Rivera helped close the deal with Pettitte

Andy Pettitte talking to reporter while at Spring

Andy Pettitte talking to reporter while at Spring Training. (Feb. 27, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

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TAMPA, Fla. -- As happy as the Yankees are about having Andy Pettitte back, they say they didn't push him or rush him. Either they didn't know he was thinking about coming out of retirement or they believed it wasn't their place to impose. That was true for the whole team -- except for one guy.

When it came down to it, one valued teammate took the lead in encouraging Pettitte to take the huge step he took when he signed a $2.5-million minor-league deal Friday. Of course it was Mariano Rivera, the closer, who had the final word.

"I did," Rivera said Saturday after pitching an almost absurdly strong inning in an exhibition game. "Andy can help us, big time. It pays for me to say something."

But it was more than that with Rivera, more than the fact that the two pitchers represented half of the Core Four that came up through the system and made the Yankees dominant and more popular than they ever had been. It was that Rivera could read Pettitte the way he can read the strike zone. He just knew Pettitte needed to hear a positive voice. As always, Rivera knew just what kind of pitch to make.

Who would know better than a man who is asking the same question that Pettitte does when he looks in the mirror: Should I stay or should I go? Rivera recognizes the tugging that goes on among the head, the heart and the body when it comes to choosing between playing and retiring.

Rivera reiterated Saturday that he is "1,000 percent sure" about his own decision whether this will be his last season, but he is determined to play a chess game -- or perhaps the methodical Monopoly -- with reporters about announcing it.

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He could hear in Pettitte's conversation and see in his eyes that there was something left. So he urged him to take the plunge.

"That desire just doesn't go away," Rivera said. "When you see Yogi, Yogi is always talking about the game. That will never go away. What will go away is the conditioning. Then again, he's in great shape.

"It's definitely hard to go. It runs in your blood, in your system. But at the same time, we are different. Everybody has an individual opinion. He felt he had to take a year off and be with his family and support his family. Only he knows the reasons."

Now that Pettitte is back, he and his teammates agree on why it is a good idea. They think he's a terrific pitcher and a terrific guy to have around.

"He's an icon," said Nick Swisher, who screamed congratulations into the phone at Pettitte on Friday. "He's everything you want in a ballplayer. Not only does he have amazing career numbers but he's an amazing man."

Derek Jeter, another of the Core Four (along with the still-retired Jorge Posada, the first to text Pettitte on Friday), was among those who knew that Pettitte was mulling a comeback. He had declined to offer advice. "I would never pressure him," the captain said. But he sure had hoped that Pettitte would go through with it.

"Andy has done a lot for the organization. Other guys love him. He adds to our team, on the field, off the field," Jeter said. "He's a good guy, you know what I mean? He's just a good person. I haven't heard too many people say anything bad about Andy Pettitte."

Fans and teammates never will forget how he always seemed to lift the Yankees when they needed it most, such as his 1-0 win in Game 5 of the 1996 World Series -- a pivotal moment in the franchise's run.

Pettitte's success and personality overcame the stigma of his one flaw: an admission that he used HGH. His reputation staved off any skepticism about his claim that he had used it only once or twice.

"He has been like a brother to me," Joba Chamberlain said. "He has led me in a lot of right directions. He's a strong man with conviction in his faith. Just being able to see him, the way he approaches his family and his work, has been great."

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The Yankees believe he can be the same Pettitte that they knew, even after a year off, even after his 40th birthday on June 15.

"It's like I said about Derek when people were talking about him when he was struggling the first two months," Joe Girardi said. "I wouldn't bet against him. I wouldn't bet against Andy Pettitte."

Alex Rodriguez said that if there were six categories to grade a ballplayer, Pettitte would get an A-plus in every one. He cited examples such as Pettitte's "Navy SEAL work ethic," his advice to CC Sabathia and his "demand for excellence" that reminds him of Rivera. Who else?

His old friends know that Pettitte made a good decision, because it was Pettitte who made it. They like his chances to get himself back in top form. "You know," Rivera said, "that he will do the right thing."

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