New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte delivers the ball to...

New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte delivers the ball to the Houston Astros during the second inning of a baseball game, Friday, at Yankee Stadium in New York. (June 11, 2010) Credit: AP

Andy Pettitte beat the Astros on Friday night, 4-3, for his 200th win as a Yankee. Victim No. 200 could have been any team, but that it was Houston allows us to raise this question:

Why exactly did the Yankees and Pettitte part ways after the 2003 season? Why did Pettitte spend those three years with the Astros before returning to the Yankees in 2007?

It may go down as one of the great unanswered questions of the Steinbrenner Era. Pettitte wanted to play near home, but it's hard to imagine he wouldn't have stayed if the Yankees had made him feel more needed.

"I think you'd be lying if you didn't . . . think, 'Man, if I'd have stayed here,' " Pettitte said. "But I don't regret it. I don't. I feel like it was what I needed to do at that time with the situation how it worked out here and not being able to come back here . . . and the way they were feeling at that time about me, I think."

How were the Yankees - specifically, George Steinbrenner - feeling about him at that time? Pettitte was a World Series-proven lefthander coming off a 21-win season. But the team did have concerns about his elbow and he did blow it out in 2004 on a checked swing before returning to help Houston reach its only World Series the next season.

Regardless of the Houston years, Pettitte still will retire as one of the top Yankees pitchers of all time; he's third on the franchise wins list behind Hall of Famers Whitey Ford and Red Ruffing.

"Andy's about as humble a guy as I've ever met," manager Joe Girardi said. "One day, though, I think he'll sit back and be very fond about what he's done in his career and really will enjoy it and share it with his children and his grandchildren. Andy's meant so much to this organization. He's done a lot of special things."

Pettitte, 37, may one day be a Hall of Fame candidate himself, depending on how long he pitches and how many wins he totals. He has 237.

Pettitte (8-1, 2.46 ERA) threw 71/3 innings Friday and was charged with three runs (two earned). He allowed four hits, walked one and struck out four.

The Yankees gave him a 3-0 lead in the first inning against Brett Myers (4-4, 3.18). Nick Swisher drove in the first run with a bases-loaded walk before Francisco Cervelli hit a two-out, two-run single to center. Cervelli is 5-for-7 with the bases loaded this season with 13 RBIs.

The Astros made it 3-2 in the second on a two-run double by Tommy Manzella. After that, Pettitte retired 16 of 17 batters through the seventh inning.

The Yankees led 4-3 in the eighth when Joba Chamberlain struck out Lance Berkman - one of Pettitte's closest friends - with the tying run on third base. Mariano Rivera pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his 15th save and gave Pettitte the game ball. Pettitte also got a congratulatory call from former Yankee Ron Guidry.

Notes & quotes: Brett Gardner had an MRI that showed a Grade I sprain to his left thumb. He was cleared to take batting practice but is a few days away from hitting in a game . . . Jorge Posada (foot) went through catching drills and is closer to getting back behind the plate.

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