Sure, it was a great story having Raul Ibañez turn around the ALDS for the Yankees with big hits in Games 3 and 5. But generally speaking, it is not wise to continue relying on such an old player as the playoffs grind forward.

So when the ALCS opens Saturday night at Yankee Stadium, the home team will turn to a younger man to get things started: Andy Pettitte, a full 13 days Ibañez's junior.

Ready to be reliable, Andy?

Isn't he always?

"It's nice to feel like I have been able to do that, whenever I have been able to be healthy and get out there,'' the 40-year-old lefthander said after the Yankees eliminated the Orioles Friday night.

Needless to say -- even though Pettitte was asked to say it again -- this is why he came back this season after a one-year retirement: to return to the October spotlight in a career that already includes a record 19 postseason victories.

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The wrinkle is that with CC Sabathia having pitched a complete game to win the Division Series for the Yankees, this time Pettitte will not be in his traditional role as the No. 2 starter in the playoffs.

When the Yankees take the field against the Tigers, Pettitte will have the ball, knowing Sabathia won't be back until mid-series.

"I couldn't say I feel any more pressure,'' he said. "Look, we have to have a team effort. We have to have our starters throwing the ball well or we're not going to win this series, probably. I feel like I am able to simplify it to that extent. I definitely need to give us a good start and get the series off to a good first game, that's for sure.''

Pettitte, who returned Sept. 19 after suffering a fractured ankle when he was hit by a one-hopper in late June, allowed three runs in seven innings in taking the ALDS Game 2 loss.

He said he was focused on potentially being needed out of the bullpen in Game 5 Friday night and thus hadn't spent any time thinking about the Tigers.

But he has observed and competed against the Tigers' Triple Crown winner, Miguel Cabrera, for many years, and faced him in the 2003 World Series when Cabrera was a Marlins rookie. What makes him so challenging?

"Obviously, he doesn't have a whole lot of holes,'' Pettitte said. "He's got power to the opposite field, and he's obviously got pull power. When you have got a guy like that, he's tough to get out.

"I don't know if I can shut him down, but you try to keep him from doing too much damage. That's key to us winning the series, that's for sure.''

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The Yankees' starters were excellent against the Orioles, but the Tigers figure to put more pressure on the staff, beginning with its most experienced member.

"We threw the ball well in this series,'' Pettitte said. "Runs were hard to come by . . . Hopefully we can carry that over right into the next series here.''