MINNESOTA (AP) – Andy Pettitte is the winningest postseason pitcher in major league history, but for the first time there may be some apprehension as he heads to the mound for the New York Yankees in this year’s playoffs.
Pettitte, who recently returned from a long stint on the disabled list, looks to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead in the AL division series when he faces former teammate Carl Pavano and the Minnesota Twins on Thursday at Target Field.
Pettitte (11-3, 3.28 ERA) improved to 18-9 with a 3.90 ERA in 40 career playoff starts after going 4-0 with a 3.52 ERA in five games last season en route to New York’s 27th World Series title. That included a 4-1 win over Pavano and the Twins in Game 3 of the ALDS in which the left-hander allowed a run and three hits with seven strikeouts in 6 1-3 innings.
However, concerns are lingering about Pettitte’s health. He returned from the disabled list in mid-September after missing two months with a strained left groin, and was 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA in three starts, allowing 19 hits in 7 1-3 innings over the last two outings against arch-rival Boston.
Although those numbers might be cause for concern with any other pitcher, manager Joe Girardi feels confident about sending Pettitte to the mound with a chance for the Yankees to take a 2-0 series lead back to the Bronx for Game 3 on Saturday.
“I feel pretty good about it,” Girardi told the Yankees’ official website. “He said he felt really good about his bullpen (session) Monday. That makes me feel better.”
Girardi is counting on Pettitte’s experience in October to make a difference, but his success against Minnesota hasn’t been limited to the postseason. Pettitte defeated the Twins twice in 2010, giving up two runs over 14 1-3 innings, and has gone 8-0 with a 2.54 ERA in his last nine starts against them with two playoff victories.
Pettitte gets the call after the Yankees rallied for a 6-4 win in Game 1 on Wednesday. Francisco Liriano pitched five scoreless innings as Minnesota took a 3-0 lead, but New York scored four runs in the sixth – including a two-run triple by Curtis Granderson – and Mark Teixeira hit a tiebreaking, two-run homer in the seventh off loser Jesse Crain.
“Our lineup is so deep, there’s never a reason to give up,” Teixeira said. “There’s some teams where maybe two or three guys carry the team and if you’re in a big hole it’s tough to get out of. But with our lineup, we can be down four, five, six runs and still have a chance to score seven or eight. We just haven’t given up all year.”
The Yankees are 10-2 in postseason play against the Twins, including 6-0 in Minneapolis.
Minnesota, which hasn’t won a playoff series since 2002, has lost 10 straight and 17 of the last 19 postseason games.
The Twins have blown leads in their last four postseason losses to the Yankees, and now face the tough task of trying to be the first team since the 2005 Los Angeles Angels to advance after losing a first-round opener at home.
“We’ve got to get back up on our feet,” second baseman Orlando Hudson said. “There’s no need for us to sit here and talk about it. This isn’t the Twins’ curse versus the Yankees. It’s a new year. Hey, we’ve still got to battle.”
Pavano (17-11, 3.75) will try to help the Twins head to New York with a split as he comes off an outstanding regular season.
The right-hander recorded his most victories in a season since 2004 with Florida, but still faces questions about his disastrous time with the Yankees. Pavano signed a $39.95 million contract with New York in 2005, but he won just nine games and made only 26 starts over four seasons due to injuries.
“And I did get to put on a Yankees uniform, which as a kid, that is something I dreamed about,” said Pavano, a Connecticut native. “So that was definitely fun. But it is definitely overshadowed by some of the things that went on that I didn’t enjoy as far as injuries and stuff. But that’s all in the past. What are you going to do?”
Pavano’s only two postseason wins came as a reliever in 2003 when Florida went on to beat New York in the World Series. He didn’t face the Yankees this year.
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