David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Backed up against a concrete wall, boxed in by reporters, Brian Cashman delivered the announcement Tuesday that everybody had been waiting nearly two months to hear. At long last, Andy Pettitte will make his 2012 debut for the Yankees, with the team's decision-makers choosing to clear a starting spot for him Sunday against the Mariners.
Frankly, the whole thing felt a little forced, and the Pettitte news wasn't even the first item on the agenda. Cashman kicked the session off by taking questions on the supposed "complications" involving Mariano Rivera's pending knee surgery. On Rivera, the conversation involved a variety of questions, but only one response from the GM: "No comment."
Rivera supposed to give an update on his condition this afternoon, but in essence, the Yankees officially turned the page on their injured closer in the ninth inning in a 5-3 victory over the Rays. So as they wait to revive some of the franchise's past glory with Pettitte's return, the Yankees were forced to usher in a piece of their future in David Robertson.
Neither is easy to do. Just as Joe Girardi truly has no idea what Pettitte will offer Sunday, the manager also is in uncharted waters with Robertson, who has been forced into the unenviable role of being Rivera's replacement. Robertson has proved to be a dominant setup man, but he's not Rivera. No one is.
"I have a ton of faith in what David Robertson is capable of doing," Girardi said. "I've watched it year after year for a while here. But anytime that we see someone different than Mo, it's just different."
No kidding. Robertson loaded the bases with a single and two walks before finally striking out Carlos Peña, who looked at a 93-mph fastball. The Yankees knew this day was coming -- they just didn't expect it quite this soon.
As for Pettitte, as Girardi mentioned with Robertson, it also comes down to faith. Will Sunday herald the return of the 2010 version, the Pettitte who went 11-3 before walking away? Or could this be, at age 39, a lefthander recognizable as Pettitte only by the No. 46 and accompanying pinstripes?
When asked how badly the Yankees need Pettitte to pitch like his pre-retirement self, the GM probably wanted to say "duh" but opted for a more refined reply.
"It would help," Cashman said. "But at the same time, there's still the unknown."
Pettitte had a 3.71 ERA in four minor-league starts (OK, not terrible). He allowed 19 hits for 17 innings (eh). Struck out 13, walked three (solid).
Ultimately, those numbers could mean nothing. But in green-lighting Pettitte for Sunday, there was a sense of now or never in coming to that decision.
"At some point, you make a call," Cashman said. "There's only so much you're going to see at a certain level."
The Yankees are counting on -- in Cashman's words -- the "intensity, the adrenaline, the focus" being amped up when Pettitte arrives in the Bronx. That's a good bet. As much as the Yankees could use the boost, Girardi denied viewing Pettitte as a savior.
"It was never a move that we thought, God, we have to do this because we've struggled a little bit," Girardi said. "No, it has to be on him being ready. You want him to feel strong and get on a roll."
That could still take a while. What began as a nice story in spring training has the potential to be a giant headache. Even CC Sabathia required a few April starts to get warmed up. Expect the same from Pettitte.
"He's probably going to need a little bit more time I would imagine after having been out for so long," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I would say within a month or so, he should look pretty much normal."
The Yankees probably would sign on for that for right now, just as long as Sunday at the Stadium doesn't wind up resembling a Tuesday in Trenton.