09/19/07 11:57 PM ET
Pettitte pitches his way into history
Lefty joins Clemens, Mussina as Yankees' 200-game winners
By Anthony DiComo / MLB.com
"It" is Mariano Rivera.
"He's closed a lot of my games, and I've got 200 wins now because he's as great of a closer as he is," Pettitte said. "I wouldn't want anybody else closing my games -- I promise you that."
Rivera knew that Wednesday's game vs. the Orioles -- the one Pettitte needed to win his 200th -- was special. So after he'd loaded the bases in the ninth inning and forced Yankees fans everywhere to hold their collective breath, the closer didn't flinch. He was all too aware that one more out would be enough to hand his buddy a small slice of history.
Turns out double plays aren't a pitcher's best friend. Rivera is.
"I'm glad we were able to do that, and get a big win for Andy," said Rivera after New York's 2-1 victory. "That's the guy that you want to give everything you've got to play behind him."
Rivera should know. He was there for so many of Pettitte's wins, joining with the lefty to form the team's old championship core. This win was like so many of those, with Pettitte staying strong well into the eighth. When manager Joe Torre came out to remove Pettitte with two outs and no one on -- and, in the process, ensure his pitcher a raucous ovation from an electric crowd -- the lefty had allowed just seven singles and one run over the span his night's work.
And after Rivera finally slammed the door, Pettitte joined teammates Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina in the history books. He became the 110th pitcher to win 200 games and only the 27th left-hander, and the first since John Smoltz did so earlier this year.
Funny how that works out, because Torre considers a game Pettitte pitched against Smoltz as perhaps his greatest win of all.
With the Yankees and Braves tied two games apiece in the 1996 World Series, a 24-year-old Pettitte blanked Atlanta for 8 1/3 innings, becoming a Yankee hero and helping spark a dynasty that few could have envisioned.
Now, 11 years later, he's trying to spark another.
"For a young man, he showed me as much heart as you could ever imagine," Torre recalled of that '96 game. "He's earned his stripes."
And more than earned his pinstripes. Pettitte's hair is flecked with bits of gray now, even if his "aw shucks" demeanor remains. And in his six months back in the Bronx, he's proven that little has changed.
Pettitte jumped to Texas for three seasons, winning 37 of his 200 games with the Astros before reuniting with the Yankees last winter. Now he's back with Rivera, back with Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, back with the core that made him so successful in the first place.
All of those players have helped the lefty win his fair share of games. Jeter, in particular, has played a hand since 1992, when the two first hooked on as teammates playing Class A baseball in North Carolina.
"Any time he takes the mound, you expect good things," Jeter said. "He's not going to be perfect, but you expect it when he goes out there."
Yet even Jeter wasn't expecting this. The shortstop had no idea that his buddy was gunning for 200 until it was over. But after Rivera handed Pettitte the ball, and Torre gave his pitcher the lineup card -- Pettitte says he'll frame it -- Jeter got the idea.
"I'm happy for him," he said. "He deserves it."
Pettitte's parents were on hand, and his wife had stolen time away from home to come watch. So Pettitte, more than anything, was simply relieved that he could check this win off his list. He needed only two tries, and just one at Yankee Stadium.
Still, there are greater plot lines forming in the Bronx these days, and Pettitte's the first to admit it. As neat as 200 wins are, he'd trade them all in a second for a fifth ring -- one for each finger sounds about right.
That, after all, is why he's here, not in Houston.
"I didn't come back just to play," he said. "I came back to pitch in games like this."
Yet individual accolades do hold their own special shine, even if Pettitte won't bask in them too much. His teammates will. After all, it means nearly as much to them.
That's why, with Rivera in the ugliest of jams and the crowd roaring after another Red Sox loss was posted on the scoreboard, the Yankees closer had no idea what was happening in Toronto. Not a clue. He had bigger priorities in mind.
"I was too busy," he said, "saving this game for Andy."
Anthony DiComo is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.