By Jason Keidel
It seems you can’t turn a sports page without finding a Yankee in some stage of repose. Mariano Rivera insists he’s retiring even if he shouldn’t. Derek Jeter insists he won’t retire even if he should.
But the forgotten prince of the halcyon years, the lost cog of the core four, may have pitched his last important game Tuesday night.
Andy Pettitte, the most decorated, pinstriped pitcher since Whitey Ford, is inching toward the twilight, one gutty cutter at a time. His humble, aw-shucks refrain is so charming and understated that we don’t even acknowledge him.
You won’t find a bigger Rivera fan than yours truly, and I wholly disagree with Boomer & Carton’s assertion that River Ave shouldn’t morph into Rivera Ave. (They should name the damn stadium after him). But while the world has showered the pitcher nonpareil with retirement doodads, Pettitte, who has served Rivera with more save opportunities than any pitcher in history, is handling his business with equal grace, if not at an equal pace.
Pettitte wasn’t the best pitcher in baseball, ever. But when the Yankees were an essential baseball team he was an essential Yankee. We’re told Yankees are judged by high deeds under brown leaves. So Pettitte’s 19 playoff wins — by far the most in MLB history — should register somewhere in the Hall of Fame’s Geiger counter. Baseball is renowned for rewarding numbers, compilers. And just as important as his fastball, curve, or cutter, Pettitte had longevity, which is among the baseball’s most blessed characteristics.
Even if he’s not Roger, Randy or Pedro, his robust 255-152 record, 3.86 ERA, and iconic October moments warrant a look, pause, and thought. He has earned that much, even if it’s not quite enough.
Perhaps I’m jaded. Perhaps I’m a fraud. I spent a month pounding A-Rod for his myriad PED dalliances, yet I ignore Andy’s mea culpa. I want to believe he really took HGH twice because I dig him, just as you still believe A-Rod was framed and Jeter can still play because you adore them.
Tuesday night was Pettitte’s template. He pitched nearly seven innings, surrendered six hits, and just one run. It wasn’t easy. It never was for Pettitte. Even in his prime he relied on his guts as much as his gifts. His bumpy,100-pitch calling card, filled with singles and double plays and pickoff moves, spoke to the blue-collar grit of our city, back when we could afford a ticket to see the old guy, in the old park, in the old days.
As the postmortems pour in on the 2013 Yankees — and you found the first one here — we find ourselves in the paradox of mourning a lost season while saluting the remaining graybeards from the ’90s.
The fossils of the Torre Dynasty are fading, buried under the voracious need for more. Of everything. A new park, a new team, a new network, a velvet-roped martini bar they call Yankee Stadium, home to the red wine and wind chimes crowd, who spent their seven innings on their iPhones, waving like baboons at the nearest camera.
Old school is the new euphemism for old people. There’s no room for nostalgia in the new edifice, in the new New York, for guys like Pettitte.
But maybe there’s one more seat available in Cooperstown.
Email Jason at Jakster0529@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @JasonKeidel
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