By Jason Keidel
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A baffled Andy Pettitte stood by his locker after the Yanks were spanked by the Rangers in the ALCS, slivers of gray stenciled into his tight coiffure. A young man by most standards, but a graybeard by the fickle formulas of pro sports, he did not get a chance to go out on his terms.
Phil Hughes lost the final game of Pettitte’s career. And perhaps that, more than the rigors of another year, propelled Pettitte into retirement. As a big game pitcher always aware of his surroundings, he knew it wouldn’t work anymore.
Pettitte pitched as he acted: like a gentleman. Despite the volcanic narcissism all around him, the me-first mantras of incessant sponsorship, there was no crotch-clutching theatrics after a strikeout, a win, or a World Series title. From the jump he acted like he’d been there before. And rather quickly, he had.
Pettitte’s magnum opus came in Atlanta in 1996. Joe Torre gave him the game ball for Game 5, and Pettitte out-pitched John Smoltz when he should not have, against all odds and obstacles, tossing a shutout (over 8 1/3 innings) and shoving the Yankees to the cusp of their first world championship since 1978. Since then, his sobriquet as a money pitcher was cemented.
After an awkward hiatus in Houston, where he pitched for the Astros, Pettitte returned to the Yankees, where he belonged as much as any Yankee, reuniting a Core Four that never should have disbanded. Andy Pettitte is every much a Yankee as the other three, and they would be the first to tell us that.
A devoted Christian and family man, no one doubted Pettitte’s dedication to either. And while few doubt he would help the Yankees this year, his paternal and spiritual side may guide him into a smooth, unregretful retirement. At 38, with more money than he can spend, he seems set for life and the afterlife.
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We would be negligent to omit Pettitte’s congressional confession. He used HGH, a banned substance, to expedite healing from an injury. Considering the rampant misuse of PEDs over the epoch, it would be reasonable to doubt Pettite’s veracity when he said he only used it twice.
But since Pettitte’s country countenance, his aw-shucks refrain, seemed so warm and authentic, we want his transgressions to be as brief as he states. And perhaps they were. For those under 30, Pettitte is the dynastic face of your youth, and he provides the rare evidence that our athletic deities are still dignified.
And once all context is settled, we should salute Pettitte for who he is – this generation’s Whitey Ford.
Pettitte has 240 wins, which earns him Cooperstown consideration. Pitching in eight World Series and winning five, he finished with a 19-10 playoff record, which doesn’t tell the entire tale. Simply, two Joes gave him the ball and never expected to get it back.
For over a decade, Andy Pettitte was the bedrock starter of the New York Yankees, an autumnal monolith who embodied clutch more times than we can recall.
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