Pettitte not overwhelmed with playoff pressure
All-time leader in postseason wins out to right Yanks' rotation
ARLINGTON -- The first half of the Yankees' starting rotation flip was a flop, with Phil Hughes allowing seven runs over four-plus innings in Saturday's 7-2 loss to the Rangers in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, a defeat that boils down to a best-of-five set.
But if there is a singular name synonymous with postseason success, it is Andy Pettitte, who, despite being the all-time active leader in playoff victories, is the understudy to headline act and Rangers ace Cliff Lee in Game 3 of the ALCS on Monday. Yes, it is the lefty-not-named Pettitte who has generated the buzz, as much for his perfect 6-0 postseason record as for the haul of prized prospects New York was willing to give up at the Trade Deadline to try to put Lee in pinstripes.
"People can talk about Cliff as much as they want," said reliever Joba Chamberlain, who needs just one word to summarize what Pettitte has done in 16 Major League seasons: wow.
"It's kind of funny [that] you can put a guy who has 250 innings in the postseason with 19 wins on the back burner," Chamberlain said of Monday's matchup. "You know, people don't realize how good that really is. ... Cliff Lee is good, but this guy [in the locker] next to us is the best. And there's no getting around it."
It has always been this way for Pettitte, tasked with proving himself ever since the 22nd-round Draft pick showed up at Rookie ball in 1991. Current Orioles manager Buck Showalter, then involved in the Yankees' Minor Leagues, was struck in instructional league by Pettitte's "good face," a domineering glare that has become ingrained in his game as much as that highly-coveted pickoff move.
"He's not underrated in this clubhouse," said Hughes, who has benefited enormously from watching Pettitte keep his emotions in check. "We know how valuable he is to our team."
Pettitte, who is 19-9 in 41 career playoff starts, used to watch the tape of his Game 5 start in the 1996 World Series -- a contest in which he tossed 8 1/3 scoreless innings -- to get a confidence boost. But the days of needing reassurance are over, and if there is one thing the Yankees can expect from their veteran starter on Monday night it is this: he won't be overwhelmed by the moment.
Masters of October
|3.||Tom Glavine||14||218 1/3|
|Curt Schilling||11||133 1/3|
|10.||Catfish Hunter||9||132 1/3|
"Pretty much every situation you can think of he's been in," said captain Derek Jeter. "He's been successful. So when you have had success, I think he really uses that to his advantage."
"He's pitched in so many postseasons and been so clutch, it's hard to say really how he's done it, how he's been able to sustain it," Hughes said of Pettitte, who has a career 3.87 postseason ERA. "But I know he's one of the hardest workers in here."
With both of New York's starters stumbling, Hughes' struggles preceding ace CC Sabathia's lack of command, the fate of a pivotal Game 3 hinges on the 38-year-old Pettitte giving the Yankees effectiveness and innings. They will rely on him -- like they have so many times before -- to dip into his playoff pedigree and shake off whatever rust the long layoff an AL Division Series sweep caused for their first two arms.
"I'll be able to control my emotions, I'll be able to handle myself," said Pettitte, who will face a lethal Rangers lineup on 11 days' rest. "It's a matter if I can get the body and the release point and everything else going the way I want it to."
It is unquestionably harder than it used to be for Pettitte, who has 489 regular-season games under his belt on top of his postseason resume. He is barely a month removed from pitching to Double-A hitters as part of a rehab assignment for an injured groin that caused him to miss two months of the season. His return was hardly seamless, as Pettitte posted a combined 6.75 ERA in his final three starts for the Yankees, a far cry from the sub-3 ERA mark he posted in the first two months.
But Pettitte in the postseason has become nearly mythical, and he held the Twins to two runs over seven innings in a first-round ALDS victory. He hasn't been tagged with a postseason loss since the 2005 National League Championship Series as a member of the Houston Astros, a mind-boggling stat that makes Lee's marquee status in Monday's game almost unheard of. Perhaps bulletin-board material for any other starter, Pettitte is unaffected by his opposition taking top billing.
"I guess I can say I'm used to that," Pettitte said. "It's always maybe the other guy that's going to get that. That's totally fine with me. I'm not a guy who likes a lot of attention. I'm kind of uncomfortable with a whole lot of attention. I want to go out and do my job."
"His priorities are in line," Chamberlain said of Pettitte's even-keeled approach. "Baseball is probably the last thing on his mind, and that's why he's been so successful. His faith, his family and the relationships that he creates is more important than baseball. And that creates the dynamic that he can play this game and leave it all on the field. At the end of the day, he knows he left it all out there and he can be happy with what he's done."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.