Andy Pettitte bids farewell as biggest postseason winner in baseball history

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Andy Pettitte never has been one to stand alone. He rarely has been the ace of the Yankees' staff, the proverbial "face of the franchise" or anything more than one of the Core Four. His goal always has been to do what his team needed, when the team needed it most.

He did that so well that he earned a place in this Yankee generation's Mount Rushmore. And through a career of just trying to pitch in, he ultimately stood out. He is retiring as the biggest postseason winner in baseball history.

As he announced and explained his retirement Friday, he insisted that he never has been a dominant pitcher. He said that description belongs to longtime teammate and fellow 2013 retiree Mariano Rivera. But there always has been something about Pettitte that made him an extremely valuable and unforgettable Yankee. He leaves as one of the greatest pitchers they have ever had.

He won the pivotal Game 5 of the pivotal 1996 World Series, helping to end an 18-year championship drought. He was the one who always seemed to win a game after a tough loss, restoring order and hope. He was the one who will be remembered for peering over the top of his glove, intensely looking toward the plate, channeling a blend of inner fire and inner peace.

Six years ago, after Pettitte won a big game against the Red Sox after a 16-0 defeat, Joe Torre said, "When he's on the mound and everything is swirling around him, he keeps his focus. Andy is such a pro. He is so calm."

Eleven years before that, he pitched his signature victory, a 1-0 World Series Game 5 triumph over John Smoltz in Atlanta in which Pettitte made a key acrobatic fielding play on Mark Lemke's bunt. Afterward, Pettitte typically focused on "we," not "me." He said, "We've got a real special thing going on."

The real special thing, it turns out, was the way the pinstripe legacy was revived by Pettitte and fellow homegrown Core Four members Rivera, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada. Their era will forever hold its own with any in Yankees history. Pettitte was at the heart of it, before and after he left with Roger Clemens for their hometown Astros and helped them to the 2005 World Series; before and after his retirement following the 2010 season and comeback last year.

Just being on the Yankees' roster had been an unlikely saga for Andrew Eugene Pettitte, born 41 years ago in Baton Rouge, La., and raised in Deer Park, Texas. He was a 22nd- round draft pick who worked his head off to become a big- leaguer and kept working just as hard after he became an All-Star.

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He was a throwback, like the stars of the 1970s, having incurred George Steinbrenner's infamous temper. Newspaper reports in 1999 indicated that Pettitte was all but gone, set to be banished in a deal for Phillies minor-leaguers because The Boss was sick of him. But Torre and front-office people went to bat for Pettitte, and he went on to win three more World Series rings with the club.

He said Friday that, other than the first title in 1996, his greatest thrill was winning again in 2009 at the new Yankee Stadium. Pettitte won four games that postseason, including the clincher in every series.

"At crunch time, he's always there," Joe Girardi said.

The overwhelming majority of Pettitte's 255 regular-season victories have meant something. He was no personal-stats compiler. All told, Pettitte has 19 postseason wins, five rings and mostly good memories.

Not completely good memories. At his news conference Friday, he confessed regret about having taken human growth hormone. His use of the banned substance likely will hinder whatever chance he might have had to be voted into the Hall of Fame.

Still, the minister's son-in-law and Sunday school teacher built enough credibility and goodwill that the HGH scandal did not permanently scar him among peers and fans.

He will receive a heartfelt ovation Sunday at Yankee Stadium for his final regular-season start there. His farewell will get second billing on Mariano Rivera Day, which will be just fine with Pettitte.

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