HOUSTON — The Indians led two games to none in the American League Division Series, but confidence oozed from the Yankees’ clubhouse that they could come back.
It oozed from one of their old warhorses, too.
“I just had a good feeling about this club,” Andy Pettitte said Friday afternoon, a few hours before Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.
Pettitte touched base with CC Sabathia, one of his closest friends, shortly after the Yankees’ brutal 13-inning loss in ALDS Game 2. They had just blown a five-run lead.
“I told him I had a feeling they were going to be able to pull this thing off,” Pettitte said in an interview before heading into the Yankees’ clubhouse to renew old acquaintances. “I told him, ‘You guys are going to come back and win this series, I can guarantee you that.’ He said, ‘I hope you’re right.’ ”
Pettitte, 45, who went 19-11 in the postseason (the 19 wins are the all-time record), has spent some time around the Yankees since his retirement after the 2013 season. He grew up and still lives in the Houston area, so he’s almost always around when the Yankees play here. Pettitte also makes an annual trip to spring training for a day or two as a guest instructor.
“They have a good group of guys,” said Pettitte, who went 256-153 in his 18-year career, 15 of which he spent with the Yankees (219-127) and three of which he spent with the Astros (37-26). “I just felt good about it. I don’t know why. They have a great chemistry, I feel like. I haven’t been around in a few months, but when you watch the guys play and I talk to the guys that I still know and spent time with, I just felt like it’s a good group. I felt real good about the team.”
He drew much of his confidence during the ALDS from how the pitching lined up, starting with Masahiro Tanaka going in Game 3 and Luis Severino in Game 4.
“I thought Severino was going to pitch good after not a great outing [in the AL wild-card game], and I thought in a Game 5, CC was going to do great,” Pettitte said. “I just thought it was really set up good.”
Pettitte said he couldn’t have been more excited while watching Sabathia retire 13 of the first 14 he faced with nine strikeouts in Game 5.
“Everybody asks me, do I miss playing?” Pettitte said. “Let me tell you something, when he’s pitching and it’s October and I’m sitting there watching, it makes you want to be back out there. You miss it.
“I’m kind of like living through CC watching him go out there and do what he’s doing. I feel like I’ve invested so much with him. I played with him and just continue to as I’ve been out of baseball. It was fun. It was fun watching him. I’m just proud of him, what he’s come through, what he’s been through, what he’s done. Not only in baseball but as a man. The way he handled himself. He’s a special kind of player.”
Pettitte pitched for the Astros from 2004-06, helping to lead his hometown team to its only World Series appearance in 2005. He has a strong connection to the franchise — just not quite as strong as he does with the one that retired his No. 46 in 2015.
“It’s more than exciting, it’s awesome,” Pettitte said of the ALCS matchup. “Obviously, I’m a Yankee. I’m in Monument Park. And these guys [the Astros] have been great to me. I had three good years here. I’m most excited just to see two great teams go at it, and that’s what we’ve got here. Also, this is so good for our city.”
It’s a city that not too long ago was underwater as a result of Hurricane Harvey. Pettitte said his home was not flooded, one of only three on his street not to have been.
“We’ve been through so much because there’s still people not in their houses and they won’t be for a long time,” Pettitte said. “For them to be able to come and be able to cheer and put all that aside for three or four hours as they go through this series, it’s really, really special. It’s Texas, it’s a football state, but the city is fired up, and it’s good to see that. To see it turn into a baseball town, it’s pretty cool.”