When Andy Pettitte was six years old, he cried after a flag football game because he couldn’t understand why his teammates were so casual. Pettitte wanted to win. They wanted to play. The boy that wept in the backseat of his father’s white Plymouth developed into the determined pitcher who always wants to win, too.
As Pettitte tossed six scoreless innings in a much-needed 6-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Monday night, the image of him as a feisty six-year old flashed into my head. Pettitte has always been a tenacious competitor, a pitcher who scolds himself on the mound after poor results and a pitcher who has fashioned a superb career out of dodging dangerous situations.
The familiar sight of Pettitte allowing baserunners and stranding those baserunners played out on Monday. The Twins loaded the bases in the first inning, but Pettitte retired Justin Morneau and Ryan Doumit. The Twins had two runners on in the third, but Pettitte got Josh Willingham to hit into a double play. The Twins had men on base in five of Pettitte’s six innings, but none scored.
“It’s the same old Andy,” said manager Joe Girardi. “We’ve seen it for years. When he needs a double play, he finds a way to get it.”
The same old Andy. The Yankees needed the same old Andy against the Twins, they need him in his next start against the Blue Jays and they will need him even more if they clinch a postseason spot. In Pettitte, the Yankees trust. Pettitte is a security blanket for Girardi because he has been there and done that in October.
After Pettitte missed almost three months with a fractured left ankle, he has returned to fire 11 scoreless innings in two starts. Pettittie has pitched effectively because he has pitched smart. He mixes his pitches, he steers away from the middle of the plate and he makes adjustments. Pettitte employs a two-seam fastball, a four-seam fastball, a cut fastball, a slider, a curveball and a changeup.
As Pettitte discussed how he escaped the bases-loaded, one-out jam in the first, he said, “You know the situation, but you keep it simplified.”
How did Pettitte keep it simple? He wanted to get Morneau to hit into a double play, but once the count stretched to 2-2, he realized he could secure a strikeout. Pettitte said he “set him up” for the called third strike, a fastball that nailed the outside corner. With Doumit, Pettitte uncorked a slider, the new element in his arsenal this season, to nab a double play.
While Pettitte held the Twins to one hit in six at-bats with runners in scoring position, one of his most impressive displays came in an at-bat came with no runners on base. When Trevor Plouffe opened the second, Pettitte threw a curveball for a strike. Pettitte followed with a cutter that rushed inside and that Plouffe fouled off. Then Pettitte threw an outside fastball for a ball. Then Plouffe fouled off a slider, another pitch that hummed inside. Finally, Pettitte unleashed a 2-2 changeup, a pitch Plouffe hadn’t yet seen, to strikeout Plouffe. So Pettitte threw five pitches, each a different pitch and each at a different velocity and each in a different location. It was savvy pitching that resulted in a confused hitter.
The perfectionist in Pettitte called himself “a work in progress,” and said that he still needs to refine his pitches to make them as sharp as they were before the injury. Pettitte is scheduled to make one more start before the postseason begins, so he will have had three starts to get ready for the most important games of the season.
“That’s what we got,” Pettitte said, “so it’s going to be enough.”
The Yankees trust in Pettitte and hope he is right. Actually, after 11 innings in September, the Yankees might trust Pettitte more than any of their starters, especially if he continues being the same old Andy.
Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES