"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Give That Man A Contract

Andy Pettitte retired the first 20 Orioles he faced on Monday (AP Photo/Rob Carr)The best game Andy Pettitte ever pitched in his life was Game 5 of the 1996 World Series. In that game, which began with the Yankees and Braves tied at two games a piece in the Series, Pettitte out-dueled John Smoltz for 8 1/3 shutout innings. Pettitte wasn’t perfect in that game. He only struck out four, walked three, two of whom then stole second on him, and gave up five hits, but while Smoltz allowed just one unearned run, Pettitte didn’t allow a runner to third base until the ninth inning and yielded to John Wetteland with one out in the ninth having thrown just 96 pitches. Wetteland got the last two outs to seal the 1-0 win and send the Yankees home for what would prove to be a triumphant Game 6.

Game 5 of the 1996 World Series stands as the pinnacle of my baseball fandom, and it remains the pinnacle of Andy Pettitte’s career, but for six-plus innings last night, Pettitte looked like he was about to reach a new peak.

Andy Pettitte had everything working last night. He was throwing in, out, up, down, using all of his pitches, locating perfectly, and dropping some devastating curveballs into the strike zone. While the Yankees eked out a pair of runs against Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie on a Nick Swisher homer in the third and doubles by Robinson Cano and Swisher in the fifth, Pettitte was busy retiring the first 20 men he faced.

With one out in the sixth, Matt Wieters hit a slow chopper in on the grass toward third base. Jerry Hairston Jr., giving Alex Rodriguez a day off at third base, charged, barehanded, and fired to first in what was really the only difficult play that needed to be made behind Pettitte all night. Ty Wigginton hit a grounder directly to Derek Jeter on the next pitch for the third out. After six innings, Pettitte had thrown 66 pitches, struck out six, and not once gone to three balls on a batter.

Every so often a pitcher will take a no-hitter or perfect game into the middle innings despite not looking any sharper than usual. A.J. Burnett had a game like that earlier this year. Sergio Mitre had one just a few days ago. Monday night, Andy Pettitte looked like a pitcher throwing a perfect game. He looked like David Cone pitching to the Expos, but instead of Cone’s characteristic improvisation, Pettitte was methodical, precise, and seemingly effortless.

The first two batters of the seventh inning flew out to Swisher in right field on 2-2 counts. Swisher took a wrong step on one of the two flies, but recovered and struggled to contain his relieved grin as he threw the ball back into the infield. Adam Jones, who had just missed a home run foul down the left field line earlier in the game, took ball one from Pettitte, then hit a routine grounder directly at Hairston, the previous inning’s defensive hero.

Hairston booted it.

After the game Hairston’s teammates told him and the media that the ball took a funny hop, but Hairston was honest. It was a routine grounder and he just plain missed it. The ball hit off the heal of his glove and trickled through his legs for an error that erased Pettitte’s perfect game. It was the second time this season that I’ve seen a perfect game come to an end on an error. The first was Jose Uribe’s eighth-inning error in Jonathan Sanchez’s no-hitter against the Padres on July 10. Sanchez finished the game without a hit or a walk, the only blemish being Uribe’s error.

As difficult as it might be to swallow losing a perfect game to a fielding error, the most impressive thing Sanchez did in that game, particularly given his reputation for being over-excitable and folding after bad breaks, was to gather himself and complete the no-hitter. Monday night, Pettitte tried to do the same, but Nick Markakis put a good swing on a fastball up and away and lined it inside the left-field line for a single. That didn’t make Hairston feel better, but it made him less infamous.

With the Yankees still up just 2-0, Pettitte had lost a perfect game and a no-hitter in the course of four pitches and now had the tying runs on base. He then went to his first (and only) three-ball count of the night, going full on Nolan Reimold, but got another grounder right at Jeter to strand both runners.

With Guthrie out of the game in favor of veteran lefty Mark Hendrickson, and Pettitte’s balancing act off their minds, the Yankees put up three insurance runs in the top of the eighth. Pettitte gave up a lead-off homer to Melvin Mora in the bottom of the eighth, scuttling the shutout as well, but struck out the next two men and got one more groundout for good measure on his 104th pitch, leaving the ninth for the bullpen after eight innings, no walks, just two hits, and eight strikeouts.

Brian Bruney’s first three pitches were balls as he walked Brian Roberts to start the ninth. A one-out single followed, prompting Joe Girardi to bring Mariano Rivera in to finish the job, extending the major league record held by Rivera and Pettitte for most games saved by a single pitcher for a single teammate. Pettitte also moved past Lefty Gomez into sole possession of third place on the Yankees’ all-time wins list.

After the game, Pettitte found Hairston in the locker room with his head down and went over to cheer his teammate up. “You took the pressure off me,” he told Hairston. “Besides, if I hadn’t thrown one already, I wasn’t going to. I didn’t want to pitch nine innings anyway.”

Categories:  Cliff Corcoran  Game Recap

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1 Mattpat11   ~  Sep 1, 2009 1:41 am

The first think I thought of when Hairston booted the ball was the previous inning and Wieters' ball. I think he's the only Yankees 3B that makes that play. Hairston giveth and Hairston taketh away.

2 thelarmis   ~  Sep 1, 2009 1:57 am

well, pettitte should come back next season and he'll most likely surpass 200 wins in pinstripes. if he never left, even with his injury, he'd probably have ended up with a higher victory total than Ruffing and Ford...

thome and manny together again, this time in LA. boy howdy, that's A LOT of homeruns! thome will waste away as a pinch hitter for the next month though...

3 Eddie Lee Whitson KO   ~  Sep 1, 2009 2:05 am

Cliff, so glad you recalled game5, 96. What a game. And you are right, Andy looked perfect tonight. This was no (Door) Matt Young or Andy Hawkins job. Feel bad for JHJ, he's been a great pickup. He picking a forgiving guy to do it to!

Onward and Upward bombers!!

4 Rich   ~  Sep 1, 2009 2:19 am

I hope Pettitte (and his teammates) can keep it up until they win the last baseball game played in 2009.

5 unmoderated   ~  Sep 1, 2009 5:42 am

Cliff, that's my game as well. I was born in 1977, too young for the Zoo. I had always watched the Yanks growing up, I had no idea it could be like that.

6 williamnyy23   ~  Sep 1, 2009 8:08 am

[1] That's the first thing I though too. Without Hairston's play on Weiters, the error wouldn't have been as significant. Also mitigating against too much disappointment is that the error occurred in the 7th inning and a hit and run followed soon thereafter. I also thought Kenny Singleton made a great point. Before Mora hit the HR, he said that he wasn't going to get too excited about the Perfecto until Mora had batted because he had seen Pettitte many times and would likely bear down in that AB. No sooner did the words leave his mouth than Mora went deep.

7 williamnyy23   ~  Sep 1, 2009 8:12 am

When you factor in the opponent and the stakes, Game 5 of the 1996 WS (game score of 74) was probably Andy’s greatest game, but he actually had a few post season game scores that were higher. His Game 1 start in 2001 ALCS rated 78; his game 2 start in the 2003 WS rated 76; and his game 2 start in the 1998 ALDS rated 75.

The highest game score in Yankee post season was not Don Larsen’s perfect game (94), but Roger Clemens game 4 domination (98) of the Mariners in the 2000 ALCS. That ranks up there among the best games I’ve ever seen pitched. Interestingly, the Rocket, who was once thought to be a less than prime post season performer, also has the 6th best game score in Yankee post season history: 87 in game 2 of the 2000 World Series against the Mets (his next game after the Mariners).

In the regular season, Andy’s best game score was 87 against the Mets on June 30, 2002. Since 1954, the highest Yankee regular season game score was tallied by Whitey Ford against the Senators in 1959 (106). The next three are Mussina’s near perfecto and Wells’ and Cone’s immortality in the Bronx (98 and 97, respectively).

One unlikely name among the best game scores since 1954 is John Candelaria, who spun a 96 and 95 (same as Gator’s 18K game) during the 1998 season.

8 williamnyy23   ~  Sep 1, 2009 8:13 am

One more Andy note. Many people scratched their head when Pettitte opted for a lower base salary with incentives, but barring an injury, Pettitte should meet all but one bonus level (210 innings, which is still a possibility). As a result, he looks like a lock to earn at least $11.25mn, which is more than the $10mn base salary that was floated earlier in the offseason. Nice decision by Andy.

9 Sliced Bread   ~  Sep 1, 2009 8:24 am

Excellent re-cap, Cliff.

ARod's pretty good at the barehanded catch/throw, so I'd say there was about a 75% chance Alex would have gunned down Wieters in the 6th. But imagine if it was ARod who blew the perfecto. There would have been a 48 hour blackout, the rivers would flood, and every citizen would required sedation.

Thank you, Jerry Hairston Jr., for saving the city.

10 Alex Belth   ~  Sep 1, 2009 8:40 am

My favorite part came after the seventh, when Hairston went back into the dugout and several of his teammates patted him on the back. Joe Girardi went up to him, placed his finger under Hairston's chin and moved on. Keep your chin up. It was a small but nice gesture. Liked it.

11 Rich   ~  Sep 1, 2009 8:41 am

[8] Then I hope he re-ups at the same terms.

12 Sliced Bread   ~  Sep 1, 2009 8:55 am

[10] yeah, you wouldn't expect anything less from the manager, or Hairston's teammates but it was still touching to see.

I called my dad right before the error to make sure he was watching the game (yeah, it was my fault). We watched Hairston boot the ball together. He called me back a few minutes later to mention how the Yankees picked up Hairston in the dugout. We definitley felt worse for him than Andy who still had a long way to go toward perfection.

13 joejoejoe   ~  Sep 1, 2009 9:25 am

I believe Game 5 of the '96 WS was what Joe Torre was referring to when he said Pettitte had a "belly full of guts".

14 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Sep 1, 2009 9:56 am

[7] Good stuff, william. Though you, of course, meant '88 for Candelaria.

15 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  Sep 1, 2009 9:59 am

I love Andy Pettitte. Period.

16 rbj   ~  Sep 1, 2009 10:49 am

I'd love to see Pettitte stick around.
Phil Hughes?
Pretty full rotation.

17 Rich   ~  Sep 1, 2009 10:58 am

Wang isn't supposed to be ready until midseason at the earliest.

18 mrm1970   ~  Sep 1, 2009 11:10 am

You meant Lefty Gomez, not Lefty Grove.

19 rbj   ~  Sep 1, 2009 11:34 am

[17] Thanks, I must have missed that. All the more reason to bring Andy back.

And if there's anyone on that list to get rid of, I would make AJ the #1 candidate.

20 williamnyy23   ~  Sep 1, 2009 11:42 am

[14] Yep...thanks...the Candy Man was most certainly not on the great 1998 team.

21 Raf   ~  Sep 1, 2009 12:23 pm

Candelaria was a good, if not underrated pickup. I remember him having knee problems. Wasn't he traded for Mike Blowers?

22 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Sep 1, 2009 3:04 pm

[18] I did.

[21] Wow. I'll admit, I didn't not remember that, I never knew it.

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