Yankees

Palladino: Pettitte Return Just What Yankees Needed

Andy Pettitte (credit: Jason Szenes/Getty Images)

Andy Pettitte (credit: Jason Szenes/Getty Images)

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By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns

Andy Pettitte apparently wasn’t up watching the scoreboard as Tuesday night melted into early Wednesday morning. Otherwise, he might have seen that 18-inning Orioles victory in Seattle and gotten completely discouraged.

You know, like, “What do we have to do to separate itself from these guys?” uttered through the haze of someone called to work at 1 p.m. after hitting the sack after 4 a.m.

Instead, Pettitte went to the mound Wednesday in his return from the DL and threw five shutout innings at the Blue Jays before the bullpen took over and sealed a 4-2 win.

For a team trying mightily to stay ahead in the AL East race, Pettitte’s successful return after nearly three months of rehab and simulated games couldn’t have been more welcome. It wasn’t necessarily his smoothest outing ever. He threw a lot of pitches over the first four innings as he worked himself out of two-runner situations in the second, third and fourth. And with a 75-pitch limit, he was unable to go deeper into the game.

But there was no doubt the left-hander had returned. Same old Pettitte, making good pitches at the right time, keeping the damage to a minimum. Actually, he kept the real damage, the kind that shows up in crooked numbers on the scoreboard, to nothing.

He hadn’t pitched since June 27, thanks to a broken leg. So Joe Girardi, the Yanks, or anyone in the sun-spotted, half-empty Yankee Stadium stands Wednesday afternoon really had no idea what they’d see.

Pettitte rewarded the faithful few with hope. Hope that maybe this pitching staff is going to be all right after all, despite the problems with struggling CC Sabathia and a bullpen that has walked the tightrope in recent games.

New York sports fans needed a story like that, what with the typical cries going up about Mark Sanchez’ inconsistency and the fact that the Giants will not only have to go against the Panthers Thursday night without David Diehl, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Domenik Hixon, but now top receiver Hakeem Nicks thanks to that bum foot of his. And need anyone talk about the Mets’ woes?

So at least for the afternoon, Pettitte became the city’s bright spot. And only hours after the Orioles had finished their five-hour, 44-minute marathon, deflating anyone who might have bothered staying up to the wee hours, he produced. Suddenly, it didn’t seem to matter that the O’s, winners of 15 straight extra-inning games — the longest streak since the Indians rattled off 17 straight in 1949 — were still hanging off the Yanks’ shoulders, a thin percentage point behind.

The fastball hovered between 88 and 90, respectable enough to get the job done. As Pettitte always does, he mixed it up, located the right pitches, and got leadoff hitter Rajai Davis looking at a curveball. Despite his trouble in the fifth, and sitting perilously close to the upper range of his pitch limit, he induced Colby Rasmus to ground out with his 74th serve.

It took one last pitch to get Brett Lawrie to ground out and end the inning, and his day.

Now the trick is to stretch him out. Girardi will let him throw 85-90 pitches in his next outing against Minnesota, and after that he should be ready to go a full load in his final two starts of the season.

The Yanks will need him at his best because the gritty Orioles, extra-inning masters this year, apparently are not going away anytime soon.

Your thoughts on Pettitte’s return? Be heard in the comments below!