(Long Island, N.Y.)Heading into the off-season, the New York Yankees knew that they needed to upgrade their starting pitching. General manager Brian Cashman had his sights set on Cliff Lee, the lefthander who was the ace of the team that ousted the Bronx Bombers.
The Texas Rangers made Lee a nice offer, but it didn’t come close to the money the Yankees were waving at him. Just as soon as it appeared that Lee was packing for the Big Apple, the Philadelphia Phillies came in and swooped him up, bringing him back to the City of Brotherly Love to form the strongest rotation in the majors.
Even if Lee had signed here, Cashman intended all along to bring back Andy Pettitte. The veteran lefty was contemplating retirement but had done so in the past and still found himself in Tampa come the spring. But the 38-year-old Texan decided to hang ’em up after 16 seasons.
“My arm feels great,” Pettitte said at a recent press conference held at Yankee Stadium. “My body feels great. I know that my body would get where it needs to be, but my heart is not where it needs to be. I just feel like if I have any kind of hesitation on doing this, my heart is not fully completely sold out to do this again.”
In his first go-round in New York, Pettitte was a steady member of the rotation and had double-digit wins every year in pinstripes (1995 – 2003). He then signed with the Houston Astros as a free agent and won 17, 14 and 15 games in the three full seasons he pitched in his home state. (Pettitte went 6-4 in an injury shortened 2004.)
In 2007, the Yankees welcomed Pettitte back with open arms and he picked up right where he left off, winning 54 games the last four years. “It’s been a pleasure to play with Andy for all these years, and the Yankees have been fortunate to have him representing the organization both on and off the field,” said Yankee captain Derek Jeter. “More importantly it’s been an honor to get to know him as a person, and I consider him family. I wish for nothing but happiness for him and his family, as I know how important they are to him.”
Perhaps Pettitte’s greatest contribution was his ability to come up big in the postseason. For his career, he went 19-10 with a 3.83 ERA when it mattered most. In the Yankees’ last championship season in 2009, Pettitte went 2-0 in the World Series (4-0 overall in the postseason) against Philadelphia. He had an uncanny ability of pitching well when the team needed it most in October.
“Since I’ve been retired, I’m always asked, ‘Who would you have pitch a World Series Game 7?’ And I always say, ‘Andy Pettitte,'” said former Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez. “When people ask why, I tell them it was because he was so prepared for every start. When the time comes for a big game, you want a guy who’s going to give you seven strong innings. And that’s what he did time and time again.”
Losing Lee was one thing, but coupling that with Pettitte’s retirement may be too big a blow for even the Yankees to overcome.