Andy Pettitte still ahead of curve at 40

Andy Pettitte throws a pitch against the Washington Andy Pettitte throws a pitch against the Washington Nationals. (June 16, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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David Lennon David Lennon has been a staff writer for

David Lennon has been a staff writer for Newsday since 1991, when he started covering New York City ...

WASHINGTON

Upon turning 40, buying a Harley, getting a divorce or finally going for that bottle of Rogaine are the usual signs of a mid-life crisis.

For Andy Pettitte, who passed that mile-marker Friday, it appears he's added a new twist to an old pitch. What we all have come to know as his trusted cut fastball, or cutter, has morphed into more of a slider or slurve or some other bending hybrid.

Joe Girardi describes the pitch as a slider, saying it's better now than he has ever seen. Pettitte refers to it as a cutter, but with the concession that he does change speeds with the pitch and throws it with varying depth.

Whatever the label, Bryce Harper probably saw that pitch in his nightmares Saturday night after the Yankees outlasted the Nationals, 5-3, in 14 innings.

Pettitte was long gone by the time Mark Teixeira's two-run double paved the way for the Yankees' eighth straight win. But the imprint he left on Harper's brain after striking him out three times may have helped neutralize the Nats' wonderboy for the remainder of the game. Harper whiffed twice more after Pettitte's departure and also grounded out to end the game.

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Chalk this one up to experience -- combined with masterful execution. Knowing Harper's attack-mode tendencies, Pettitte threw him two straight fastballs in his first at-bat, followed by 11 consecutive cutters. During that almost comical stretch, Harper had seven swings-and-misses. The crowd actually cheered when he took a pitch for a ball to open his seventh-inning at-bat.

"He just seemed extremely aggressive," Pettitte said. "Then obviously you see him swinging the way that he was, for me it was like, why go anywhere else right now? I just stayed with those cutters."

The generation gap could not have been any wider. As silly as Pettitte made Harper look, he also kept the Nationals in check, leaving after seven innings with the Yankees in front 3-2.

Pettitte had thrown only 95 pitches by then, so it raised the question of why Girardi chose to lift him at that point. Pettitte surpassed the 100-pitch mark three times in his previous seven starts and went as high as 115 for an eight-inning victory over the Reds on May 18. In his last outing, Pettitte threw 95 in a no-decision against the Mets and even got an extra day of rest after that. But in Girardi's estimation, he was spent after the seventh.

"I just felt like it was time to make a change," Girardi said. "Just from communication, you know? We keep in close touch, and he said he was getting close. We just felt that he had exhausted himself."

Pettitte didn't disagree, saying he "was pretty gassed." Afterward, he tried to put his finger on why he might have been worn out. It could have been his running regimen in the Atlanta heat, the intensity of the game or a combination of both. Or possibly something that dawned on him only as he talked to reporters at his locker. "Maybe being 40," he said, laughing.

There's some truth to that. For the first time in his life, Pettitte is a 40-year-old pitcher, one who still is in the midst of resurrecting his career after skipping an entire season. It's not surprising that he might need to make some adjustments going forward. Pettitte really has no idea how the layoff will affect him as this season progresses.

"I'm not sure," he said. "I can't answer that question. I want to chalk it up to being a day game, it was warm out there, I'm grinding every pitch. Those are things that are going through my head as we're getting into summer."

Figuring it all out will be a priority for the Yankees now that Pettitte is pitching more like their No. 1 starter and CC Sabathia the 1-A. But the number on Pettitte's mind Saturday was the big 4-0, which reminded him he's only as old as he feels.

He didn't get the win, so maybe he can treat himself to a new Rolex or something.

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