Before announcing his surprise comeback in March, the last memory Yankee fans had of Pettitte was his strong performance in Game 3 of the 2010 ALCS. As per usual, Andy was very strong in that outing, holding the eventual American League champion Rangers to two runs on five hits in seven innings, though the Yankees would ultimately lose the game 8-0 as the offense was shut out by Cliff Lee and Neftali Feliz and the bullpen allowed Texas to blow the game open after Pettitte exited. Ultimate results aside, that would have been a fitting last impression of Pettitte in my mind, but as we later learned, it wasn’t how Pettitte ultimately wanted to go out.
For all of the ups and downs of this season, without question my favorite part of the year has been Pettitte’s return. It always bothered me that he went out with such a great performance, and with no solid indication that he wouldn’t be returning in 2011. Jorge Posada‘s final season might have been painful to watch at times, but at least there was a sense of finality to it, allowing you to really appreciate the moment and give him the farewell he deserved. With Pettitte, he was just…gone. So in that respect, the prospect of Pettitte returning for a last hurrah felt like a great opportunity for the goodbye that never happened. Pettitte, however, was coming back for much more than just a curtain call, and he pitched better than I think anyone could have imagined he would, especially before fracturing his ankle at the end of June. That injury limited Pettitte’s 2012 workload to just 12 starts and 75 innings.
Now, however, it’s back to the playoffs, where Pettitte has most endeared himself to the Yankee faithful, and back to Camden Yards, where Pettitte has won more games than at any other stadium he’s not called home. There was some sentiment among Yankees fans that Pettitte should pitch Game 3 at home, given that he’ll only make one start in the ALDS, but instead he’ll serve as C.C. Sabathia‘s wingman. That does open up the possibility that Pettitte has pitched his last game at Yankee Stadium, but he certainly sounds as though he’s planning on coming back for at least one more tour in 2013. “I know one thing: I know the competition and the desire to compete is still there, and I don’t feel like I kind of got that itch out from the 70 innings or so that I threw this year,” he told reporters yesterday.
For now though, the focus is not on 2013, but the Orioles and Game 2. Pettitte’s comeback might have felt like a goodbye tour in March or May, but now it feels as though nothing has changed, and if Pettitte can earn his 20th postseason victory, the Yankees will head back to New York with a comfortable 2-0 lead over Baltimore. Most of all, his goal will be to keep the Yankees in the game against Wei-Yin Chen and the Orioles bullpen, something no one in baseball history has done as often as he has.