NEW YORK -- Yankees manager Joe Girardi said in advance of Andy Pettitte's return from nearly three months on the disabled list that he was hopeful he'd receive five innings and 70 pitches from the left-hander.
In the first leg of a day-night doubleheader against the Blue Jays on Wednesday, Girardi got five scoreless frames, 75 pitches and a 4-2 win that snapped the Yankees' tie atop the American League East with the Orioles, who will wrap up their three-game series in Seattle at 10:10 p.m. ET. The second game of New York's doubleheader pits David Phelps against Ricky Romero.
"That doesn't mean [Pettitte] didn't lobby to go back out there," Girardi said of Pettitte's pitch limit. "He said, 'I'm fine, I'm fine.' But I told him, 'We're not going to hurt you in the first start; that would be silly.' He gave us everything that we asked for -- probably a few more pitches than we wanted him to throw. Let's leave it at that."
Making his first appearance since a comebacker fractured his left fibula on June 27, Pettitte appeared to be finished after four innings, with the 40-year-old at 68 pitches and Derek Lowe warming in the Yankees' bullpen. But Pettitte returned for one more frame, retiring the side in order for the first time all day, needing only seven pitches to do so and leaving to applause from a sparse crowd a day after inclement weather forced the postponement of the lefty's anticipated return.
"I think that extra layoff I had actually probably hurt me, as far as how my body felt [and] my legs and stamina," Pettitte said. "But all in all, it was good. I was able to get through it and make pitches when I had to get out of some innings."
Pettitte allowed four hits and walked two batters, facing competition for the first time since his injury. The lefty rehabbed with simulated games since the Minor League seasons ended before he was ready to take a mound, and he said that while there were no nerves in his return, he internally struggled with whether the Blue Jays would plan to take more pitches than usual simply to elevate his pitch count.
Pettitte's doubts proved unfounded, as he improved to 4-3 and lowered his ERA to 2.97 in his 10th start since coming out of retirement.
The win didn't come easily, as David Robertson surrendered four hits in Toronto's two-run eighth inning and needed Rafael Soriano to induce an inning-ending lineout to Ichiro Suzuki to leave the bases loaded. Ichiro scored an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth, coming home on a Nick Swisher single after hitting a ground-rule double that created breathing room for Soriano to record the final three outs and earn his 41st save.
Pettitte struck out the first batter he faced, Rajai Davis, on four pitches, locating his fastball, slider and cutter, though he said he had better command in bullpen sessions and simulated games. Pettitte finished with three strikeouts, throwing 46 strikes and stranding five runners on base as he escaped a jam with runners on the corners in the second inning and induced a key double-play grounder to end the third.
"You have confidence in Andy because he knows how to get that double-play ball or the strikeout and make the big pitch," Girardi said. "You know he's not going to be overwhelmed by the situation. I was probably more nervous when I saw him running around a little bit than when he was on the mound."
But Pettitte reported no negative effects on his left ankle, saying that he was 100 percent healthy and needs only to rebuild his leg strength and stamina with more running. Girardi estimated Pettitte would throw 85-90 pitches in his next start, scheduled for next week at Minnesota.
The Yankees made it easier on the veteran lefty this time, spotting him a three-run lead in their first trip to the plate before Blue Jays starter Henderson Alvarez settled in to throw seven strong innings.
"There has been a number of games throughout the course of the year where things will speed up on him a little bit in one inning," Toronto manager John Farrell said of Alvarez. "Today was just a matter of location of his fastball inside the strike zone."
Ichiro and Swisher led off the game with singles, and Robinson Cano followed with a double to drive in the first run. The Yankees recorded only two more hits against Alvarez until adding insurance against Darren Oliver in the eighth, but Swisher and Cano both scored in the first courtesy of an RBI groundout from Alex Rodriguez and a sacrifice fly from Curtis Granderson.
Girardi eventually used six relievers to preserve the win, saying he could not allow the doubleheader's nightcap to affect his Game 1 decisions, but it all started with Pettitte's five innings, which provided an instant boost as the Yankees resume their playoff chase with a full rotation.
"You know his numbers and what kind of guy he is," Cano said of Pettitte. "He's one of the best lefties in the game, and you want to see him healthy. He's healthy, and he proved it today."
Steven Miller is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.