Born to the New York Yankees in the 22nd round of the 1990 draft, Andy made his debut at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City on April 29, 1995 – just one month removed from the 1994-95 strike and the third game of the season. The 2-0 Yankees were up 5-1 in the bottom of the 7th when Buck Showalter called in the 21-year-old Texan to relieve Melido Perez. Big Game Andy, as he would come to be known, promptly threw a strike to Wally Joyner – the first of the 12,987 batters he’d face in his legendary career.
After Joyner flew out to a young Bernie Williams in center, Pettitte struck out Joe Vitiello looking. The lefty then gave up a single to Gary Gaetti, who advanced to 2nd on a wild pitch before scoring on Greg Gagne’s double into left. After Phil Hiatt batted in Gagne with a single to center, Showalter replaced Pettitte and his 27.00 ERA with Bob Wickman.
It was an inauspicious start to a career that helped fuel baseball’s last dynasty and deliver five World Series championships to the Bronx.
A year later, Pettitte famously out-dueled Atlanta Braves’ John Smoltz in Game 5 of the World Series, clinching the Yankees first championship since 1978. The next three rings came right in a row, but it took nine years for the them to do it again. At 37-years-old and on three days rest, Pettitte went on the mound on a chilly November night at Yankee Stadium and worked the strike zone like an attentive lover. The Yanks beat the Phillies in six.
What was beautiful about Andy Pettitte is that he did it all from the shadows. Constantly overlooked on teams with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez, and scores of All-Stars and potential Hall of Famers, Pettitte was never a superstar. He wasn’t flashy or outgoing. He couldn’t blow batters out of the box and he didn’t even have Cooperstown-worthy regular season numbers. But what he did have was the uncanny ability to raise the level of his pitching in baseball’s most pressurised situations.
Time and time again, Andy Pettitte delivered without ego or excess, fanfare or fuss. He came to each game with a fastball, a cutter, and the assurance that he’d never let you down. Though he had stumbles and missteps, no Yankee starting pitcher of the last 25 years was more reliable when the season was on the line. And though, ultimately, his talents will be replaced in the Yankees starting lineup, no one again will feature on the mound with his levels of heart, determination, quiet leadership, and steely resolve.
Andy Pettitte’s career is survived by ultimate fangirl and love-obsessed stalker, Flash Warner – who will sit shiva for the next seven days, and anyone with a lick of sense in the New York Yankees fan base. His ability, leadership, and unbelievably sexy butt-chin will be greatly missed.