Game 5 of the 1996 World Series, the Yankees were knotted up 2-2 with the Atlanta Braves in Atlanta. John Smoltz was on the hill for the Braves, one of the games best right-handed pitchers in his generation and part of the Braves three-headed monster of himself, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux that dominated batters throughout the 90’s.
On the mound for the Yankees was Andy Pettite, a 24 ear-old second year starter who was coming off of a huge season that saw him step up and become the team’s ace. He was shelled in game one of the series and with the series hanging in the balance you wondered maybe if the stage was too big for him.
8 1/3 masterful innings later, we never questioned Andy in these situations ever again.
That was the beginning of Andy’s legacy, when the going got tough Andy always pulled through. Except for game 6 in 2003 versus Florida (which still wasn’t his fault as he pitched a wonderful game. The bats just fell asleep that night. Damn you Josh Beckett!) Andy Pettite was Mr. reliable. When we lost one or two in a row he made sure that we wouldn’t lose again.
Game 4 of the ALDS in 1999 when the Red Sox had just shelled Clemens in game 3 and had tilted the momentum Pettite shut them up with 7+ dominant innings and dashed their hopes. Game 2 of the ALDS in 2000 when Roger Clemens got beat up by the A’s in game 1, Pettite destroyed them in game 2 with 7 2/3 shut out innings. Same in game 2 of the 2001 ALCS, the 2009 World Series and countless other times. When Andy Pettite took the ball you knew things were going to go the Yankees way.
When Andy officially retires from baseball tomorrow I might cry a little bit.
Andy was part of the “Core Four.” The group of young minor leaguers in Columbus, Trenton or wherever the hell the Yankees had them at, that led a dynasty in the late 90’s and brought glamour back to the Bronx.
While Derek Jeter was the flash, Mariano Rivera was the immoveable object and Jorge Posada was the grit, Pettite held the crew together. He was the one constant even if the numbers don’t back it up. We brought in Clemens and Mike Mussina and El Duque, but through it all Pettite was the one we wanted with the ball when it mattered.
Baseball is a stats sport I know and everyone will look at the 3.88 ERA, 1.37 WHIP and 2.34 SO/BB ratio and say that Andy was an ok pitcher. That he was the product of being in the right place in the right time with the Yankees. He’s nowhere close to 3000 strikeouts and allowed more hits than innings pitched.
Yet Pettite finished his career at 240-138, that’s a .635 winning percentage. He has more postseason wins than any other pitcher in Major League history. He started more postseason games and pitched more innings in the postseason than any other pitcher. He had the most wins of any pitcher from 1995-2009 and led last decade with 148 wins. So save your sabermetrics and crap and look at the bottom line.
Andy was a winner. The numbers say it and so does his performance on the field. If he wasn’t a winner then the Yankees wouldn’t have gone with a three-man rotation in the playoffs two years ago with him as the anchor. He wouldn’t have a ALCS MVP or five rings. Was he Walter Johnson or Roger Clemens? No. But did he clean up every one of Roger’s messes in the playoff and save our hides? You bet.
All of that however won’t matter when it comes to the hall of fame particulars. Thanks to his lack of glamour numbers (and that HGH mishap) Pettite likely will miss out on being honored on Cooperstown as one of baseball’s best.
In reality Pettite is the greatest postseason pitcher to ever play the game and the most clutch (here comes the Schilling brigade). He’s more than worthy of the hall because of his performance when it mattered most and because of his success rate.
He was the consummate professional. He never complained, never whined. When the Yankees pumped up their rotation with high priced acquisitions Pettite played is role and was the most consistent of all of them. He was like The Dude’s rug he tied everything together.
Even at 38 last year on a rotation that featured C.C. Sabathia, a horrid A.J. Burnett, and even worse Javy Vazquez and youngster Phil Hughes, Pettite was the one that made the rotation go. He was an all-star and led the league in ERA and was have a CY Young type of year before injuries derailed him once and for all.
He could’ve done it again this year, but he finally gave in to committing to his family, which was a decision that’s had him on the fence for some time now. I can’t blame the guy. He’s more than earned the right to call it quits on his terms and be with his family.
The number 46 should and will be retired and Andy will be honored with his own statue in Monument Park even if he’s passed up for the hall of fame. That’s fine by me. Andy Pettite was never a flashing lights kind of guy. He did his job and rarely let any of us down. He was dependable and helped to lift the Yankees to the heights that they hadn’t seen since the 70’s.
Most importantly I’ll remember and miss him when the Yankees need a lift and need someone to stop the bleeding. That was his best attribute. Numbers be damned, Andy Pettite was the best man on the mound when it truly mattered.