Senior Writer

Pettitte will be remembered for his passion to pitch, win


The story Phil Garner tells about Andy Pettitte comes from a game that Pettitte didn't even pitch in.

And it still tells you everything you need to know.

It was Game 4 of the 2005 NL Division Series, Garner's Astros vs. the Braves. Pettitte had pitched and won Game 1 of the series, and he was scheduled to start Game 5 in Atlanta, if necessary.

The day of Game 4, Pettitte showed up at the park with a terrible case of the flu.

"He came in looking like death warmed over," Garner remembered Thursday. "The trainers wanted to send him home."

Pettitte didn't go home. And when the Astros tied the game with four runs in the eighth and one in the ninth, Pettitte appeared in the dugout.

"He looked awful," Garner said. "But he walked down to me and said, 'If you need me to pitch, I'll pitch.' I made him go home."

But that wasn't the end of it.

"He called back in the 12th, and they brought the phone down to the dugout. I told him to stay home. Then we get to the 14th inning, and he just drives back to the ballpark. He looks awful, he's throwing up, and he's telling me he's ready to pitch if we need him."

And that was Andy Pettitte.

He wasn't the best pitcher in the history of the game. He often wasn't the No. 1 pitcher in his own rotation. But he was driven to pitch, and more than that he was driven to win.

And he was always there in October.

It may or may not be enough to drive him into the Hall of Fame (his admission that he used HGH won't help), but it was enough to make him a huge part of the past 16 years of baseball history.

You can't tell the story of the Yankees' championship run -- five World Series titles from 1996-2009 -- without including Pettitte, hat pulled down tight and glove held up high, staring in at a hitter in late October.

And in Garner's mind, you can't tell the story of the Astros' run to the 2005 World Series -- and their decline in the six years since -- without remembering that Pettitte was a big part of the rise, and that the real decline began when Pettitte left to go back to the Yankees after 2006.

You can't help but wonder if Pettitte's decision to retire now is going to be a big part of a Yankee decline, too. If nothing else, he leaves them with a shaky 2011 rotation and even more regrets about their failure to sign Cliff Lee.

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There are those who believe that Pettitte would have come back if Lee had come to the Bronx, because that would have set the Yankees up for a run at another title. I don't know if that's true, but I wouldn't be surprised. At this point in his career, it wasn't about the money, the $12 million that the Yankees were reportedly prepared to offer him to pitch in 2011.

According to, Pettitte made more than $125 million in his career. He has enough money that when oil was discovered on some property he owns in Texas, it's said that Pettitte's first reaction was concern that the drilling might bring more people through the area.

He made a lot of money, but the teams that employed him (the Astros from 2004-06, the Yankees the rest of his career) always got their money's worth.

He never had a sub-.500 season, the only pitcher in the history of the game to pitch at least 16 seasons with that distinction. He leaves with a .635 winning percentage, which means that if you had Pettitte starting every game, you would win 103 times in a 162-game season.

And, of course, there was October.

Helped in part by the three-tiered playoff system that debuted in Pettitte's rookie season of 1995, he started (42) and won (19) more postseason games than anyone else who has ever pitched. If you want to hear the argument that Pettitte belongs in Cooperstown, it begins with that postseason record (19-10, 3.83 ERA).

He started twice for the Yankees last October, beating the Twins in the first round and then losing to Lee despite allowing just two runs in seven innings in Game 3 of the ALCS.

He proved, just as he did in an 11-3 regular season, that he had enough left, that he could keep pitching if he wanted to.

But Pettitte had talked of retirement each of the past five years, going back to that 2006-07 winter when he left the Astros to return to New York. The draw of family was strong, the grind of the season increasingly tough.

For four years, the drive to pitch won out and the drive to win pushed him to return.

The Yankees hoped it would happen one more time. They hoped he would show up in their dugout in the ninth inning of this winter, that he would turn up in Tampa for spring training in the 14th inning.

This time, it didn't happen.


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