Though they’re coming off a rare win, the usually potent Yankees haven’t looked much like championship contenders of late.
Sitting in fourth place in the AL East, New York concludes a three-game set with visiting Kansas City on Wednesday night looking to post back-to-back victories for the first time in almost two weeks.
Pettitte (1-1, 2.51 ERA), who retired in February 2011 after making what was thought to be his final start in Game 3 of the 2010 ALCS, began his comeback by giving up four runs in 6 1-3 innings of a 6-2 loss to Seattle on May 13.
The three-time All-Star, though, came out with a vintage performance five days later, striking out nine over eight innings of four-hit ball in Friday’s 4-0 win over Cincinnati.
“I felt like I could do this, and now it’s just like I feel like the mind’s getting back there,” Pettitte said after earning his 241st victory. “I’m just hoping and praying the body holds up.
“I miss the competition. I do - I guess I do miss this, from the standpoint of being around the team and stuff like that.”
While Pettitte’s stuff may not be as dominant as it was in years past, the 39-year-old left-hander clearly still has what it takes to contribute at the highest level.
“When I caught him, years and years ago, it was fastball, cutter and really curveball. He’s got so many more weapons to go to,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I thought he could bring some stabilization to our rotation. And I think he’ll do that just because of who he is, his personality, his will, his focus. We are a different rotation with him.”
The Yankees (22-21) could surely use another solid outing from Pettitte given their recent lack of offense. New York has dropped six of eight while batting just .212 - including an abysmal .111 with runners in scoring position.
“It wasn’t that pretty, but that was a good win,” Alex Rodriguez said. “It felt really good to win a game like this. Sometimes you need a game like this to kind of get you on a roll. Hopefully it’s a good sign of things to come. We haven’t been winning these kinds of games.”
Kansas City (17-25), which entered Tuesday riding its first five-game road winning streak in four seasons, has dropped five of seven overall.
Pettitte has had his way with the Royals over the course of his career, going 13-3 with a 3.40 ERA over 21 starts - including 8-0 in 12 since 2000. Alex Gordon is just 2 for 9 lifetime against Pettitte, though Jeff Francoeur is 5 for 8 with a homer.
Francoeur went deep for the second time in as many days Tuesday and is hitting .372 with 10 RBIs in his last 12 games against New York.
Originally scheduled to turn to Luis Mendoza in Wednesday’s series finale, the Royals will instead give the ball to rookie Will Smith. The left-hander, set to make his major league debut, was recalled Tuesday from Triple-A Omaha, where he went 1-3 with a 4.01 ERA over nine starts.
“I’ll probably be a little nervous, how can I not be?” Smith told the team’s official website. “It’s something you’ve been working for your whole life, and it’s finally here. And it’s in Yankee Stadium against the Yankees.”