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With the best-of-seven series tied 1-1 after a 7-2 loss in Game 2 Saturday, the Yankees now have to go up against dominant lefthander Cliff Lee in Game 3 and plan to send the unpredictable A.J. Burnett to the mound in Game 4. So it's easy to envision a scenario in which the Yankees fall behind three games to one.
That's what makes Pettitte's performance Monday night so important, and he knows it. He just hopes he doesn't have any negative effects from the 10 days of rest he will have since he last pitched in Minnesota in ALDS Game 2 on Oct. 7.
"Obviously, it's going to be 11 days for me making this start on Monday, which is an awful long time," Pettitte said after the Yankees' 7-2 Game 2 loss yesterday. "You'd rather pitch on three days' rest than  days' rest, I can promise you that much. But it is what it is."
Pettitte is convinced that the long layoffs negatively affected Sabathia and Hughes. Sabathia had pitched once in the previous 16 days and was going on eight days' rest; Hughes had started once in the previous 19 days and was pitching on six days' rest.
"There's no doubt about it, I believe," he said. He thinks the only way he can combat falling victim to the same problem is by fighting his way through the early innings. "I think literally, it's if you can get through those first couple of innings," he said. "If you can control your emotions and get going early. Sometimes it's tough to get going.''
But Pettitte is not worried about struggling in an important moment. He said he used to look back on his performance in Game 5 of the 1996 World Series (81/3 scoreless innings) to give him confidence in these spots but doesn't need that anymore.
"I hate to say this, but it's just not that big an issue to me," he said. "I don't want to sound arrogant. But I've made so many postseason starts and they all seemed so big, so it's another game."
But everyone knows it's anything but "another game" in the Yankees' quest for a second straight world championship.
"There's been talk about Cliff Lee before he even started this series, and people were talking about Game 3," manager Joe Girardi said. "But let's not forget that we have a pretty good guy on the mound, too.''