Andy Pettitte Plays Role of Stopper, Shows Importance to Yankees’ Rotation in Win Over Red Sox

Andy PettitteAndy Pettitte has more postseason starts (44), innings pitched (276 2/3) and wins (19) than any other pitcher in big league history. An April start against the Red Sox is child’s play.

Despite Pettitte’s career credentials, however, there was something very impressive about the 40-year-old’s performance against the Red Sox on Thursday night.

Maybe it was the eight solid innings. Maybe it was that he only needed 94 pitches to complete those innings. Or maybe it was that he simply seemed in control throughout the entire outing — allowing just one earned run in the seventh inning.

All of those are reasons for the Yankees to be encouraged, but the most impressive aspect of Pettitte’s 502nd career game — his first start in Year No. 18 — is that it was Andy Pettitte-esque. The Yankees have leaned on Pettitte time and time again since he broke into the league in 1995, and time and time again the lefty has come through. Thursday was no different.

Pettitte breezed through the Boston order, and he eliminated potential threats by inducing three ground-ball double plays. If you checked your calendar to see what year it was, you weren’t alone.

Was this the guy who sat out in 2011? Was this the same hurler who initially wasn’t sure if he’d come back for another go-round in 2013 after missing three months last season with a broken leg?

Yes, and yes. And it’s also a pitcher the Yankees will need to rely on heavily again this season.

CC Sabathia is New York’s ace. There is no doubt about that. But given the offensive woes the Yankees are bound to experience with their makeshift lineup, the rotation needs to be solid top to bottom. So-so performances aren’t going to cut it this season for the typically offensive-minded Yankees, which means Pettitte is far more than just a feel-good story.

Pettitte provided a blast from the past on Thursday, and he’ll need to do so more often than not going forward. That possibility isn’t too far-fetched, as Pettitte actually pitched quite well when healthy last season, but it’s becoming even more important given the current state of the Yankees.

Entering Thursday’s game, in which they were trying to avoid a three-game sweep to begin the season, the Yankees were the subject of plenty of ridicule. Not only did the Bronx Bombers look bad in their back-to-back losses to the Red Sox on Monday and Wednesday, but they’ve been labeled old, hapless and a glorified Triple-A team. Sending out Pettitte in Game 3 did nothing to shed the “old” tag, but the veteran did his part to get the Yankees going in the right direction.

Even more impressive about Pettitte’s outing is that it came against a group of players that have had some success against him in the past. Mike Napoli (.500 average in 14 plate appearances against Pettitte), Shane Victorino (.556 in 10), Jacoby Ellsbury (.400 in 23), Jonny Gomes (.364 in 24) and David Ross (.333 in 15) have all made his life difficult at one point or another, yet Pettitte managed to minimize their impact.

Being able to step up and provide a quality start even when faced with a less-than-ideal situation is the mark of a stopper. It’s just one start for Pettitte, but even at age 40, he doesn’t appear ready to change his customary role just yet.

Pettitte said last month that he feels like he could pitch for “a long time.” Maybe it’s time to believe him.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

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