Last season, en route to their 27th World Series championship, the Yankees utilized a three-man starting rotation throughout the entirety of the postseason. It worked so well because the three pitchers involved were reliable, seasoned veterans with 38 years as big-leaguers and 1,078 Major League starts between them. CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte laid the foundation upon which the Yankees built their 2009 success.
This year however, the inconsistency of A.J. Burnett has been a significant concern all year, his rotation mate Javier Vazquez was left off the ALDS roster, and Andy Pettitte had only made three starts since returning from two full months on the disabled list with a groin injury. Pettitte's return in late September was a blessing, but his less than stellar results in those starts provided more cause for concern.
Upon returning September 19 at Camden Yards, Pettitte was a ray of hope, pitching six innings, only allowing a single run on three hits and a walk, while striking out two. After the two months out, Andy looked to be back right when the Yankees needed him most. His next two starts against Boston were a significant step backward though, as he struggled terribly with his command, appeared far too hittable, and complained of back stiffness. Red flags all around.
The Yankees professed to be unconcerned with his results, but obviously, 7.1 innings over 2 starts, while allowing 19 hits, 10 runs, 9 of them earned, is rather alarming, even if you're primarily focusing on his health.
Since the Yankees had nothing to go on but those last two starts, making the decision to go with Sabathia, Pettitte and Hughes in the ALDS had to be a difficult one. With a three-man rotation, that would mean CC and Pettitte would have to go twice if the game were to reach five games, with Andy being slated for a potential Game 5. Of course if he wasn't healthy, he could always be replaced with Burnett, but who would possibly take a risk like that with the Yankees' season hanging in the balance?
As he took the mound in Minnesota's beautiful, new Target Field for ALDS Game 2, the Yankees watched with baited breath to see if their postseason stalwart was indeed healthy enough to give them what they so desperately needed, a sign that they could count on him going forward in the playoffs.
Andy delivered that sign and more. Using predominantly well-located cutters and curve-balls, the veteran lefty painted the corners all night, rarely leaving anything near the heart of the plate for Twins' hitters. He left the Twins flustered, unable to get good wood on most of Andy's pitches. It was vintage Andy Pettitte, dominating, but in a subtle manner. No 15 strike outs or no-hit stuff, but a pitcher in his zone, keeping the opposition off balance all night, never giving in to a hitter. After walking Jason Kubel in the bottom of the second, Pettitte retired 12 consecutive Twins before allowing Orlando Hudson's solo home run that temporarily tied the game.
In all, Andy Pettitte completed seven innings, allowing only two earned runs on five hits and one walk while striking out four. The most important statistic of the evening being the seven innings he pitched.
With the knowledge that they can once again count on the presence of Andy Pettitte at the top the their postseason rotation, the Yankees can hand the ball to Phil Hughes with confidence. Knowing that even if the 24-year-old budding ace falters, they have two reliable lefties waiting to take the mound and finish the job. I have a feeling though, that they may have to wait until the ALCS to get their chance.