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The Strike Zone

Five Cuts: Andy Pettitte exits with complete game in Houston; Pirates, Red Sox get home-field advantage

(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan) Andy Pettitte will retire as the only pitcher in major league history to pitch 18 or more seasons and never have a losing record.(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

1. Andy Pettitte finishes his career with first complete game in seven years.

Andy Pettitte had no reason to save his arm for another game. There would be no other game. This one, in Houston's Minute Made Park, just a half hour from Pettitte's hometown of Deer Park, Texas, was to be his last in the major leagues.

Pettitte pitched valiantly in his final home start last Sunday, the day the Yankees honored Pettitte's longtime teammate and fellow retiree Mariano Rivera. Pettitte allowed just three base runners in seven innings in that game, but two of them scored and the Yankees lost 2-1. This time out, he put a few more men on base, seven in total, but only let one of them come all the way around.

In the bottom of the fourth inning Saturday night, Jose Altuve, running with the pitch, scored from second on a groundout to shortstop. Altuve was the only Astro to reach third base on the night as Pettitte induced a pair of double plays, struck out five, and retired 11 in a row after walking the first batter in the sixth. That string of outs helped the 41-year-old convince his manager and former catcher, Joe Girardi, to keep him out there despite his pitching deeper into a game, in terms of both pitches and innings, than he had at any point since un-retiring prior to the 2012 season. When Chris Carter singled with two outs in the ninth, Girardi came to the mound. The conversation was brief. Girardi returned to the dugout alone. It took Pettitte just two more pitches to finish things, getting J.D. Martinez to ground out to third base to seal the Yankees 2-1 win and bring a triumphant end to Pettitte's near-Hall of Fame career.

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Pettitte's 116 pitches were his most since April 2009. The complete game was his first since August 2006, when he pitched for -- not against -- the Astros, the only other team he played for in his 18-year career. The win was the 256th of his career and ran his record for the season even at 11-11, thus avoiding what would otherwise have been the first single-season losing record of his career and making him the only pitcher in major league history to pitch 18 or more seasons and never have a losing record.

After the game, YES Network showed a statistic that listed Pettitte as just the sixth pitcher in major league history with 500 or more career starts to throw a complete game in his final appearance, and the first since Hall of Famer Eppa Rixey in 1933. That stat is too narrow (only 46 pitchers have made 500 or more starts in the major leagues, with men such as Bob Feller, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, White Ford, Sandy Koufax and Pedro Martinez not among them), but it is impressive nonetheless. (The other men on the YES list: deadball-era Hall of Famers Eddie Plank and Christie Matthewson and nineteenth-century hurlers Gus Weyhing and Tim Keefe.)

With that, Pettitte and Rivera, who did not appear in either of the Yankees' first two games in Houston and said he will not play Sunday, have both thrown their final major league pitches. They both had unexpected and emotionally-charged final moments on the mound, moments which, it should be noted, Girardi managed perfectly and that were also made possible by the Yankees' elimination from the playoffs earlier in the week.

Speaking of which . . .

2. The NL Wild Card Game will take place in Pittsburgh

The Pirates hit six home runs, two by Neil Walker, five off Bronson Arroyo, in the process of beating the Reds 8-3 and clinching homefield advantage for Tuesday's National League Wild Card Game. That game will thus be the first postseason game in PNC Park history, and given the Reds' struggles on the road this year and the Pirates' strong showing in the first two games of this weekend's series, should help make the Pittsburgh the favorite heading into that game.

3. The Red Sox clinch homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, AL seeding set

The Red Sox lost to the Orioles on Saturday, but the A's also lost, keeping them two games behind Boston with just one to play and thus guaranteeing the Red Sox homefield advantage as deep into the postseason as they are able to go, including the World Series, which will be hosted by the American League team by virtue of the AL's 3-0 win in this year's All-Star Game.

The Red Sox are thus also guaranteed to face the team that emerges from the current wild-card scrum in the Division Series, which starts Friday, while the A's host the Tigers in a rematch of last year's thrilling Division Series. The former matchup could benefit Boston beyond the inherent first/fourth-seed disparity, as not only will the wild-card team have to burn its best available pitcher in Wednesday's Wild Card Game, but there are multiple tie-break scenarios still in play that could force Boston's eventual opponent to play on Monday and/or Tuesday as well.

Speaking of which . . .

4. A three-way tie remains a possibility in the AL wild-card race

Follow the below link to see the various ways this race could play out on Sunday -- the final day of the regular season --  and beyond, as well as for a recap of Saturday's action and notes on Sunday's matchups:

CORCORAN: AL wild-card race tightens up on penultimate day, may extend beyond Game 162

5. NL homefield/matchups to be decided Sunday

The Cardinals beat the Cubs on Saturday and the Braves lost to the Phillies. Since the Braves own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Cardinals (they won the season series 4-3), either team could still finish as the top seed in the National League, though the odds favor the Cardinals.

The only way the Braves can claim the top seed is if they win Sunday and the Cardinals lose. If that happens, the Cardinals will host the Dodgers on Thursday, while the Braves, guaranteed homefield advantage in each of the first two rounds of the playoffs, will host the winner of the Wild Card Game.

If the Braves lose, or both teams win, the Cardinals will be the top seed, and the Braves will host the Dodgers in the Division Series.

The Braves send Julio Teheran to the mound to face the Phillies and Zach Miner, who hasn't thrown more than four innings or 76 pitches since returning to the majors for the first time since 2009 in early August. The Cardinals send Jake Westbrook, whose last start was August 21, to the hill to face the Cubs and Jeff Samardzija.

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