident am I about Andy Pettitte in Game Six? Not in the slightest for the 37-year-old lefty going on three days rest, especially considering his last start against the Phillies was probably his worst of the postseason.
I talked myself out of him closing it out within three hours of the completion of Game Five.
I haven't talked myself out of CC against Cole Hamel's damaged psyche or whoever the Phillies would throw out on the mound in Game Seven. I will though. Don't worry about that, it's coming."
Pettitte had suggested some possible skepticism in interviews about him pitching on three days rest before the series started. He said that he couldn't remember the last time he pitched on such short rest.
He didn't seem nervous. He was clearly well past the stage of ever feeling nervous about pitching in a baseball game. But you wondered how his body would do. As stated, he wasn't even that great in Game Three.
But he had been good enough.
Which brings back to the opening quote. That quote is actually the first comment I received on that article. The man who posted it goes by the name of Tom Schecter. And how did our friend, Tom, fare in the predicting business?
He just about nailed it. Pettitte actually gave up three runs. But he pitched precisely as Tom expected. Andy Pettitte was out of gas and he kept coming at the Phillies' batsmen with a handful of nothin'.
"Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand."
The Yankees won that game, 7-3. Pettitte got the win in a World Series clinching game (we'd heard that sentence before). He's had more impressive stat lines than the five and two-thirds of an inning and three strikeouts that came with those three earned runs. But he did what he had to do. And he probably pitched as well as he could have. What one can accomplish with mental toughness, with a strong heart.
Now that Andy Pettitte is officially retired, what do you expect from the New York Yankees this season?
And that was the epitome of Andy Pettitte, the pitcher. He won't be remembered, first and foremost (by me at least) for having a sensational pick off move to first base, for his cutter or change-up, or for how revered he appeared to be by fellow baseball players. It'll be for the heart that he displayed on the mound, time and time again. It'll be for all the times he wandered into trouble on the mound, only to battle through it and leave base runners stranded. It'll be for the way he never backed down in big games.
I don't want to be seen as a blind follower or as misrepresenting what he was. He wasn't automatic every single time he took the mound, not even in the postseason.
The first time he ever took the mound in the World Series (1996), Pettitte was pelted by the Atlanta Braves for seven runs in less than three innings of work. In the '97 and '98 postseasons, Pettitte lost three times to the Cleveland Indians, only reaching the sixth inning in one of those games and gave up a combined total of 17 runs (four home runs in the third game alone). And in Game Six of the 2001 World Series (when his team could clinch another title), Pettitte couldn't even make it through the third inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks, en route to a 15-2 loss.
But more often than not, Pettitte came through. And he seemed to get better with age in the big spots. He seemed to become a more mature pitcher and smarter pitcher by the inning.
If this really is the end of Andy Pettitte forever, the pitcher, he will walk away holding the all-time records for most starts and innings pitched in the postseason. He is also second all-time in World Series starts.
He will finish 19-10 in the playoffs with an ERA of 3.83 and 173 strikeouts. And since 2003, Andy went 9-3 in the playoffs with an ERA of 2.93, 86 strikeouts, and 13 quality starts.
In 2003, Andy Pettitte won Game Two in all three of his team's postseason series, each time his team was down 1-0 in the series! In 2009, Pettitte became the first pitcher to start and win the clinching game of all three postseason series. Aside from the Phillies series, he pitched in two other World Series clinching victories for the Yankees (he got a no decision for one of those but he did not give up an earned run in either game) The man, quite simply, is clutch personified.
He pitched pretty well the other months of the baseball season as well, leading the league in regular season wins for the new decade (and in wins from '95-'09 as well). He won 20 games in a season two different times and earned three all-star appearances, along the way to tallying up 240 regular season wins and 2,251 strikeouts.
But if not for the month of October, Andy would be 'just another really good pitcher.' That's where legends are made. He was fortunate enough to play along with some terrific players on a great organization. But Andy, made the most of it. One would not able to convince me that many others would have had the same postseason success if given so many opportunities. Andy Pettitte, along with Curt Schilling, is the best big game pitcher of the last 20 years.
So what Andy did on the Fourth of November, 2009, should not have been a surprise to anyone. Tom Schecter was merely reacting, rationally, to what he had seen from Andy Pettitte for (at that time) 15 big league seasons. I just was a little too emotional at the time to see it.
And maybe I'm being too emotional right now. Pardon the sense of defeat, especially since the season hasn't even started yet, but there is just no replacing Andy Pettitte. I will watch 150+ games this season and root fervently for the Yankees, just like I did the season prior and the season before that. However, the announcement that Andy Pettitte will retire tomorrow hurts (even if not a surprise).
One last thing, remember that article I wrote on November 4, 2009? That, up to this point, had been my last sports article. It was for reasons not having to do with sports.
But this tribute felt very much warranted. I feel like I can safely speak on behalf of other Yankees fans in saying this: We love you, Andy.
Best of luck in future endeavors.