“There’s no way I could dream of a complete game. … I just thought it would be me scuffling out there, and Joe would have to come and get me. (The reaction of) the fans here, my team, for me, I don’t feel like I deserve that, and it was incredible.”
– Andy Pettitte
When Andy Pettitte tried to describe the postgame scene here in Houston, he got through one sentence before getting choked up, backing away from the microphone and struggling to compose himself. He’d just thrown his first complete game since 2006, gotten a standing ovation in a visiting ballpark — just a few miles from his offseason home — and finished off a win that assured he would retire having never had a losing record in his career.
“I don’t know how to even take you through it except that I didn’t even feel like I was worth to have that happen to me,” Pettitte said, before beginning to cry. “Especially their guys, the fans here, because they don’t know me, this team over here, and I appreciate that. And then our guys, obviously, know me better than anybody. There’s so many guys that I’m so close to, I’ve been around a long time, so that was just a moment that I feel like I didn’t deserve and I appreciated it.”
This was obviously different from the Mariano Rivera farewell, but it was still powerful and perfect in its own way. Joe Girardi said the dugout had a playoff feel because the team so badly wanted to give Pettitte a win. This game might not have meant a thing in the standings, but it meant a lot to the guy on the mound, and that was enough.
“It’s tough to put into words,” CC Sabathia said. “These are generational players, guys you don’t find every day.”
Before the eighth inning, the Yankees actually came up with a signal for Pettitte, a way for him to let the team know if he’d run out of gas and couldn’t face another batter. He never used it. He threw 13 pitches that inning, and in the dugout afterward, Larry Rothschild said it was up to Pettitte to decide whether to go back out for the ninth.
“It’s such a mental battle because everything was hurting,” Pettitte said. “… I’m like, ‘Would you help me out here? What are you seeing? Do you think I can get through another inning, through the heart of their lineup?’ And Larry really didn’t give me a whole lot of help. But I wanted to finish it.”
Pettitte went back — of course he did — but he told Girardi to have Dave Robertson loose in the bullpen just in case. There were two fly ball outs to right field, then a single to left. That’s when Girardi went to the mound and, one last time, let Pettitte make the call.
“He said if someone got on, bring Robby in,” Girardi said. “‘Bring the kid in,’ he said — it shows you a little bit about how old he is — so I ran out there and I said, ‘It’s still up to you. You tell me what you want to do.”
Pettitte wanted to finish it. He wanted to close out his career in his own way, under his own terms, something he didn’t really do the last time. He slapped his glove, hugged Chris Stewart, went through a line of congratulations from his teammates, and was literally shoved back onto the field by Girardi for a standing ovation from both the Houston fans and the Houston players. He waved, then he walked away on his own terms.
“I love this game so much, and love competing,” Pettitte said. “It’s kind of built inside of you. I realize now you’re never going to lose that, because I’ve already retired once, and I thought the competitiveness was beat out of me already. It’s a shame we’ve got to get old, and you can’t just continue to play this game. But just how blessed and fortunate I am to be able to play a game and get paid to do it. It’s just been incredible. I’m so excited about being at home. It’s just a new chapter in my life. It’s time. I’m just really really looking forward to it.”
Joe Girardi: “You think about how he pitched the last two months. He was as good as he’s been. When we needed him the most, he was as good as he’s been all year the last couple years. It’s just classic Andy: I’m going to find a way to fight through it. We didn’t score him a lot of runs again and he still got the win. … He talked about how he was getting tired after six and in the seventh. He kept going, and that’s just who he is. He’s a fighter when he’s out there and his competitive spirit is as good as anyone’s I’ve ever seen.”
CC Sabathia: “Especially toward the end, the seventh and eighth inning, me and Jeet, I started getting a little nervous. Hafner’s palms were sweating. I was hoping he could finish it and he did. It was awesome. … That was amazing. Harkey told him he’s been holding out on us. Just to watch him grind that out, pitch the way he pitched, it was unbelievable. I’m so proud of him. That’s a great way to go out.”
Derek Jeter: “He did an awesome job, but what would you expect otherwise? He’s been pitching big games his entire career. I know this one meant a lot to him. He wanted to have a good outing his last time out. I don’t know how many times he’s thrown that many pitches. It’s probably been 15 years since he’s done it. I told him he’s going to go see Dr. Andrews after the game. I’m happy for him, happy he was able to pitch like this his last game.”
Mariano Rivera: “I’m proud of him. He’s the best. That’s how God works. He gave him his last game being at home, threw a complete game. He did it alone with the Lord. Amazing. I’m so happy for him. He deserved that. … There was no doubt in my mind that he was the guy (who would get the last out). Joe was great to give him that shot. I’m glad it happened like that. He will have that in mind that that was his last game.”
• If you missed it in the game post, Rivera revealed today that he’d been pitching with soreness in his right forearm. He wouldn’t say when it started, only that it was well before Thursday’s game. “I think Thursday was the day that I left everything on the field,” he said. “I won’t say I’m hurt, but sore. I was pitching with tremendous soreness in my arm, but at the same time, I was giving everything. I left it there that night. Now I just want to enjoy what is left of the season.”
• As for not playing center field: “I did consider it strongly. If it would have been a few years earlier, I would have done it. But now my knee isn’t cooperating. I’m not going to make a fool of myself out there. I respect the game too much for me to do something that I’m not supposed to do.”
• Even with Pettitte pitching like this, Rivera said he was never thinking about coming in and close out one more Pettitte win. “No, I wasn’t,” Rivera said. “He was there and he was getting it done. And he did. He was there alone and no one will be there for him but himself, in a good sense. He did it.”
• Pettitte had not pitched a complete game since August 16, 2006, his last year with the Astros. He had not pitch a complete game on the road since April 30, 2001.
• Because he got the win, Pettitte improved to 11-11 on the season. That means he will retire having never finished a season with a losing record. “Obviously I knew that I had a losing record. I wanted to win,” Pettitte said. “(But) I hadn’t thought about what that means, I just know that I didn’t want to have a losing record. I’m not used to having a losing record. I’m not used to losing, I don’t feel like. So, no, not really. I just knew that this was an important game. I take every game so important. I take every game so hard and personal and I’m very thankful that we were able to win.”
• Although he didn’t show his emotions quite like Rivera did on Thursday, Pettitte said the day was an emotional one full of memories. “I was driving in today thinking about Joe catching me, and now he’s managing me,” Pettitte said. “Everything, you know. I’ve been saying it all day, before the game started. It’s a good day, but man it was a sad day too. I’ve been telling guys before I even started the game, I’ve been telling guys before I even started the game that it was a sad day.”
• Final word, naturally, goes to Pettitte: “I feel like (the past week) couldn’t have worked out any better, it couldn’t have happened any better. The only thing that could have worked out better was not hanging a couple of those cutters, on Sunday, in that game on Mo’s day. Other than not winning that ballgame, this, for me, it’s almost a fairy tale, man.”
Associated Press photos