By Neil Keefe
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When Andy Pettitte left his May 5 start against the Orioles in the sixth inning after throwing just 77 pitches and allowing one earned run on six hits, I knew something was wrong, I just didn’t know how wrong.
I was sitting in Section 203 in the right field bleachers checking my phone for updates on Pettitte, but no one had any. When the game ended, it sounded like I might have watched Pettitte walk off a major league mound for the last time. But those reports were premature and 10 days later he shut out the Twins at Yankee Stadium over 6 1/3 innings to improve to 5-0.
Now Andy Pettitte is really done. All offseason there was certainly a chance that he would retire after a year in which he was an All-Star and pitched to a 3.28 ERA in 21 regular season starts and a 2.57 ERA in two postseason starts, but I didn’t think he would really walk away. At least I didn’t want to believe he would really walk away. But then he said the following on Friday morning:
“I will not pitch this season. I can assure you of that. And I do not plan on pitching again.”
And with that I thought of the dialogue between Ari Gold and Lloyd when Lloyd is driving Ari home after he’s been fired by Terrance McQuewick.
Ari: My life over!
Lloyd: You will bounce back, Ari Gold!
Ari: I drove to work in an $80,000 Mercedes. I’m driving home in a prop car from The Fast and the Furious. I just don’t see it.
Well, I went into this offseason thinking the Yankees would have a rotation of CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett in 2011. Now it’s February 4 and I’m banking on two starters from a list of names that includes: Ivan Nova, Sergio Mitre, Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon. No. 28 in 2011? I just don’t see it.
Last week I called this the Murphy’s Law offseason, but I was still holding out hope that Pettitte would come back and at least something would go right this winter. But while the snow continues to kick the crap out of the northeast, left-handed free agent starting pitchers continue to kick the crap out of my 2011 summer. I thought getting free agent starters to come to New York was supposed to be easier than getting Deena’s golden ticket on the Jersey Shore. I didn’t know the Phillies and families could do so much damage.
What good has come out of this offseason? Let’s take some inventory. (Picture Ricky Gervais reciting it the way he gave the recap of Charlie Sheen’s epic night during his monologue at the Golden Globes). The front office tried to deface the images of the two most important Yankees of this era. They lost out on their main free agent target, signed a setup man to closer money and divided the front office, and then watched the winningest postseason pitcher in history leave at least $12 million on the table. And all the while the Red Sox (a team that took the Yankees down to the final week in 2010 with names like Ryan Kalish, Daniel Nava, Josh Reddick, Yamaico Navarro and Felipe Lopez playing) got deeper and stronger. It’s amazing that anyone ever says anything negative about how Brian Cashman conducts business. Give the man a break. He’s trying his best!
I’m actually in shock. When Cliff Lee chose the Phillies, it was devastating, but there was still hope that Pettitte would come back and maybe A.J. Burnett wouldn’t be the worst statistical pitcher in the history of the Yankees for a second straight year and the Yankees could make a deal at the deadline. Now that Pettitte isn’t coming back, A.J. Burnett has no choice, but to be good or the Yankees won’t make it to the deadline and won’t have a chance to make a move. This offseason has been about getting left at the altar, but there’s no one left to leave Yankees fans at the altar this winter. And that’s a good thing because I don’t know if I can take another devastating announcement, but it’s bad thing because it means there’s no one left who could help this team this year.
After 489 games and 240 wins Pettitte won’t be pitching in 2011 and most likely never again. Everyone is sharing their favorite Pettitte memories and thanking him for his 13 years in pinstripes. And I want to thank Pettitte too, but right now I can’t because I’m too mad. And that’s because I’m selfish. Because I want the Yankees to win in 2011. And Andy Pettitte isn’t leaving the game because he pitches like A.J. Burnett or because he’s hurt. He’s leaving with what I believe is a lot left in the tank. He’s leaving the game knowing he can still get the job done and still dominate, and maybe that’s for the best because watching Andy Pettitte’s career come crashing down the way The Office is would just be too painful to watch. But instead of talking about the ’96 World Series or reliving the ’09 World Series, I would rather ask Pettitte two questions:
1. Why wait so long?
I’m the last person that should be asking anyone why it’s so hard for them to make decisions. I have a problem being decisive on anything. But when I wait to make a decision, it just ruins plans for a Saturday night. It doesn’t potentially ruin an entire baseball season.
Cashman said at his breakfast a couple of weeks ago that Pettitte told him after the Yankees lost in Game 6 in Texas that Cashman shouldn’t count on him for 2011. So why did Pettitte wait until 10 days before pitchers and catchers report to make his decision that he would not be pitching this season? I guess he gets to take his time for what he’s done, but if he knew in October that he didn’t want to come back, why wait over three months to announce it?
It probably doesn’t matter that Pettitte waited this long since it most likely wouldn’t have changed this offseason. The Yankees were going to fail to get Cliff Lee as long as the Phillies were in the mix, and there weren’t any other worthy options out there. So while it hurts that this news had to come so late, I guess it really doesn’t’ matter.
2. Why not leave after 2009?
Sure there’s the money (though Pettitte said it’s never been about that). And without Pettitte in 2010, maybe the Yankees don’t make the playoffs. I’m not sure. But why not leave after 2009 when you win the clinching game for the AL East, the clinching game of the ALDS, the clinching game of the ALCS and the clinching game of the World Series?
I think this is what doesn’t make sense to me the most. How can Andy decide now to hang it up knowing that his last start ever will be a Mike Mussina start (he pitched just good enough to lose) in Game 3 of the ALCS when Cliff Lee shut out the Yankees?
Like Axl Rose said, “Where do we go now?” And I honestly have no idea. Freddy Garcia? Kevin Millwood? Has anyone seen Paul Byrd lately? Can Pedro Martinez throw 80 mph? What’s Shawn Chacon doing? In the Murphy’s Law offseason of signing low-risk, high-reward pitchers, all of these questions need to be answered.
But since I have no idea what happens now for the 2011 Yankees and their pitching problems, the only thing I could think of was to place an emergency call to the voice of the reason, Sweeny Murti, and ask him what the plan might be.
Murti: “The Yankees still had a need for a starting pitcher whether Andy was going to be here or not. I heard people talking on Thursday that Pettitte’s decision means the Yankees are going to trade for somebody, and that it means they are really going to push harder to trade for somebody. I don’t think the Yankees pursuit of a starting pitcher was any less because they thought Andy Pettitte might come back. They’ve been going every avenue possible to find another starting pitcher.
“You can throw Colon or Garcia or Millwood in the mix all you want, but you’re not getting a No. 1 or No. 2 starter. You’re probably not even going to get a No. 3 starter, and I don’t even know if you will get a full season out of them combined. The Yankees just need numbers to throws at the back half of the rotation.”
I started to think about the possibility that maybe 2011 will be a feared “bridge” year and that maybe the Yankees would experiment with a youth movement, while still trying to sell the idea that they are trying to win in 2011. So, I asked Sweeny what the chance is that we see some young faces in the rotation.
Murti: “At some point during the year, its not absurd. I was talking to a scout about this on Thursday and he said that the Yankees might have to do what a lot of other teams do and if the best arm is a guy sitting at Triple-A, you might have to give him a shot.
“If Dellin Betenaces demonstrates that he’s overmatching people at Triple-A and he’s ready to come up and try to help the big league, OK, that’s great. But if he goes 0-2 to start, Yankees fans aren’t going to want him in the rotation. If he’s 0-2 and the Yankees are six games behind Boston, who’s going to want to let him pitch more and mature and learn and grow? But that’s what you have to do though. You saw it with Hughes. You saw it with Chamberlain. You saw it with Kennedy. These guys have to learn how to lose before they can learn how to win, and it’s like that with every young pitcher.
“I think it’s really unfair for any pitcher that comes up to expect him to be the ’84 or ’85 Dwight Gooden right out of the shoot. That just doesn’t happen. So, Betances, Banuelos and even Brackman, these guys might be able to contribute this year at the big league level, but to think they could go 18-4 for the 2011 New York Yankees is quite unrealistic.”
There’s no definitive answer as to what the Yankees rotation will look like when Paul Olden announces the complete roster at Yankee Stadium for Opening Day in 55 days. CC Sabathia will be there. Phil Hughes will be there. A.J. Burnett, unfortunately, will be there. After that it’s anyone’s guess. But if you thought watching Joe Girardi make eight-plus pitching changes a game was bad when he actually had a rotation, just wait to see what he has in store for a rotation in shambles and a bullpen that features two closers and two left-handed “specialists”.
Sweeny told me, “Pettitte made the best decision for him and there’s no going back on that now.”
That’s true, but it wasn’t the best decision for me. I know it’s selfish, but that’s how I feel.
Before the start of every summer I like to think, “This is going to be the best summer EVERRRRR!” And sometimes the summer lives up to the hype and sometimes it isn’t as good as the previous summer. There will be a time and place for me to thank Andy Pettitte for his time as a Yankee, but right now I can’t because all I can think about is the 2011 season and pray that my summer isn’t ruined before it officially begins.
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