The 10 greatest moments of Andy Pettitte's career (#5-1)

Elsa

After trudging through the tough times with Pettitte, we can look back on all the moments we'll fondly remember about the second-greatest starting pitcher in Yankees history.

Continuing yesterday's list, here are the top five moments of Andy Pettitte's career.

5. MVP
2001 ALCS Game 1 vs. Mariners

The Yankees needed a stunning rally from down 0-2 at home against the A's to reach the ALCS, and after two wins in a row in Oakland and a victory in the decisive fifth game back in New York, there they were. Playing in an unusual situation as America's sentimental favorite due to the 9/11 attacks, the Yankees were clear underdogs against the Mariners despite going for their fourth consecutive AL pennant (and World Series title). The Yankees were a very good 95-win team in '01, but the Mariners put together the most successful regular season in over 100 years, breaking the '98 Yankees' AL wins record with 116 victories in a romp to the AL West title. They had a +300 run differential and the lineup boasted Rookie of the Year/MVP Ichiro Suzuki, slugging second baseman Bret Boone, and perennial Yankee killer Edgar Martinez.

Having started Roger Clemens in the fifth game of the ALDS, the Yankees turned to Pettitte to hold down the powerful offense. Pettitte responded by facing the minimum through four innings while the Yankees built up a 3-0 lead thanks to veteran Paul O'Neill's two-run homer off Aaron Sele. The Mariners scored a run off Pettitte in the fifth, but he stranded the runner on third with fewer than two outs by striking out Jay Buhner and Dan Wilson. He returned to his earlier form and faced the minimum for the next three innings. Although Rivera was not sharp in the ninth, uncharacteristically giving up a line drive double and throwing two wild pitches, he saved the game and the Yankees won the opener in Seattle, 4-2. It was the best playoff start of Pettitte's career by Game Score--78. He allowed the Mariners just three hits, one walk, and one run in eight innings while striking out seven batters.

Eventually, the Yankees stunned Seattle by building a 3-1 lead on the Mariners, then turned to Pettitte to defy Seattle manager Lou Piniella's oath that the series would return to Seattle for a Game 6. He wasn't nearly as good as he was in the opener, but the Yankees blew the game open against the Mariners' pitching staff, building a 4-0 lead after three and a 9-0 lead after six. Pettitte won the game with a 6 1/3 inning, three-run, eight-start start, and he was voted the ALCS MVP for his 2.51 ERA in two starts against the dangerous Mariners. Thanks to Pettitte, the Yankees won their fourth pennant in a row.

(Box score)

4. For Dad
1998 World Series Game 4 vs. Padres

The second half of the '98 season was one to forget for Pettitte, who struggled with his mechanics and pitched to a 6.14 ERA and .300/.346/.464 triple slash against in August and September. He rebounded with a fine start in Game 2 of the Division Series sweep against the Rangers, but as previously mentioned in his worst moments list, the Indians knocked him around to take a 2-1 lead in the ALCS. Making matters worse for Andy was his ailing father Tommy Pettitte, who needed to undergo emergency double bypass surgery during the World Series (not to mention teammate Darryl Strawberry's recent colon cancer diagnosis).

The Yankees reached the Fall Classic anyway while Pettitte visited his father during the break between the ALCS and World Series. The team zoomed to a 3-0 lead on the strength of a stirring Game 1 rally via a Chuck Knoblauch three-run homer and Tino Martinez grand slam, a brilliant pitching performance by El Duque in Game 2, and a late Game 3 comeback powered by Scott Brosius against Padres stalwart closer Trevor Hoffman. Pettitte received the ball at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium in Game 4, trying to finish off the Padres before they could get any ideas about a comeback of their own. Padres manager Bruce Bochy knew his season was on the line, so he started ace Kevin Brown on three days' rest.

Brown and Pettitte dueled to a scoreless tie after five innings; the teams combined for 10 strikeouts and only five hits. Pettitte did have to work out of both a first-and-second, one-out jam in the second though, which he did by striking out catcher Carlos Hernandez and pitching around shortstop Chris Gomez to pitch to Brown, who grounded out. Brown ran into similar trouble in the fifth after a leadoff single by Martinez and a one-out double to the red-hot Ricky Ledee, who went 6-for-10 in the series. Joe Girardi grounded out and Brown fanned Pettitte to end it. The next inning, Derek Jeter got an infield single and O'Neill followed with a hustle double to right field. Bernie Williams followed with a Baltimore Chop back to Brown that bounced too high to throw Jeter out at home. The Yankees had a 1-0 lead for Pettitte.

Pettitte put runners on in sixth and seventh, but kept the Padres off the scoreboard. The Yankees rewarded him with a pair of insurance runs in the eighth off a tiring Brown, and Pettitte returned to the mound for the bottom of the eighth. He induced a fly out from pinch-hitter John Vander Wal, then allowed a walk to Quilvio Veras and a base hit to future Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, who hit .500 against the Yankees despite his team's struggles. Manager Joe Torre decided that Pettitte had pitched enough on the day, and the bullpen duo of Jeff Nelson and Mariano Rivera ended the inning. An inning later, the Yankees were World Series champions, and their 125th victory of the season had plenty to do with Pettitte's 7 1/3 innings of five-hit shutout ball. Even better news awaited Pettitte, as his father made a full recovery from the surgery and is still alive today.

(Box score)

3. The Clincher
2009 playoffs

In 2007, Pettitte returned to the Yankees after a three-year sojourn to Houston, where he helped the Astros win their first NL pennant in franchise history. When the Yankees wanted him back though, he came back to the Bronx in search of more World Series glory. However, 2007 ended in the Yankees' third consecutive ALDS loss, and Pettitte had his worst full season in '08 as the Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time since 1993. Buoyed by a strong off-season, the Yankees rebounded in '09 with a 103-win regular season romp to the AL East title; the now 37-year-old Pettitte pitched well with a 91 ERA- and 3.5 fWAR.

Numerous off-days spread throughout the playoffs allowed the Yankees to get away with a three-man rotation. Only ace CC Sabathia needed to make starts on three days' rest until the World Series. Sabathia, fellow newcomer A.J. Burnett, and the late-game heroics of Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixiera helped the Yankees win the first two games of the ALDS against the Twins, sending the series to Minnesota, where Pettitte started Game 3. In the final game at the Metrodome, Pettitte and estranged former teammate Carl Pavano each pitched five scoreless innings until Pettitte surrendered a two-out, RBI single to AL MVP Joe Mauer in the bottom of the sixth. Fortunately A-Rod quickly erased the 1-0 Twins lead in the seventh with a game-tying homer, and after Hideki Matsui struck out, Pettitte's catcher Jorge Posada gave him a 2-1 lead. Pettitte got one last out, whiffing Jason Kubel for his seventh strikeout before manager Joe Girardi brought in the bullpen. The Yankees went on to beat the Twins 4-1, and Pettitte earned the fourth series-clinching win of his career.

The Yankees lost Pettitte's Game 3 start in the ALCS against the Angels, but they were still up 3-2 in the series when Pettitte started Game 6 at Yankee Stadium. The Angels won the fifth game in Anaheim, so Pettitte had to halt any momentum the Angels might have felt from forcing the series to return to New York. Former teammate Bobby Abreu briefly gave the Angels a 1-0 lead with a third inning RBI single. An inning later, the Yankees responded with a three-run rally off Joe Saunders. Pettitte did not allow another run for the rest of his game, ending with 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball. He earned his second series-clinching win of the playoffs as the Yankees won 5-2 to advance to their first World Series since 2003.

The series was tied in Philadelphia when Pettitte got the start in Game 3 against the Phillies' defending World Series MVP, Cole Hamels. The Phillies jumped out to a 3-0 lead, but the Yankees rallied to move ahead 5-3, assisted by Pettitte's surprising game-tying RBI single in the fifth. The Yankees took a 2-1 series lead with the 8-5 victory and three days later, they had a chance to close out the World Series in front of their home fans in Game 6. The Yankees' reliance on a three-man rotation had yielded mixed results thus far. Sabathia won both his ALCS and World Series starts on three days' rest, but Burnett was thrashed by the Phillies in Game 5 to extend the series. The last time Pettitte started a game on three days' rest was September 30, 2006.

It was over three years since that last start, but Pettitte was up to the challenge. The Yankees beat up on former Red Sox nemesis Pedro Martinez for the second time in the series, as World Series MVP Hideki Matsui scored the game's first runs on a two-run blast to right field in the second and a two-run single to center in the fourth. (In the last two starts of the 38-year-old Pedro's career, the Yankees beat him twice and slugged .487 while he ended with a 6.30 ERA. It was satisfying.) The Yankees ran the score to 7-1 by the bottom of the fifth. Pettitte was not entirely sharp, but he pitched five innings of one-run ball until slumping slugger Ryan Howard took him deep for a two-run homer in the sixth. Pettitte struck out Jayson Werth for the final World Series out of his career, then allowed a double to Raul Ibanez. Girardi turned to the bullpen after 94 pitches from Pettitte, a respectable outing on three days' rest from the veteran. The Yankees won their 27th World Series championship, the fifth ring of Pettitte's career. He became the first pitcher since the playoffs expanded in 1995 to ever start and win three clinching games in one playoff year. It was a nice way for Pettitte to depart the World Series spotlight for the last time.

2. The near-shutout
2003 World Series Game 2 vs. Marlins

Following the euphoria of their seven-game ALCS victory over the Red Sox, the 2003 Yankees were flat in Game 1 of the World Series against the Marlins. They made mental mistakes in the field, went 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position, and made the egregious crime of scoring just two runs against Brad Penny. The Marlins won 3-2, and for the third time in the playoffs, Pettitte had to pitch Game 2 after a Game 1 loss. As previously mentioned, he was superb in ALDS Game 2 start against the Twins, and in the ALCS, he was solid if not unspectacular in the 6-2 victory against Boston. Once again, he had to save the Yankees from an 0-2 deficit.

Marlins starter Mark Redman was not a tough opponent for the Yankees' offense, which awoke from their Game 1 daze to knock Redman out of the game by the third inning. Matsui crushed a three-run homer to center field on a 3-0 pitch in the first to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead, and Juan Rivera scored Nick Johnson on a one-out double in the second. Reliever Rick Helling was not much better, as the slumping Alfonso Soriano took him deep for a two-run homer in the fourth inning to extend the lead to 6-0. By this point, the Marlins had only the minimum 12 hitters face Pettitte. A strike 'em out, throw 'em out double play ended the first, and a regular 6-4-3 double play ended the fourth.

The leadoff man reached base in four consecutive innings from the fifth through the eighth against Pettitte, but time after time, he quickly ended any threat thank to some strikeouts and weak ground balls that turned into double plays. In the ninth, Torre let him return to the mound in an attempt to complete the Yankees' first World Series shutout since in 41 years (last done by Ralph Terry in a memorable 1-0 gem: Game 7 of the '62 World Series). With two outs and a runner on first base, rookie Miguel Cabrera hit a grounder to Aaron Boone at third base, who bobbled it to keep the game alive. Derrek Lee promptly singled to end the shutout with an unearned run, and Torre let Jose Contreras get the final out. Boone was disappointed, but Pettitte told him not to worry about it. The 8 2/3 inning effort was still the longest start of Pettitte's playoff career, and the second-best by Game Score at 76.

(Box score)

1. Andy outduels Smoltz to finish Atlanta sweep
1996 World Series Game 5 vs. Braves

Anyone who knows a little bit about Pettitte's career probably saw this coming. It was just the second season of Pettitte's 18-year career, but it still stands as his pinnacle performance.

The Braves destroyed Pettitte and the Yankees in Games 1 and 2 of the '96 World Series, which did not shock anyone. The defending World Series champions were formidable foes, and their front three pitching trio of '96 Cy Young winner John Smoltz, '92-'95 Cy Young winner Greg Maddux, and '91 Cy Young winner Tom Glavine was arguably the best in baseball history. Sure enough, Smoltz and Maddux combined to limit the Yankees to just one run in the first two games at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees scratched out a few runs against Glavine in Atlanta for Game 3, and David Cone beat him, preventing a sweep. In Game 4, it looked like the Braves were going to roll to a 3-1 series lead when they knocked Kenny Rogers out of the game by the third inning. They held a 6-0 lead, and fourth starter Denny Neagle shut the Yankees out through five innings. However, the Yankees rallied for three runs in the sixth, and catcher Jim Leyritz belted a three-run homer off closer Mark Wohlers in the eighth inning to tie it up. A bases loaded walk by Wade Boggs in the 10th inning gave the Yankees the lead, and shockingly, the World Series was tied.

Pettitte returned to the mound in Game 5 hoping to make amends for his Game 1 meltdown, though he had his work cut out for him against Smoltz. The Yankees were 7-0 on the road in the playoffs, and the Braves had not lost three in a row at home since August 8-10. The odds were against Pettitte to shut down the second-best offense in the National League in the final game at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, also known as "The Launching Pad" for its friendliness toward hitters. He looked sharp when the game started, striking out two hitters in the first inning. Catcher Joe Girardi realized that Pettitte had an unusually strong fastball that day, so they stuck to that plan for the duration of the game. It turned out to be a pretty good idea.

Smoltz led all of baseball in strikeouts in '96 with 276 in the regular season, and he added 23 in the playoffs prior to Game 5. He tied a then-personal playoff best 10 strikeouts on this night against the Yankees, as his pitches blew past the Yankees' bats. He struck out the side in the first and fanned six through the first three innings. Smoltz's defense betrayed him in the fourth inning though; rooke right fielder Jermaine Dye cut in front of center fielder Marquis Grissom, screening him. The ball glanced off Grissom's glove, and batter Charlie Hayes reached second on the error. The Yankees had to capitalize on this rare runner in scoring position, and shortly thereafter, Cecil Fielder lined a double to the left field corner, scoring Hayes to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead.

Despite Smoltz's brilliant eight innings of one-run ball, Pettitte was better. No one could score against him. The Braves threatened in the sixth inning when Smoltz and Grissom singled to lead off the inning. It was a perfect scoring opportunity, but "Homestar Runner" Mark Lemke bunted back toward the mound and Pettitte quickly reacted to get the force at third base. A second comebacker on the next pitch to Chipper Jones brought the inning to a sudden conclusion, as Pettitte turned a 1-4-3 double play to end the inning. Pettitte then pitched around a leadoff error in the seventh and a two-out single in the eighth to keep the Braves off the board. With closer John Wetteland warming in the bullpen, Torre allowed Pettitte to face Jones and lefty Fred McGriff to start the ninth. Jones doubled and McGriff grounded out to first base, bringing Pettitte's amazing night to an end. Torre brought Wetteland in, who kept Jones from scoring, due in large part to O'Neill's terrific running catch in right field to end the game.

The series returned to New York, and the Yankees won Game 6 to capture their first championship in 18 years. Game 5 was clearly the greatest game of Pettitte's life.

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