Pettitte-Pavano rematch has different feel
Yanks lefty's health an issue, while righty is on the upswing
MINNEAPOLIS -- It's a postseason pitching rematch with new variations -- Andy Pettitte and the New York Yankees vs. Carl Pavano and the Minnesota Twins, in an American League Division Series for the second year in a row.
These are the two starters taking the mound at Target Field on Thursday at 6 p.m. ET on TBS and MLB.TV for Game 2 of the ALDS, which the Yankees lead, 1-0, after their 6-4 victory on Wednesday. Last year, these two started in Game 3 of the ALDS, and the Yankees got the better of it, 4-1, wrapping up a series sweep. Both Pettitte and Pavano pitched well, but Pettitte had the edge, allowing one run on three hits in 6 1/3 innings, while Pavano gave up two runs over seven innings.
Pavano pitched six shutout innings, but then gave up solo homers to Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada in the seventh.
When Pavano was asked Wednesday if he had learned anything from that start, he smiled and replied: "Don't give up any homers. I was aggressive. I didn't walk anybody. I went seven innings and got beat on two pitches late in the game. And you know, sometimes you lose those games. ... I feel like I go out there and give that same effort, I think we will have a good chance to win that ballgame."
On the other side of the issue, Pettitte has won more playoff games (18) than any pitcher in Major League history. He is the definition of postseason experience at this point.
"Obviously, the experience isn't going to help you as far as if you can't find it, your stuff or whatever," Pettitte said. "But just for me, I know emotionally, whatever happens, I am not going to get out of the game."
One difference in this rematch is that Pettitte, the postseason master, comes to this October moment at something less than his best. His best could be recovered at any moment, but Pettitte in the postseason is supposed to be a finished product, not a work in progress.
Pettitte has had just three starts since coming off the disabled list following a left groin injury. The first one was six innings and very promising. But the subsequent starts lasted only 3 1/3 and four innings, so Pettitte did not get either the quantity or the quality of work that he hoped he would. He said on Wednesday that his primary concern was regaining complete command of his pitches, getting back to the level of performance he had earlier in the season before the injury.
On the other side of the issue there is a rich supply or irony, possibly the mother lode of irony. Here's Pavano pitching in a huge game involving the New York Yankees.
The Yankees signed Pavano to a four-year deal for just under $40 million prior to the 2005 season. His tenure with the Yankees deteriorated into a dizzying cycle of injuries. He was able to make only 26 starts in those four seasons for the Yankees. He became a figure of ridicule for the New York media, and is still referred to as "American Idle" in the tabloids.
Pavano is, to put it mildly, in a much more pleasant situation now. His work this season -- 17-11, 3.75 ERA -- is his best since 2004, when he was with the Marlins. He is regarded as a leader on the Twins' staff and actually as something of a workhorse.
The current perception of Pavano is basically the polar opposite of what it was in New York. So when Pavano is asked about his time with the Yankees, it is clear that he has moved well beyond that era.
"It's so far in the past," Pavano said. "There are no do-overs. You learn from your mistakes and you move on. You know, I really don't look on it as a bad thing. I'm in a good position now. That's all that really matters."
Pavano does have some notable postseason work on his resume. His start in Game 4 of the 2003 World Series was pivotal. He was matched against Roger Clemens in what the Rocket said was going to be his final game. Although Pavano was not involved in the decision, he outpitched Clemens and the Marlins, on their way to winning the World Series, defeated the Yanks in extra innings.
With the New York victory in the series opener, the pressure will be on Pavano on Thursday night. There are unanswered questions about Pettitte's ability to produce a top-of-the-line performance, but Pavano and the Twins are in a position where they cannot afford a loss. The Yankees are now 4-1 at Target Field and swept the Twins in the ALDS last year, while the Twins are now winless in their past 10 playoff games.
Of the 60 Division Series that have been played since 1995, the team that won Game 1 of the Division Series went on to win the entire series 43 times.
That part of it is reminiscent of the 2009 matchup. The differences are that Pettitte's status, usually a given, is less certain than last year, while Pavano's status, somewhere deep in minus territory in New York, has soared in Minnesota.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.