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10/19/10 2:13 AM ET

With no margin for error, Pettitte stellar

Hamilton's homer only blemish in left-hander's performance

NEW YORK -- It was the type of performance that has defined Andy Pettitte's career, and the fact that he did it at the age of 38 only made it more impressive. But the problem for Pettitte and the Yankees in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series on Monday night is that he was only the second-best southpaw in the Stadium.

This was another one of those nights in October when the Yankees needed Pettitte and he gave them seven big innings, allowing five hits and two runs while walking none and striking out five.

But Cliff Lee left Pettitte no margin for error, meaning that, in hindsight, the game was over after Josh Hamilton's two-run homer in the top of the first.

So instead of another one of those golden postseason moments, Pettitte was the tough-luck loser in a game the Yankees eventually lost, 8-0. They trail the Rangers 2-1 in the best-of-seven ALCS.

For as much as Pettitte has accomplished in his career -- particularly this time of year -- he is well past the moral-victory stage. The pitch to Hamilton left him stewing.

"It was just a bad pitch by me," Pettitte said. "I hung a cutter, left it on the inner half. I was trying to get it down and away, and, you know, he hit it out. And at the time you don't think that's going to win the ballgame. You know, I have all the confidence in the world in my guys, and especially here at the Stadium, just feel like, all right, you've got to shut them down and we are going to win this ballgame. Unfortunately we were just not able to get it done."

October: Andy's time
Andy Pettitte's solid outing Monday -- seven innings, five hits, two runs, five strikeouts -- was no surprise, as the Yankees southpaw is one of the most decorated postseason pitchers in baseball history.
Stat Pettitte Rank
W 19 1
GS 42 1
IP 263 1
K 173 T2
Pickoffs 11 1
Quality starts 26 1

Not this time. Pettitte scanned his memory bank to remember a postseason game his team was stifled so thoroughly. One that he did recall? Game 6 of the 2003 World Series, when Josh Beckett -- then with the Marlins -- beat him, 2-0, to secure the championship for Florida.

"[Lee] came in here and he pitched a great game," Pettitte said. "I haven't seen many games thrown like that at Yankee Stadium. It's pretty impressive to see."

Even in defeat, Pettitte remained impressive in his own right. He has made more postseason starts than anyone -- 42. He is also the all-time leader in wins with 19, innings (263) and quality starts (26). Only John Smoltz, who called Monday's game for TBS, has more strikeouts (199) in the postseason than Pettitte, who tied former teammate Roger Clemens for second all-time with 173.

It is enough to make you wonder how much longer Pettitte will be around. He has gone year-to-year for some time, and this season is no different.

When he left the mound following his seventh and final inning, the Stadium faithful gave him a thunderous ovation. Could it have been his last October moment in the Bronx? Pettitte wasn't going to go there.

"I would say, you know, when I'm out of the game, sitting in the clubhouse, you kind of think about that," Pettitte said. "But then there's a lot of baseball to be played. And I feel real good about our team and about the club that we have. And we plan on coming out here and winning, you know, the ballgame tomorrow here, and hopefully we can do that. Hopefully we'll have a few more starts besides this one."

If this series goes to Game 7, it would be none other than Pettitte who would likely take the ball in that one against the seemingly super-human Lee.

Even at this advanced stage of his career, the Yankees love giving Pettitte the ball in a big spot. He justifies that confidence time-in-and-time-out.

"I mean, Andy was outstanding," said Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. "One pitch, and Hamilton has been doing that to a lot of people this year, but Andy, you're never surprised by anything he does. But he threw the ball well. Like I said, it's hard to win if you don't score runs."

As ultra-confident as the Rangers are when Lee takes the ball, they knew it would be a hard-fought chore to win against Pettitte.

"We knew that would probably happen tonight," said Rangers manager Ron Washington. "And Andy did [step up]. He stood up tall. You know, Cliff just was better as far as keeping runs off the board. You certainly can't take anything away from Andy Pettitte. I think everybody in baseball knows what he is when it comes down to this time of the year, and he certainly did his job. But once again, Cliff just bettered him."

And so, too, did Hamilton, who is one of the most gifted hitters in the game.

"I could lie and say I was looking for that pitch and just got the barrel on it," Hamilton said. "I was not looking out for that pitch. Andy did a good job of painting, but he would come inside once in a while. It was one of those things, I caught it on the barrel, caught it up front, and it went."

It was really the only thing Pettitte had to second-guess.

"I mean, he just dropped the head on it," Pettitte said. "He didn't even hit it that good -- caught it out front. And if you catch a ball and hit it on the barrel at this stadium, it's a home run, unfortunately. Literally, it hurts. You wish he would have fouled it off or something because I threw probably a couple -- two or three -- other pitches the whole game where I didn't want to, and it ended up costing a ballgame."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.