In the long and celebrated history of the New York Yankees, there have been only three legendary left-handed pitchers who have come out their minor-league system to attain greatness: Whitey Ford in the 50’s, Ron Guidry in the 70’s and Andrew Eugene Pettitte in the 90’s.
And it is Pettitte, who will be making history again on Sunday when he puts on his pinstriped No. 46 after 573 days in retirement. Yankee Stadium is sold out, the Bronx and the Tri-State area is abuzz and his Yankee teammates can’t wait to see him peer over his glove in that iconic stare into Russell Martin’s glove at about 1:07 p.m. before his first major-league pitch since the 2010 playoffs.
This would all seem like an exercise in futility for a 39-year-old pitcher who had been out of the game this long. After all, it does not happen often and it does not always end up successfully when it does happen.
But something about this time. Something about this man. Something about Pettitte has always been special.
For one thing, Pettitte left baseball after recording an 11-3 mark with a 3.28 ERA in 21 starts in 2010, a season that was truncated by a groin injury that sidelined Pettitte for over a month. But Pettitte recovered from that injury and he pitched twice in the 2010 playoffs and was 1-1 with a 2.57 ERA in those games.
So it wasn’t like Andy left baseball with nothing left in the tank. In fact, Pettitte was running on some premium high-test when he decided being home with his family in Deer Park, TX, was more important to him than trying to get a 3-2 slider past Josh Hamilton.
When the competitive juices started flowing in Pettitte this winter and he got a chance to come to the Yankees’ spring training complex in Tampa, FL, the lure of the game was just to much for him to resist. Once the announcement was made that Pettitte was coming back to the Yankees no one really laughed. It was only cheers and smiles.
That is because everyone who knows Pettitte knows that the harshest critic in his life has always been himself. If Andy did not believe he could do it he would not have wasted his or the Yankees’ time by even trying to fool them he could still pitch when he couldn’t. But Andy can still pitch and we will find out just how well on Sunday.
In four minor-league starts, Pettitte was 0-2 with a 3.71 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 19 innings. But those are just numbers because Pettitte was not concerned with numbers. He was focused only on getting his arm and his legs in shape to pitch for the Yankees for the rest of the 2012 season.
So today Pettitte just takes one step of a long journey back. It will not end with a loss or a victory. It is just the beginning for him.
In the Mariners he is facing a roster almost completely made up of players who were in elementary school or in diapers when Pettitte broke into the majors in 1995. In the end, they will tell Pettitte just how much he has left in the game. It is, after all, the hitters who tell a pitcher when he it is time to hang up the cleats. Pettitte hopes that will not be for some time to come.
Yankee fans second that emotion.
Pettitte will face a familiar mound opponent on Sunday.
The Mariners are starting 37-year-old right-hander Kevin Millwood (0-4, 5.88 ERA). Millwood is coming off a game on Tuesday in which he gave up five runs on eight hits and five walks and struck out three in five innings in a loss to the Detroit Tigers. In the last 10 seasons, Millwood is 2-4 with a 4.74 ERA against the Yankees.
Of the Mariners on the roster, Pettitte has only faced Chone Figgins, Ichiro Suzuki and Michael Saunders because most of their players are so young. In the last 10 seasons, Pettitte is 7-8 with a 3.94 ERA against the M’s.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.