In 2009, when the Yankees’ expensive acquisitions meshed together for the team’s first World Series title in almost a decade, it was a 37-year-old brought up through the club’s system who got some of the biggest wins of all.
Four years later, with New York fielding its shoddiest team in some time, that same pitcher is doing it again.
Andy Pettitte went 6 2/3 innings Friday night, including retiring the first eight batters he faced, to pace the Yankees in their 10-3 win over the Red Sox. The win gives the Yankees, who are well back in the American League East race at 63-58, a much-needed series-starting win against the AL East-leading Red Sox (72-52).
“It’s good to get the first one, always,” Pettitte said. “Obviously, it makes it a lot easier to feel like you can win the series when you can win the first one. … We scored a lot of runs. It was a good win — it was a great win for us. We’ve got to win the series. We’ve got to win every series, it seems like.”
Pettitte got significant help from the Yankees’ batters, who tallied 15 hits and drew 10 walks on the way to the 10 runs. Only one Yankees starter did not record a hit. Mark Reynolds smashed a two-run homer in his first at-bat with New York, and Alfonso Soriano continued his torrid streak at the plate, launching a three-run home run as part of a three-hit, four-RBI night. Soriano now has 13 hits and 18 RBIs in his last four games.
“You can see it, the energy in the dugout. When you get guys hot like some of the guys are right now, you feel good about yourselves,” Pettitte said. “Obviously, winning ballgames makes you feel good about yourself. So it’s a good thing right now, and we needed it, and we need to continue to do. Hopefully we can continue to swing the bats, and guys can continue to feel good about themselves, and we can as a staff continue to throw the ball well, and hopefully we’ll reel off a whole lot of wins over the next 40 games.”
While most teams may not think 40 games out, the Yankees certainly will, as will Pettitte. A five-time World Series winner in New York who has tasted the postseason nearly every year he’s played, Pettitte carries the “playoffs or bust” mantra of the Yankees not just because of the name on his chest but also because of the pedigree he’s personally formed by being part of a club that is always looking ahead to the postseason. This year, despite the Yankees hosting a roster decimated by injuries, is no different.
What has been different, though, is where the Yankees have turned for help, a challenge that has included Pettitte. The players who produced results year after year have struggled to make it happen — or, in Derek Jeter’s case, to even take the field — this season.
Pettitte has long found pride in being the Yankees’ stopper, the pitcher who sets the team up for a win after a slide, and he especially filled that role in recent years. Never an ace or a flamethrower, Pettitte is instead the pitcher who knows how to get it done, and he got it done all the way to the 2009 World Series while the likes of CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett (in his one strong season in New York) did the head-turning opposite the Yankee bats. Pettitte’s stopper days appeared to be done after 2010, when he retired, but he was back in 2012, saying he missed the game too much. That season ended in frustrating fashion partway through, though, when his ankle was shattered by a line drive.
Now, in 2013, time appears to have at last caught up to Pettitte. At 41 years old, and with possibly the least potent lineup of his entire Yankees career behind him, Pettitte is no longer the chief pacesetter for the team. He’s gone just 8-9 this year with a 4.39 ERA, and although poor run support has factored in, he just hasn’t looked as strong. He has especially struggled in recent weeks, and although he said Friday night that he has regained the crispness and location on his pitches that he felt was missing during his down starts, the results did not follow his last couple of times out.
On Friday night, though, it came together one more time. Pettitte had moments of strong results and superior pitching, and he logged another stop. In his first three innings, which he said were difficult for him as he struggled with his command, he gave up just one hit as the Yankees spurted to a 6-0 lead. His strength once again came from his mentality and mode of attack, and by the time his pitches were clicking, he was defending a big lead as the Yankees coasted to the win.
“It was one of those nights where everything was working, and you would hope you’d be able to get through the game, like I did,” he said. “Hopefully I can just continue to hold what I’ve got here, and hopefully my stuff will be crisp when I go out there.”
Red Sox manager John Farrell also noticed the action on Pettitte’s pitches that the lefty spoke of after the game. Pettitte forced Boston hitters to hit into the ground, and his cutter and changeup worked back and forth to keep the Red Sox on their heels. Pettitte was also consistently ahead in the count, and Boston could neither hit him nor drive up his pitch count.
“I thought Pettitte was more sharp than the last time we faced him,” Farrell said. “He almost looked rejuvenated in a way. His stuff was more crisp. So they’re obviously feeling pretty good about themselves right now.”
That word, “rejuvenated,” is a word that keeps appearing for those who track Pettitte. A rejuvenated Pettitte came back to the Yankees after a tour through Houston. A rejuvenated Pettitte keyed the best team in baseball in 2009. A rejuvenated Pettitte came out of retirement after 2011.
With nine games remaining against the Yankees this year, the Red Sox may see another couple of times exactly what a rejuvenated Pettitte can do.