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10/04/09 12:13 AM EST

Pettitte gets in work, but Yankees fall

Veteran lifted early for 'pen as comeback not in the cards

ST. PETERSBURG -- Andy Pettitte has pitched long enough to know that there isn't any concrete pattern in using the season's last start as a springboard for the playoffs. Sometimes the good turns to bad, and vice versa.

The veteran left-hander never handles the wrong side of a decision well, but even he was able to tolerate this outing given the bigger picture. Pettitte was saddled with a loss on Saturday as the Yankees fell to the Rays, 5-3, but he emerged healthy and prepared for the American League Division Series.

"It's tough, but you have to still have pride," Pettitte said. "You want to go out there and pitch a good game. It's extremely disappointing. I wanted to go out there and get my stuff where I wanted it to be and feel good about it. I didn't do that, so all you do is not worry about it."

Pettitte is one piece the Yankees don't have to show concern for heading into next week. Vital to New York's success in vaulting from the second half to the postseason, Pettitte's presence and supportive voice have proven as valuable as his pitching.

"Andy's been through it here," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "When you have over 400 innings coming in that are new [with CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett] and haven't pitched in New York as a home player, I think it was important for him to be here and tell them what it's like to be a New York Yankee on that mound."

With the Yankees counting down the innings until the second season begins, Pettitte was charged with five runs (three earned) in 4 1/3 innings, scattering six hits to the Rays while walking four and striking out one.

He called the start "ugly," and the Yankees can only hope Pettitte won't soon find himself breaking down a playoff start in similar fashion.

"To tell you the truth, nothing was working," Pettitte said. "I had no command of my fastball, my curveball, my cutter was flat. There was not one thing I could take out of it that was positive."

The 37-year-old completed the regular season 14-8 with a 4.16 ERA in 32 starts, a campaign that proved profitable for both him and the Yankees. Holding out before accepting a $5.5 million deal, Pettitte made good on his word to be a reliable presence, hurling 194 2/3 innings to cash approximately another $5 million in fulfilled incentives.

But now is the time for Pettitte -- who could be New York's No. 2 or No. 3 starter in the ALDS -- to really earn his money. He promised that the drubbing under the roof at Tropicana Field would be easily washed away as he begins to prepare for a potential start on Friday or next Sunday.

"I've given up nine runs and went out and had a great postseason," Pettitte said. "I've dealt and gotten lit up in the first round of the playoffs. As far as that with me, it's no big deal."

Tampa Bay got to Pettitte for three runs in the second inning, as Dioner Navarro clubbed a two-run homer -- his eighth -- and Jason Bartlett stroked a run-scoring single. Pettitte left a two-out, two-on spot for Alfredo Aceves in the fifth inning after emptying 95 pitches (54 for strikes).

Aceves could have escaped as Ben Zobrist broke too early from second base, prompting Aceves to step off and catch the runner between the bases. But Aceves missed third baseman Eric Hinske and threw the ball down the left-field line, allowing Pettitte's two unearned runs to race home.

The Yankees' bats were quiet through four innings against Tampa Bay right-hander Jeff Niemann before Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira notched RBI singles in the fifth inning, with Damon coming out of a 2-for-27 skid.

"It was good," Girardi said. "I thought Johnny's at-bats were pretty good today. I know he struck out the first two times, so I thought it was important that he got that RBI."

Jerry Hairston cut the deficit to two runs with an RBI infield hit in the sixth off Lance Cormier, but New York was otherwise quiet as former Yankee Randy Choate recorded five outs and Grant Balfour pitched the ninth inning for his fourth save.

"I'm sure guys are looking ahead to next week a little bit," Girardi said. "You try not to. We talk about playing good baseball, but we not have done it here the last two days."

One bright spot was that Pettitte's early exit allowed Girardi to continue auditioning relievers for potential roster spots in the playoffs. His throwing miscue aside, Aceves hurled 2 1/3 innings of hitless ball, walking none and striking out three.

Chad Gaudin also continued to state his candidacy to be on the roster as at least a long reliever, pitching the final 1 1/3 innings scorelessly, with one hit and two strikeouts.

"To able to adjust and be flexible with certain things, I've done what I've needed to do," Gaudin said. "I don't know what's going to happen even tomorrow. I'll take it day by day and if they tell me, I'll prepare for what they need."

That leaves Girardi and his coaching staff with a lot of data to absorb as they prepare for Sunday's series finale and a flight back to New York, where a meeting with general manager Brian Cashman to hammer out the final postseason roster choices awaits.

"There's going to be some tough decisions," Girardi said. "We're going to take our time making those decisions because we can. We'll get back and talk on Monday about everything."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.