All the signs pointed toward another meltdown for
He’d dodged the barrel of a broken bat, ducked a hard shot up the middle and given up three straight hits—and still wasn’t even close to getting out of the first inning Friday night.
Pettitte was in trouble again, the same way he was in his previous start—a disastrous outing in Oakland that threatened to end the New York Yankees’ bid for a third straight World Series title.
Then, somehow, he suddenly turned back into the October ace manager Joe Torre could always count on.
“After I gave up the run in the first, the guys came right back and battled,” Pettitte said. “It was nice to be able to hold a lead. It was big, I’ve been in trouble so much lately.”
Pulling his cap down low, his dark eyes focused, Pettitte persevered. He earned his fifth straight victory in postseason play, pitching the Yankees past Seattle 8-2 for a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 AL championship series.
Turns Pitching Game Around
“I’m very happy, it’s never easy for me,” he said.
Pettitte eventually was pulled after 6 2-3 innings, trotting to the dugout where teammates and coaches waited to bump fists with him.
“I became a big fan of Andy Pettitte in 1996 because he did something in postseason play and in very pivotal games in the pennant stretch that I never had a chance to do,” Torre said before Game 3. “And I guess I put a lot of weight and a lot of stock in that type of performance, and I would never lose sight of that.”
After the win, Torre echoed those remarks.
“That effort reminded me of 1996,” he said. “He got himself, but every time he put himself in a jam, he made quality pitches to get out of it.”
It was that kind of confidence that let Torre, along with general manager Brian Cashman, talk Yankees owner George Steinbrenner out of trading Pettitte to the Philadelphia Phillies in July 1999.
Pettitte, 100-55 in his career, improved to 8-4 overall in postseason play. He beat Oakland in Game 2 of the division series, but lasted only 3 2-3 innings in the decisive Game 5, which the Yankees held on to win.
This game had the makings of a repeat performance of that day at the Coliseum.
Stayed in for Over Six Innings
Rickey Henderson shattered his bat leading off the Mariners first inning, and the flying barrel caused Pettitte to jump out of the way. After Mike Cameron singled, Alex Rodriguez hit a one-hopper that came close to Pettitte’s head.
When Edgar Martinez followed with a single, it was 1-0 and the fans at Safeco Field were getting loud, sensing an early knockout.
But Pettitte retired Jay Buhner on an easy grounder and John Olerud on a soft popup, then escaped a second-and-third, one-out jam in the second.
In all, Pettitte worked around nine hits, including Cameron’s RBI single in the fifth. The left-hander helped himself by walking just one and, using his deceptive move, picking off Martinez at first base.
“He was fine all the way, he gave us his best,” Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams said. “I just can’t say enough about his performance today.”
Pettitte took a 4-2 lead into the seventh and walked Mark McLemore with one out. With a 1-0 count on Henderson, Torre and the entire infield joined Pettitte on the mound, thinking he might’ve hurt himself.
“He kept lifting his leg and I thought he had pulled something,” Torre said. “He was just getting a cramp.”
Pettitte also had a message for Torre during that visit.
“He said, ‘I’ll get this guy, skip.’ And he did,” Torre said.
Pettitte retired Henderson on a fly ball and with reliever Jeff Nelson warmed up and ready, Torre again made his way out.
Torre put his arm around Pettitte’s shoulder and, after a brief pause, took the ball and sent his pitcher to the dugout where another well-deserved round of October congratulations awaited him.