Pettitte gave everything he had in career that is finally ending

Friday September 20th, 2013

The best way to view Andy Pettitte would be the night he was flat on his back on a training table at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, covered in towels and getting an IV drip after pitching the Yankees to an 8-5 win in Game 3 of the 2009 World Series. Pettitte, then 37, dehydrated and exhausted, knew he would get the ball next on short rest -- and he won that game, too, the 7-3 clincher in Game 6.

Only two starting pitchers won a World Series clincher when older than Pettitte: Burleigh Grimes in 1931 and Eddie Plank in 1913, both of whom were 38. Plank and Pettitte are the oldest pitchers to win a World Series clincher on three days of rest. Pettitte is the only pitcher to start three World Series clinchers.

Taking the ball time and time again and pitching in October are the hallmarks of Pettitte's prolific career. He probably is a not a Hall of Famer, not when he is too similar to David Wells, Kevin Brown, Chuck Finley and Mark Buehrle and a cut below Jim Kaat, and that's before you wade into the morass of his forced confession about using growth hormone. But such were the arc and importance of his career that Pettitte deserves a place in Yankee Stadium's Monument Park with his number 46 retired. He had a more prolific career than Ron Guidry, who had his number 49 retired.

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With his final two starts, Pettitte will tie Whitey Ford for the most games started as a Yankee. Only Ford and Red Ruffing had more wins and innings for the franchise and nobody had more strikeouts.

Only 12 lefthanded pitchers ever started more major league games than Pettitte (519) -- and none of them debuted in the past quarter of a century.

Pettitte's timing was perfect. He debuted in 1995, just as the Yankee dynasty was coming together, so he became an October regular. His postseason success has been exaggerated, though. Pettitte essentially was the same pitcher in 44 postseason games (.633 winning percentage, 3.81 ERA, 1.305 WHIP that he was in 529 regular season games (.627 winning percentage, 3.86 ERA, 1.354 WHIP). That's not a knock, considering Pettitte was the quintessential reliable number two starter on a championship team. It just deflates the legend that he somehow became clutch on another level when the postseason began.

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The Yankees and Pettitte were a perfect fit, despite the three-year sabbatical he spent pitching for his hometown Houston Astros. Pettitte was reliable in every definition of the word. He understood the demands of New York if only because he was so demanding of himself. He went to Instructional League back in the early 1990s as a bad-bodied 22nd-round draft pick and made hard work his calling card. He was less a dominant pitcher than he was a stubborn one. He would litter the bases with traffic, and then, with that cap pulled famously low and tight, seem to will his way out of trouble.

The Yankees surrounded him with immense talent. Pettitte pitched 18 years and never once knew what it was like to play for a losing team. Only one pitcher in history, Mark Mulder, ever posted a higher ERA with a winning percentage as high as Pettitte's .627 mark.

What will stick with me is the rock-solid earnestness of Pettitte. Few of our conversations failed to get around to family. Only recently he talked about flying home to drop his son off at college, an event he called "emotional." He never sold an agenda or displayed even the least bit of arrogance. Pettitte was honest about his plunge into PEDs, though only when forced to, and it cost him his relationship with one of his closest friends, Roger Clemens. They rarely have spoken since Pettitte said Clemens admitted to him once about his own PED use, a conversation Clemens said his former friend "misremembered."

Back in 2009, after the World Series, Pettitte told me he was "getting close" to quitting. He was going go back to his Texas ranch for bow-hunting and four-wheeling to clear his head. "I can't sit here and tell you exactly when," Pettitte said then about retirement. "You never know what can happen, but I don't think three years from now I'll be pitching or trying to pitch. It's getting close to that time."

Here it is four years and another 61 starts later, with a first retirement that lasted one year, and the time has finally come. He can go home to Texas now with satisfaction in his heart that he has squeezed every bit out of his baseball ability.

In 2009, three days after needing an IV, Andy Pettitte pitched the Yankees to their fifth World Series title of his tenure.
Getty Images/Al Bello

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