The New York Yankees’ main objective this winter was to figure out how to win in the postseason again. Bringing back a pitcher that helped them win four World Series titles was the first step.
Andy Pettitte makes his first start for New York since Game 6 of the 2003 World Series when he faces the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Yankee Stadium on Thursday, one day after the teams had their game postponed due to rain.
Pettitte lost that World Series contest as Florida clinched the championship, and left New York in the offseason to sign a three-year deal with Houston to be closer to home. The Yankees haven’t captured the AL pennant since, and have been knocked out in the division series the past two seasons.
“The fans are going to let him know how much they missed him and we miss him,” manager Joe Torre told the team’s official Web site. “When they look at Andy Pettitte, they associate him with the championships that we’ve had here in recent years.”
Pettitte was 149-78 with a 3.94 ERA during his first nine seasons with the Yankees, and 13-8 with a 4.05 ERA in 30 postseason starts over that span.
“In the end, obviously this was the place that I really felt like my gut and my heart was telling me to be,” Pettitte said. “It’s just a special place to play and to pitch. This is where it all started for me. I’m hoping that we can have a whole lot of special memories in the future here.”
Pettitte made just 15 starts in his first season with the Astros before having elbow surgery in August 2004. The following season, he went 17-9 with a 2.39 ERA as Houston advanced to the World Series, where it was swept by the Chicago White Sox.
Last season, he went 14-13 with a 4.20 ERA in 36 appearances.
The left-hander experienced back spasms in spring training that caused him to be shut down for two weeks - and likely cost him the chance to start on opening day - but he returned to the mound Friday and threw four innings against Toronto’s Triple-A club. Pettitte doesn’t believe he’ll be hindered by the problem Thursday.
“I was good and gassed,” Pettitte said about the Friday outing. “I lost my release point that last inning, and lost my mind a little bit, and my legs. But I got right back to where I was.
“It was a real good work day for me. I hadn’t pitched in two weeks. I needed it - I needed it real bad.”
Pettitte will be looking to help the Yankees open the season with consecutive victories after they defeated Tampa Bay 9-5 on Monday. Jason Giambi hit a go-ahead single in the seventh inning for his third RBI of the game, and Alex Rodriguez atoned for an early error with a two-run homer in the eighth inning that sealed the win for New York.
“It’s good to get the opening-day jitters out of the way,” Rodriguez said. “I started out like a moron there.”
Elijah Dukes homered in his first big league at-bat and B.J. Upton had two hits, an RBI and a stolen base for the Devil Rays, who fielded the youngest opening-day lineup since the 1983 Minnesota Twins.
“I was pleased with the way the game began, and we were playing well through five,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon told the Devil Rays’ Web site. “They’re relentless on offense, and they actually beat us down at the end. But I really liked a lot of the things we did today.”
Seo is 1-3 with a 7.82 ERA in five starts against the Yankees, while Pettitte is 11-1 with a 3.14 ERA in 17 appearances against Tampa Bay.
It’s possible Seo will not have to face Yankees leadoff hitter Johnny Damon, who is battling a sore right calf.
“I could barely walk,” Damon said Wednesday. “It felt like cramps the other day, but it’s definitely much worse than that.”