HOUSTON - The standings, and only the standings, say Saturday night's game is meaningless.
"I think knowing that this is my last start and being here, it's important to me,'' Andy Pettitte said Friday afternoon.
The 41-year-old lefthander, part of Mariano Rivera's emotional send-off from the Stadium Thursday, will close out his career Saturday night against the Astros. And make no mistake, the start has plenty of meaning for him.
At least 30 immediate family members will be in attendance, part of a throng of 50 for whom Pettitte secured tickets. Untold others, extended family and friends, purchased tickets to say goodbye to the proud Texan.
"I have some special memories. Pretty special to be able to finish it up here,'' said Pettitte, who was presented a framed No. 21 Astros jersey before the bottom of the fifth inning Friday night, was announced to the crowd as "Houston's own'' and received a standing ovation.
Because of the way Pettitte is embraced in New York, it is easy to forget he's the lone member of the Core Four -- Pettitte, Rivera, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada -- who didn't spend his entire career in pinstripes.
With the health of his elbow in question, the Yankees let Pettitte hit the free-agent market after the 2003 season and he went 37-26 with a 3.38 ERA for the Astros from 2004-06. Pettitte and Roger Clemens helped lead the Astros to the 2005 World Series. Before beating the Braves in the 2005 NLDS, the Astros had never won a playoff series.
After 2003, Pettitte had free-agent offers from the Red Sox and Orioles but had no desire to face his former teammates on a regular basis. There also was the pull of doing something for baseball in a football city.
"If I wasn't going to go back to the Yankees, I wanted to come home and hopefully be able to do something special here,'' Pettitte said. "I looked here and saw the arms and knew they had a few guys that were horses, and I felt if you added me to that, we would have a chance to get to the postseason. It was remarkable because every night here, it was very exciting. It was cool to feel like you'd brought some energy and baseball to the city.''
Pettitte experienced plenty of energy in his 15 seasons with the Yankees, for whom he is 218-127 with a 3.95 ERA. He is third on the franchise's all-time wins list and is baseball's postseason leader in career victories with 19. He won't have the chance to increase the latter total but can do something about the former.
Pettitte, who has never had a losing season, is 10-11 but has a 2.09 ERA in his last nine starts. "There haven't been a whole lot of meaningless starts in my career, I feel like, but I take it so serious,'' he said. "I want to pitch well. I don't think it will be hard [to prepare] because as a competitor, you know if you're not prepared, you could go out there and give up seven or eight runs, and obviously that's embarrassing. You don't want to do that.''
Pettitte, whose once-close relationship with Clemens cooled after he testified that Clemens admitted to using HGH, said it won't be strange to see his former teammate Sunday. Clemens is scheduled to be part of a pregame ceremony honoring Rivera. "It's fine,'' Pettitte said. "If I see him, it's fine. It will be great to see him.''
Notes & quotes: The Yankees beat the Astros, 3-2, Friday night to end a four-game losing streak in which they were outscored 21-4. David Robertson pitched a perfect ninth to save the win for Adam Warren (3-2), who allowed two hits in five innings. Mark Reynolds had an RBI single and David Adams added a two-run double in the fourth. Brett Wallace's two-out, two-run double off Joba Chamberlain in the seventh brought the Astros within 3-2, but Chamberlain escaped a bases-loaded jam.
Alex Rodriguez very much was in Houston for the series rather than home in New York prepping for his arbitration hearing, which begins Monday. He said he doesn't think he'll be playing at all this weekend because of his legs . . . Eduardo Nuñez is "not 100 percent,'' Joe Girardi said, because of lingering soreness in his right knee, something he has dealt with since late August, but started at third base. "He says he's fine to play,'' Girardi said.