As we tick off the hours, minutes and seconds until Andy Pettitte’s first pitch to Jimmy Rollins tonight shortly after 7:57 p.m., we have ample time to reflect upon tonight’s starter. On Sept. 28, Andy Petitte got the win when the Yankees clinched the AL East with a victory over the Red Sox. On Oct. 11, Pettitte earned himself a W when the Yankees eliminated the Twins in the ALDS and secured themselves an ALCS berth. On Oct. 25, Pettitte won again as the Yanks downed the Angels to move on to the World Series.
So tonight, Pettitte will go for what is, in horse-racing, termed a superfecta. He’ll try for the chance to win all four clinching game for the Yankees this year. That would be some feat for a pitcher who perennially can’t decide whether to keep pitching or just retire.
For Pettitte, tonight will mark his 40th playoff start. If all goes according to plan, if he can last 6.2 innings or more, he will throw his 250th playoff inning tonight as well. Those are gaudy numbers, Pettitte is no stranger to Game 6. Tonight will mark his fifth Game 6 start. In three of those starts, the Yankee needed a clincher but got it from Pettitte just once. In the fourth, the Yanks were averting a World Series loss, and although Pettitte was masterful, Josh Beckett was better. So let’s review.
November 3, 2001: World Series Game 6
After two dramatic come-from-behind wins in New York City, the Yankees returned to Phoenix to face the Diamondbacks with the World Series hanging in the balance. The Bombers had a 3-2 lead with Andy Pettitte lined up to pitch in his first career Game 6. Just two innings and 14 batters later though, Pettitte’s night would be over.
The Diamondbacks were merciless that Saturday night in Arizona. They scored one in the first and three in the second. Pettitte put the first two runners on in the third, and Jay Witasick, in one of the World Series’ most disastrous relief performances, came in. Witasick allowed two inherited runners to score and six more that inning. The Yanks were down 12-0 before anyone realized what just happened.
On the night, Pettitte threw just two innings and gave up six runs on seven hits and two walks. He struck out just one. Later on, word emerged that Pettitte may have been tipping his pitches. Even if he was not, that’s one game YES watchers will never see on Yankee Classics.
October 15, 2003: ALCS Game 6
Considering the outcome of Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, Game 6 is often overlooked. In it, Joe Torre gave Pettitte the ball; Andy pitched well enough to win; and Torre and the bullpen gave this one away as the Red Sox won 9-6.
Pettitte’s final line in this outing wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great. He struck out five in five innings and allowed four earned runs on eight hits and two walks. The damage, though, was limited to one inning. In the third, a home run, two walks and two singles gave the Red Sox a 4-1 lead, but that would be all for the scoring against Pettitte. He left this one with the Yanks up 6-4, but Torre gave the ball to Jose Contreras, Jeff Nelson, Felix Heredia and Gabe White. Nine outs away from the World Series, Mariano Rivera never pitched, and the rest is Aaron Boone-inspired history.
October 25, 2003: World Series Game 6
Ten days after a mediocre ALCS Game 6, Pettitte got the ball with the Yanks’ backs against the wall. Heavy favorites to win the World Series, they split two games in New York against the Marlins before losing two of three in Miami. The Yankees returned, then, to Yankee Stadium needing a home sweep to win, and Pettitte, masterful in throwing eight shutout innings in Game 2, would get the ball.
Pettitte was great that night. He threw seven innings and allowed two runs, one earned, on six hits and three walks. He struck out seven and threw 71 of 106 pitches for strikes. He should have been hailed as a hero, but Josh Beckett was just better. Beckett threw a five-hit shutout and struck out nine as the Marlins stunned everyone to win the World Series.
Little did we realize at the time, but that Saturday night affair would be Pettitte’s last start in pinstripes until 2007. The Yankees assumed he would just resign with them, but the Houston Astros offered more. For three years, the Yankees had little in the way of shut-down starting pitching, and Pettitte would be missed. I’ll take another Game 6 similar to that one tonight.
October 25, 2009: ALCS Game 6
This one — the ALCS clincher — is still fresh in our minds, and every Yankee fan would take this outing and outcome from Pettitte. Facing a feisty Angels’ club and with the Yanks just 27 outs away from the World Series, Pettitte came through in a big way. In 6.1 innings, he allowed just a run on seven hits and one walk. He struck out six and threw 64 of 99 pitches for strikes. He could locate his curveball, spot his fastball and keep the Angels off balance. With Mariano Rivera in for the final six outs, the Yanks found themselves back in the Fall Classic.
And so we arrive at tonight’s game to see if a tried-and-true formula can deliver a win. Mariano Rivera has saved more wins for Andy Pettitte than any other duo in baseball history. We want one more. As we sit 27 outs away and a few hours from first pitch, Andy Pettitte, number 46, the man with the stare, will be on the mound, ready to deliver.