- Wallace Matthews, ESPNNewYork.com
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Every offseason, it seems, Andy Pettitte flirts with the idea of retirement.
Nothing more to prove, he figures. Championship rings? Check. Bank account? Check. Family homestead in Texas? Check. Legacy? Check.
And then for some reason, every spring the baseball bug bites him again. And here we are, once more, watching Andy Pettitte mow through major league lineups at a point when most guys his age are thinking of becoming pitching coaches, and we wonder, just what exactly was this guy thinking?
The Yankees, of course, don't bother wondering. They just enjoy, the way they did at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, watching Pettitte, two months shy of his 38th birthday, pitch as if he were 24 years old again.
To Pettitte, there's nothing remarkable about this at all, nothing to marvel at, nothing to analyze and nothing to worry about.
"I mean, winning's fun," he said after throwing eight innings of four-hit, two-run ball. A performance at once dominant and at the same time, not as good as his first two starts, since by the end of it his ERA had actually ballooned from .075 to 1.35. "That's really all there is to it. Winning's fun, man. We're all competitive here and we absolutely hate losing. It feels good to play somewhere where we think we're going to go out and win on a daily basis."
And that, Pettitte says, is what keeps him coming back every year, what keeps him resisting the siren call of home and family and relative peace. This offseason, like the one before that and the one before that, Pettitte said he wasn't sure if he was going to pitch another season, even after being part of another Yankees championship team after a 10-year drought.
And then, just before it's time for pitchers and catchers to report, Pettitte decides, "What the hey? Let's give this thing one more shot."
"The reason I came back again is because this organization gives us an opportunity to win a championship every year," he said. "I think this group is special, special as a team, and I didn't want to miss out on being a part of that. Great things, I think, happen whenever you put a good group of guys together."
So far, great things have happened for this Yankees team, even though every one of them, Pettitte included, acknowledges that it is way too early to start anointing themselves 2010 champions. But after 12 games, not only is this team 9-3 -- and Pettitte 2-0 with the lowest ERA of any of the starters -- it is also devoid of the tension that generally grips this franchise at some point in the season.
"Oh, it's gonna come, don't you doubt that," Pettitte said. "Seriously. You just go with it. We feel good about it right now, but we're gonna struggle, we're gonna go through a stretch, or a couple of stretches, where things aren't going to go so good. We just try to stay even keeled, and hopefully we can keep this thing rolling."
That in a nutshell mirrored Pettitte's day against the Rangers, a game in which he struggled with his mechanics and his control early but stayed calm, righted himself after three rocky innings and began plowing through the Texas lineup as if it were one of the simulated games he was forced to throw in spring training when two of his starts were canceled by rain.
By the sixth inning, he was able to set the Rangers down on six pitches, and needed only nine in the seventh. Sent out to pitch the eighth, he issued a one-out walk and then went 2-0 to Michael Young, with the dangerous Josh Hamilton waiting on deck.
But after a visit from pitching coach Dave Eiland, Pettitte bore down once again, striking out Young and inducing Hamilton to pop out.
"For the first five innings, I was pretty messed up," Pettitte said. "I felt horrible mechanically. But I settled in pretty good."
"Once he got on top of the ball, his location improved and everything got easier for him," said Jorge Posada.
Wedged in between the brilliance of CC Sabathia, the inconsistency of A.J. Burnett and the ongoing drama surrounding Javier Vazquez 2.0, Pettitte can easily become the most overlooked man in the Yankees' rotation. He generally goes about his work minus drama, and when called upon in a big spot, almost always comes through -- his postseason record is a stellar 18-9 with a 3.90 ERA.
And that is what keeps Pettitte coming back for more, the lure of October baseball with a team that knows how to win. Even though he's accomplished more than he says he ever could have dreamed -- 232 career wins, five World Series rings and all those great clutch postseason performances -- the chance to do it all again is something he still finds impossible to resist.
"Personally, a lot of the pressure's off," he says. "But there's still that burning desire to win."
Until that burns away, expect to see Andy Pettitte struggle with the same decision every spring -- and come to the same conclusion.
All the scoring the Yankees needed came in the first three innings off Rich Harden (0-1), who struggled with his control, walking six in 3 2/3 innings. Brett Gardner got hit by a pitch leading off the home first, stole second, advanced to third on a walk and scored on Robinson Cano's sacrifice fly. Mark Teixeira's first home run of the season tied the game in the third, and a two-RBI single by Ramiro Pena -- playing in place of the ailing Derek Jeter -- later in the same inning provided the margin of victory. Posada's home run leading off the seventh was window dressing.
Every offseason, Andy Pettitte flirts with retirement. And every spring, he's back.