Saturday October 31st, 2009

During the past few days, Pedro Martinez has spent a lot of time telling us -- usually rather amusingly -- about all of the things that Pedro Martinez is. He is the most influential player that has ever stepped in Yankee Stadium. He is the would-be King of New York. He is a Christian. He is a father.

What, Derek Jeter, is Andy Pettitte, the Yankees' own late-30s, 215-plus game winner whom they lured back from potential retirement to play an integral role in their World Series run? "Andy," Jeter says, "is a pitcher."

Pettitte undoubtedly contains multitudes of his own, as the fact that he is a Christian, a father and a self-admitted former user of Human Growth Hormone suggests. Whereas Martinez, though, now likes to maintain his Whitman act everywhere, even on the field during the World Series -- late Thursday night he recounted how he asked a fan who was guzzling beer and screaming expletives while in holding his daughter in one arm, "How can you be so dumb?" -- when Pettitte is on the mound, as Jeter says, he likes to be one thing, and one thing only, especially this time of year.

While Martinez thrives off the noise and the chaos -- and off all the different people, places and things that are "his daddy" -- Pettitte succeeds by blocking all of those things out. Before Friday's workout in Philadelphia, someone asked Pettitte why he always wears his hat pulled down so low. "I'm almost sure it started in the minor leagues," he said. "I wanted to just see the mitt, and narrow the window down. Sometimes I would see other things. Sometimes I'd pick up people in the stands behind the catcher and stuff like that. I just wanted to simplify it as much as I can and just see the mitt and try to see my ball going to where I want it, almost visualizing the pitches before I throw them. Really, for me, that's where it all came from, just honing in on where I'm trying to get that ball to go to."

That single-minded focus on the task at hand has always defined Pettitte, who has never had the electrifying stuff of Martinez but who has ten more career wins. It has allowed him to minimize the effects of age: Pettitte turned 37 in June, and even as some of his youthful athletic ability has left him, his final statistics from this season don't look so very different from those with which he finished ten and eleven years ago.

It is also what compelled Yankees general manager Brian Cashman to fly to Texas from baseball's Winter Meetings in Las Vegas last December 11, one day after he had locked up free agent ace CC Sabathia, in order to try to persuade Pettitte to return to the Yankees' rotation, to be its glue. It took nearly seven weeks, but eventually Pettitte decided that he would do just that, signing a one-year deal on January 26. The Yankees' offer had by then dwindled significantly from the $10.1 million Cashman had originally offered. Pettitte, who made $16 million in 2008, agreed to be paid a base salary of $5.5 million. But the deal included up to $6.5 million in performance incentives and roster bonuses, and Pettitte, who made 32 regular season starts and went 14-8 with a 4.16 ERA, achieved nearly all of them.

Pettitte's World Series track record, says Jeter, represents just one of the many reasons why the Yankees are fortunate that Cashman was able to woo him back. "You saw the reasons all season," says Jeter. "Then you saw them against the Twins [in the ALDS], and you saw them against the Angels [in the ALCS]."

But after Pettitte throws his first pitch as Saturday night's Game 3 starter, he will have participated in eight Fall Classics -- he already ranks ninth all time in World Series innings pitched (66), ahead of Jim Palmer and behind Allie Reynolds. His regular season statistics alone make him a very borderline Hall of Famer (a 229-135 record, for a .629 winning percentage, and a 3.91 ERA), but his performance in the postseason, when there are no early season matchups with the Royals to pad his statistics, could earn him a place in Cooperstown. Pitching a full season's worth of the highest-leverage baseball -- he has worked 237.1 playoff innings -- he has a better ERA (3.83) and winning percentage (.640) that he does during the regular season.

On Saturday night, pitching against the Phillies' Cole Hamels, the hero of last October, Pettitte will have another opportunity to deliver a crucial victory for his club. He will pull his hat down low, he will block out all the noise, and he will focus only on the catcher's glove. It's what he's always done, for 15 years now. And it's what Brian Cashman, when he flew to Texas last December, was able to convince him that he's still needed to do.

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