Out from the shadows, Pettitte shines in playoffs

Overlooked lefty's record in postseason goes to 13-7

World Series

October 20, 2003|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - Sometimes, you have to wonder if Andy Pettitte is wearing camouflage.

The veteran left-hander is the winningest New York Yankees pitcher of his generation - and, incidentally, one of the winningest postseason pitchers of all time - and he still manages to blend into the woodwork of baseball's most star-studded starting rotation.

Pettitte won 21 games during the regular season, but all anybody wanted to talk about was David Wells' literary excesses, Roger Clemens' 300th victory and the star-crossed season of Cuban defector Jose Contreras.

Pettitte pitched very well in the earlier playoff rounds, but all of the focus in the American League Championship Series was on the nasty rivalry between Clemens and Boston Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez.

The Yankees would not have won four world titles and reached six World Series in eight years if not for Pettitte's steady production, and his penchant for stepping up when the rest of the team seems to be falling down.

Last night was another good example. The Yankees were coming off a flat performance in Game 1 and were in danger of falling two games behind the surprising Florida Marlins when Pettitte took the mound. After his 8 2/3 -inning outing, the crisis was over, the Yankees were even and Pettitte was celebrating a historic victory.

He improved his postseason record to 13-7 and joined Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz at the top of the all-time postseason win list.

OK, before the traditionalists and purists start a letter-writing campaign, it is only fair to point out that it is no coincidence that the two winningest postseason pitchers of all time come from the two teams that have been almost perpetual playoff participants since the advent of the three-tiered playoff format.

Pettitte has won most of his postseason games in the Division Series and ALCS, so it's hard to compare him with, say, Whitey Ford, who holds the all-time record for World Series victories with 10. But that doesn't alter his status as the unsung cornerstone of the new Yankees dynasty.

"He's been on a roller-coaster ride here in the eight years I've been here," said manager Joe Torre, "but he certainly has been able to stand tall in games that we've counted on him to be that way, especially since he's never the one everybody talks about."

Pettitte doesn't seem to mind being overlooked, even if he has more 20-win seasons (two) than David Wells (one) and Mike Mussina (zero) combined. He's a low-key guy from Deer Park, Texas, who has somehow managed to keep a low profile in the capital city of sports hype.

"We've always had someone else here that was probably more of a marquee player than he is," Torre said.

If Pettitte quietly yearns to be the big dog, he may get the opportunity after the World Series is over. He is coming to the end of a four-year contract and is eligible to become a free agent. The timing couldn't be better.

The 21 regular-season victories alone would make him one of the top pitchers on the open market. Pettitte's postseason success can only make him more marketable to any team - perhaps even the one in Baltimore - that would like to add a marquee name and take a major chunk out of the Yankees rotation.

Would he leave New York? No one knows, but there was a time a few years ago when owner George Steinbrenner had soured on him and was close to approving a deal that would have sent him to the Philadelphia Phillies. Now, the Boss may have to pony up a multi-year deal worth more than $10 million per year to keep him.

The Yankees already know they are going to be without at least one premier starting pitcher next year, since Clemens already has announced that he will retire at the end of this season. The club also is not certain to re-sign the volatile Wells, though his stock has gone up in the postseason.

Of course, a lot depends on the outcome of this World Series, which could hang in the balance if Pettitte's turn in the Yankees rotation comes up one more time.

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