Andy Pettitte thrills record crowd at Frontier Field
When Andy Pettitte was driving to Yankee Stadium to announce his retirement 15 months ago, he took a detour and found himself wandering the streets of New York.
A driver in an SUV recognized the star left-hander and escorted him to the famous ballpark.
Sunday afternoon, despite a minor-league start that was anything but smooth, Pettitte appeared to have found his way back to the Bronx.
The left-hander, one month shy of his 40th birthday, threw an inconsistent but crowd-pleasing five innings for the Empire State Yankees in a 7-5 loss to the Pawtucket Red Sox before a standing-room-only, Pettitte-adoring crowd of 13,584 at sunny Frontier Field.
That’s a stadium record for an official baseball game, and trails only the 13,723 who turned out to see Cal Ripken Jr. and the Baltimore Orioles play the Red Wings in 1997.
“It was humbling,” Pettitte said during a news conference before about 30 people in the Silver Suite. “I appreciate it. Absolutely great.”
Pettitte’s line: 5 innings, 8 hits, 5 runs, 3 earned runs, 2 walks, 5 strikeouts and one very happy crowd.
“I got my work in, but the feel for my off-speed stuff was just not there,” said Pettitte, who threw 59 strikes among his 92 pitches. “It’s good to get into trouble and have to work my way out.”
Pettitte threw consistently around 86 mph, with a high of 89.
Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli, who caught Pettitte plenty of times with New York the past three years, said the pitcher improved as the game went on.
“The beginning was a little crazy, but he made adjustments,” Cervelli said. “He’s a warrior. He knows how to pitch.”
Petttitte flew to New York after the game and expected to start Friday night for the Yankees against the Seattle Mariners.
“It’s inevitable to get me up there and get me in the mix,” he said. “I’m ready, and I think they’re ready for me.”
The first four batters of the game recorded hits before Pettitte thrilled the crowd with back-to-back strikeouts. Leadoff man Pedro Ciriaco and cleanup hitter Lars Anderson each collected two hits.
Four of the hits off Pettitte were doubles.
It was Pettitte’s sixth minor-league start this spring after ending a one-year retirement. Pettitte pitched his only 1-2-3 inning in the fifth. The crowd, sensing his departure, gave him a huge ovation and the veteran responded by tipping his cap and then waving with his gloved hand.
But it wasn’t over. The crowd began chanting “Andy Pettitte! Andy Pettitte!” and the pitcher stepped out of the dugout to tip his cap again — the first curtain call in Frontier’s 16-year history.
Empire State pitching coach Scott Aldred felt that Pettitte “didn’t have his best command.” Aldred perhaps summed it up best when asked about Pettite’s performance.
“I’m not real sure what we’re expecting from him,” he said. “He hasn’t pitched in a year. I think he’s very competitive and things are likely to change when he gets to New York.
And of course Craner made a wrong headed decision! I hate traffic, had a raging head ache so we left after the 8th inning....now I read this! I am NOT telling my daughter.....she will kill me.
Pettitte signs hundreds of autographs after outing
As Andy Pettitte and Red Wings general manager Dan Masonwere driving to Frontier Field from the airport Sunday morning, the New York Yankees star pitcher made a request.
“I’d like to sign autographs (after pitching) for about 15 minutes,” he said. “Do you have a spot where I can do that?”
Mason couldn’t say yes fast enough. And so around 5 p.m. Sunday, after his five-inning performance and 20-minute news conference, Pettitte sat in the concourse in front of the Red Wings Hall of Fame plaques and started signing.
“After 10 minutes, I announced that there were only five minutes left,” Mason said. “And Andy said, ‘You know what? I’ll tell you when I have to get going.”
He signed for 45 minutes in all, perhaps as many as 300 autographs.
“And with every person, he looked them in the eye and shook their hand,” Mason said. “I told him, I can’t remember a guy who played in a game and then asked to sign autographs after.
“He’s as classy as they come.”
Off he goes: During their short trip from the airport Sunday morning, Pettitte asked Mason how many people would be at the game and was shocked to hear “about 13,000.”
He also asked who the Red Wings were affiliated with and told Mason that his son had an important baseball playoff game in Texas on Sunday.
“He’s very nice, very friendly,” Mason said.
Mason drove Pettitte back to the Greater Rochester International Airport for a 6:30 p.m. flight to New York.
Off limits: During his news conference, Pettitte talked about his decision to end his one-year retirement, how he prayed with his wife and kids. He talked about his velocity, how much he appreciated the crowd and how sad he was to learn that longtime teammate Mariano Rivera suffered a season-ending knee injury last week.
“It’s devastating news,” Pettitte said of Rivera’s injury.
But one subject the left-hander wouldn’t address was his testimony at Roger Clemens’ perjury trial in Washington, D.C. last week, when he backtracked on testimony the day before that Clemens had told him he had used human growth hormone.