09/27/12 2:20 PM ET
Bringing back Andy was Yankees' best move
By Hal Bodley / MLB.com
Take the offseason of 2008-09. They spent $434.5 million to sign free agents CC Sabathia, A. J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira.
That trio helped the Yanks defeat the Phillies and win the 2009 World Series championship, their 27th. Money talks.
With that history it's amazing that maybe the Yankees' most important "acquisition" this season was already in their backyard. All they had to do was talk him into putting on the pinstripes again for a very affordable $2.5 million.
Andrew Eugene Pettitte.
As the Yanks attempt to hold off Baltimore and win another American League East title, Pettitte could be the most important piece in a starting rotation that is finally taking shape.
Adding the 40-year-old left-hander to Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Phil Hughes greatly improves their chances of going deep into the postseason.
It's more than a coincidence that when the Yankees' 10-game division lead in July was eroding during a 22-28 tailspin, Pettitte was on the disabled list recovering from a fractured left ankle.
Pettitte hasn't allowed a run in two starts over 12 innings since coming back. His return and those two starts have come as the Yanks have won 10 of their past 12 games heading into action Thursday night vs. Toronto.
The ageless Pettitte, after pitching in the 2010 AL Championship Series, returned to his home in Texas, saying he was going to retire. There was always a thought he might return for 2011. General manager Brian Cashman left it up to Pettitte, who stayed in Texas.
"Then, we had a lot of discussions this past winter," Cashman told MLB.com Thursday. "[Pettitte] told me he was thinking about playing again. He said he heard a radio interview during which I said if he ever wanted to pitch again he could.
"He'd already made the transition from a power pitcher to someone who can mix and match and get you out with pitch-ability."
Conversations continued during the offseason into Spring Training, but although the door was always open, the Yankees really didn't desperately need him. They had an overabundance of starting pitchers.
"When he came back we had seven pitchers for five spots," said Cashman. "We were expecting to have a healthy Michael Pineda, but he was lost for the season with an injury and then Tommy John surgery. As it turns out, we are very lucky Andy came back."
Pettitte said he spent more than two months deciding whether to give up the rocking chair. During his abbreviated Spring Training, Pettitte said he remembered how beat up his body was after his final start in 2010.
Pettitte was 11-3, with a 3.28 earned run average in 2010, but he was also on the DL for two months because of a left groin strain.
The fact that Pettitte, even at 40 and having been out for a year, has contributed so much doesn't surprise Cashman -- or Pettitte's teammates.
"One thing about Andy is he's done nothing but always help," said Cashman. "Ever since he's put on this uniform and pitched in the Major Leagues, he's never failed. He's a remarkable person and a remarkable pitcher."
After Pettitte defeated the Twins, 6-3, on Monday night, Nick Swisher said: "The guy takes a full year off, comes back, breaks his foot on a crazy play, has been itching to get back in the lineup for a long time, and once he does he delivers every single time. Every time he takes the mound, he's locked in out there."
Added catcher Russell Martin: "[Pettitte] is a natural competitor. You're going to have to try to out-compete him, and I don't know anybody who can really do that. Even behind in the count, he just never gives in."
Pettitte, who's 5-3 with a 2.71 ERA this year, is scheduled to start Saturday against the Blue Jays and insists, "I'm a work in progress, as far as trying to get back. My stuff -- I'd love to see it get back to where it was [before the ankle injury]."
With an eye on the postseason, Pettitte's reliable presence is huge. He has established an incredible reputation for his work in the playoffs. Pettitte has won 18 playoffs games and five World Series games for the Yanks, including two against the Phillies in 2009. He's gone at least six innings in 13 of his past 14 postseason starts.
Cashman believes Pettitte's determination and career credentials are typical of this team.
"We stumbled out of the gate during April and early May -- our starters were barely getting to the fifth inning," Cashman said. "And, obviously [we] stumbled in late August and early September.
"In a big market when you stumble it gives an opportunity for a lot of criticism, lots of scrutiny, a lot of attention. How you react to that negativity can create a circumstance where people turn on each other, point fingers. These guys have done nothing but stick together.
"We lost Michael Pineda, who was supposed to be really important to us, Mariano Rivera, Brett Gardner, and the injuries to Pettitte, Alex Rodriguez, Sabathia, Teixeira. These guys have never given up. Guys have stepped up and held it together and fought through adversity."
For opponents, especially in the postseason, seeing Pettitte on the mound with that fierce stare over the top of his black glove will be intimidating.
That's why his presence is the single most important addition the Yankees have made this year.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.