If you skipped the previous post detailing the ten worst moments in Andy Pettitte's career and only want to remember the good times, I don't blame you. Here's the list more people will actually want to read about Pettitte: the ten greatest moments of his career.
10. The final victory at old Yankee Stadium
9/21/2008 vs. Orioles
Photo credit: Al Bello - Getty
Toward the end of the final season at the old Yankee Stadium. it became clear that Pettitte, the team's longest-tenured starter. would start the final game at the House That Ruth Built. 2008 was a lost season for the Yankees, their first without a playoff berth since 1993, two years before Pettitte even made the majors. It was not a great year for Pettitte himself, either. It was the only season of his career that ended with a weighted ERA worse than league average (105 ERA-). For most other pitchers, it would still be decent, but it was a disappointment for Pettitte.
Nonetheless, he received the honor of starting the final game at Yankee Stadium, which featured a nostalgic pregame ceremony honoring many former Yankee greats. If Pettitte could beat the lowly Orioles, he would help send the Stadium off in style. He did not exactly bring his most crisp stuff to the ballpark that evening. The O's jumped out to a 2-0 lead when rising star Adam Jones scored shortly after a one-out triple in the second, and an error by Pettitte at the start of the third came back to hurt him when Brian Roberts stole second, then scored on a single by Melvin Mora. While Pettitte did reach a personal achievement in the second inning when he struck out Ramon Hernandez for his 2,000th career strikeout, he still trailed in the game.
Fortunately for Pettitte, his mound opponent that day was the unimpressive Chris Waters. Hideki Matsui and Jose Molina led off the bottom of the third with singles, and Johnny Damon followed with a go-ahead three-run homer into the right field short porch. The lead did not last long; Kevin Millar hit a one-out double in the fourth against Pettitte and scored a few batters later after Roberts grounded a single through the right side. The Yankees came right back in the bottom of the fourth. Robinson Cano walked to lead off the inning, and after Matsui grounded out, the stage was set for perhaps the most unpredictable player to hit the final homer at Yankee Stadium: Molina, the backup catcher. It was just the third homer of the season for the defensive catcher, but it gave Pettitte a 5-3 lead.
Pettitte pitched a 1-2-3 fifth inning to qualify for the win, and after Jones beat out an infield single to lead off the sixth, new manager Joe Girardi decided that Pettitte had given him enough that night. It was not the best game for the veteran lefty (five innings, seven hits, three runs), but the young bullpen of Jose Veras, Phil Coke, and Joba Chamberlain picked up the slack. No Oriole scored after Pettitte's departure. The offense added a pair of insurance runs in the seventh, and Mariano Rivera closed out the 7-3 victory with a perfect ninth. Pettitte's Game Score of 45 was underwhelming, but he was "very, very thankful" to end his old Yankee Stadium career with a win. He might have pitched a great deal of games better than this one in his career, but this victory undoubtedly meant a lot to him.
9. Strikes out career-high 12
9/16/1997 vs. Red Sox
Toward the end of his spectacular 8.4 rWAR '97 season, Pettitte set a career-high for strikeouts in one game that he never topped: 12. Although the Yankees trailed the Orioles in the AL East by six games, they had a comfortable lead on the Wild Card with only a couple weeks left in the season. The Yankees played a Tuesday doubleheader against the Red Sox, who were in the midst of their last losing season until 2012. They had Rookie of the Year/human life delay Nomar Garciaparra and 1995 AL MVP Mo Vaughn leading the powerful offense, and the team led the AL in batting average while finishing third in wOBA (.354) and fWAR (28.4).
Boston wasn't a playoff team last year, but the lineup was still strong, so Pettitte had his work cut out for him in the first game of the doubleheader. He gave up singles in each of the first three innings, but he worked out of each jam and fanned five Red Sox, striking out the side in the second. He then struck out Reggie Jefferson and Bill Haselman in a perfect fourth and made Garciaparra whiff with runners on first and second with no one out in the fifth. A John Valentin double play ended the inning to keep the game scoreless. The Yankees squandered scoring opportunities against Boston starter Aaron Sele as well, so Pettitte returned to the mound in the sixth to face the heart of the Boston lineup with no run support. He quickly sat the Sox down 1-2-3, striking out Vaughn and Jefferson along the way to reach double digits in strikeouts for just the third time in his career.
The Yankees loaded the bases in the bottom half of the frame, but Sele pitched around it to preserve the scoreless tie. Pettitte responded with another flawless frame, tying his career-high of 11 strikeouts, set on August 4, 1996 against the Royals, by striking out Troy O'Leary. After 112 pitches, Sele left the game in the hands of reliever John Wasdin, who promptly surrendered three singles in a row to Tim Raines, Wade Boggs, and Paul O'Neill. The last single finally broke the tie to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead, and Bernie Williams made it 2-0 by grounding into a forceout at second base that allowed Boggs to score. Joe Torre let Pettitte pitch the eighth, having finally found a lead. He gave up a one-out triple to Garciaparra, but with the tying run at the plate, he induced a short fly ball from John Valentin and struck out the dangerous Vaughn to set a career-high with 12 strikeouts.
Mariano Rivera came on for the save in the ninth to preserve the shutout victory, which he of course did with a nine-pitch, 1-2-3 inning. Pettitte's Game Score that night was 84, the second-highest of his career. He became the Yankees' all-time strikeout leader back in July with over 2,000 strikeouts, but he was never really a big strikeout pitcher, notching just 15 double-digit strikeout games in his career. Although he once tied that career-high mark of 12 in a July 28, 2002 game against the Devil Rays, he never exceeded it.
[If you prefer one of Pettitte's four career shutouts to a high-strikeout game for the regular season spot on this list, I would refer you to Pettitte's three-hit shutout against the Mets on June 30, 2002, which generated his highest career Game Score, 87. I prefer the game against the Red Sox though since the '97 Sox had a far better offense than the '02 Mets.]
8. The comeback
Photo credit: Kim Klement-US Presswire
Many people thought Pettitte might come back to the Yankees after the 2010 season, but he announced his retirement in early February 2011 after a long off-season contemplating a departure from the game. Once the season ran its course, few considered the possibility of Pettitte returning to the Yankees to be likely anymore, especially after he left a $10 million offer to come back on the table. The Yankees signed Hiroki Kuroda and traded for Seatltle phenom Michael Pineda, leaving them unable to keep Pettitte's contract available. Potential starters for 2012 now included the two newcomers, ace CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett, Freddy Garcia, and David Phelps. Pettitte was far off the radar, even after Burnett was dealt to the Pirates.
Pettitte returned to Spring Training as an instructor, but after spending some time in camp, he revealed to Girardi and GM Brian Cashman that he had the itch to come back. He threw a secret early-morning bullpen session for them, and the Yankees decided to give him a shot on a one-year, $2.5 million minor league deal. When YES Network's Jack Curry broke the news, the Twitterverse blew up. Some were excited, and some were concerned about what the near-40-year-old could still do--would he be taking away time from a more deserving youngster? Injuries made the problem solve itself, as baseball is wont to do; Pineda never pitched for the Yankees in 2012 due to shoulder problems, Garcia was awful, and Pettitte returned to an open spot in the rotation by early May.
The lefty had a disappointing return against the Mariners, but this was far from a surprise. In his rehab starts with Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton, he pitched to a 5.40 ERA in 10 innings, and his comeback start was roughly at that level. Over the next month though, Pettitte dazzled and turned back the clock with a terrific six-start stretch. It began against the Reds when he shut out the dangerous Cincinnati lineup over eight innings with nine strikeouts for a terrific Game Score of 82. He followed that up with a few more sparkling performances, and his ERA was at 2.77 over seven starts.
A rough game in Queens at Citi Field and a lower leg fracture sustained against the Indians tempered his comeback for a few months, but even though he did not have any rehab starts, Pettitte immediately returned to form. He threw 11 scoreless innings against the Blue Jays and Twins and ended the year with a 2.87 ERA (68 ERA-) in 12 starts (75 1/3 innings). The injury hurt his comeback, but it was still a very impressive season for someone entering his forties who took a year off from baseball. In both of his playoff starts for the AL East champions, Pettitte pitched well enough to win with a 3.29 combined ERA in 13 2/3 innings against the Orioles and Tigers, but the Yankees' offense did not offer him much run support. The fine 2012 despite the injury inspired Pettitte to give pitching one more complete go-around in 2013, and as a result of announcing his upcoming retirement plans, fans and teammates could give Pettitte the proper send-off that he could not quite embrace as confidently as in 2010. Andy surprise 2012 season out of nowhere certainly earns him a spot on this list, though if one had to associate a specific moment, it would probably be that press conference in Spring Training.
7. "The Stopper"
2000 ALDS Game 2 vs. A's, 2003 ALDS Game 2 vs. Twins
Pettitte gained a reputation during his career as the prototypical number two pitcher, and this role took greater importance in postseason play, especially during the Division Series. If the Yankees' top starter faltered in the opener in a loss, it was frequently up to Pettitte to stem the tide and allow his offense to tie the series up again and save them from falling to the brink of elimination. Two of his finest games occurred in such situations, and his efforts helped the Yankees rebound to reach the World Series.
The 2000 Yankees badly struggled down the stretch with a 3-15 finish to the season, and they looked as flat as ever against the up-and-coming AL West champion Oakland Athletics. They beat Roger Clemens in Oakland, 5-3, and if they could beat Pettitte in the second game, they would have three shots to reach their first ALCS since 1992. Pettitte was up to the challenge and locked horns with Oakland starter Kevin Appier; the game was scoreless after five innings. Bernie hit a one-out double in the sixth and came around to score on Glenallen Hill's RBI single. The Yankees tacked on a couple more runs, but none were really needed. Pettitte dominated the A's through 7 2/3 innings, pitching shutout ball on five hits and a walk. He departed with two outs in the eighth after two baserunners reached, and Rivera got the four-out save to even the series. The Yankees went on to win it in five games.
In 2003, the 101-win Yankees had no such struggles toward the end of the season, and they prepared to take on the AL Central champion Twins in the Division Series. The Yankees had never played against the Twins in the playoffs before '03; this was before it was widely accepted that the Twins were the Yankees' patsy, though the Yankees did sweep the season series in '02 and '03, a perfect 13-0 record. In the opener though, the Twins broke the losing streak against the favored Yankees at Yankee Stadium, as they scratched out three runs on seven hits against Mike Mussina with their Punch and Judy offense. The pitching staff limited the Yankees to one run on nine hits; the Yankees went just 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
Suddenly, the Twins were in a great position. Like the 2000 A's, they could push the Yankees to the brink of elimination with a Game 2 win over Pettitte, and they would have the extra benefit of returning home to the Metrodome instead of having to try to finish it up on the road. Unfortunately for the Twins, they suffered the same fate as the 2000 A's, running into the Pettitte buzzsaw. In one of the lefty's top five playoff starts by Game Score, he struck out a personal playoff-best 10 batters and allowed the Twins just four hits and one run in seven innings. The offense touched up Brad Radke and LaTroy Hawkins for four runs, and the Yankees won the game, 4-1. They then won both games in the Metrodome to advance to the ALCS, where Pettitte again won a start after a Game 1 defeat. His best was yet to come in 2003.
(2000 Box score) (2003 Box score)
6. Return to the Fall Classic
1996 ALCS Game 5 vs. Orioles
In '96, the Yankees won their first AL East division title since 1981, and they vanquished their ALDS demons from '95 in a four-game series victory over the Rangers in the first round. As the ace of the '96 rotation, Pettitte did not look too sharp in his Game 2 start against the Rangers, and he appeared similarly unimpressive in the ALCS opener. The Yankees rallied to win both games though, so it did not matter much. Still, they had hoped that Pettitte could actually come up with a strong start for the first time in his playoff career. They built up a 3-1 series lead on the Orioles, and they turned to Pettitte to send them to their first Fall Classic in 15 years in Game 5 at Camden Yards.
Although they were on the road, the Yankees were 11-0 at Camden Yards in '96. They were clearly quite comfortable in the foreign environment, and they did not waste much time building an early lead. Jim Leyritz, Pettitte's catcher, led off the third inning against Scott Erickson with a line drive homer to right field. Jeter and Wade Boggs each grounded one-out singles, and Jeter scored when normally sure-handed second baseman Roberto Alomar committed an error. A batter later, trade deadline acquisition Cecil Fielder launched the game's decisive blow, a three-run homer to left-center field that gave the Yankees a 5-0 advantage. Darryl Strawberry put the icing on the cake by following Fielder with a homer of his own.
Meanwhile, Pettitte brought his best to the Orioles' lineup. They had just two hits through the first seven innings, with one run on a Todd Zeile solo homer. Veteran Eddie Murray homered off Pettitte with none on in the eighth, but Pettitte did not allow another baserunner. He walked just one batter all day, and the Orioles never threatened. A two-run homer by Bobby Bonilla with two outs in the ninth against closer John Wetteland made the game a little more interesting, but a groundout by Cal Ripken Jr. ended the game. Pettitte and the Yankees were off to the World Series, the first for manager Torre after 33 seasons in the game.
Which Pettitte moments do you think will round out the top five? Offer your guesses in the comments and check back tomorrow for the list's conclusion!