There is a reason you like Andy Pettitte.
Long known as a man of his word, who values family, religion, and honesty above all else, there is something simple and real about his good ol’ boy, southern Texas drawl that pulls everyone in, letting you trust this one, professional athlete. Just this one, right?
You believe him when he speaks. You pull for him when he pitches.
And it doesn’t hurt that when Andy is on the field and hard at work, he is the pitcher who wins when the Yankees need it the most. This type of pitcher is known as a “stopper”, and No. 46 has filled this role better than any other hurler for New York in recent memory. When your team is losing, or not hitting, or just flat tired, kind of like the team we’ve been watching play against the Royals on this cold and wet tour of lovely Kansas City, Andy is the man you want on the mound to stop the bleeding.
The man who can pick his teammates up off the dirt, brush off their shoulders, and get everyone headed in the right direction again.
For all the Billy Beane admirers out there who champion the Oakland GM’s objective, statistical, and analytic approach that has changed the sport of baseball forever, for better or for worse, there is one element of this game that an Ivy League graduate with a laptop computer will never be able to quantify, calculate, or crunch… heart.
Andy Pettitte has heart, and that is why we love to watch him play.
Last night at Kauffman Stadium, another rainy and windswept affair on the open plains of America, was vintage No. 46. In fact, as the YES Network commentators, manager Joe Girardi, and Andy himself would each point out at various points along the way, Pettitte pitched better after the forty-five minute rain delay than beforehand, shrugging off the adversity with the focus and determination of a true fighter. He found a new rhythm embedded in the restart, and only allowed the one, first-inning, two-out run over six-and-two-thirds innings, saving his team from a dreaded sweep at the hands of the upstart Royals, on the eve of another late-night flight into the friendly confines of Boston.
At one point in the fifth inning Andy even saved his own life, snaring a rocketed, line drive off the bat of Jose Guillen that was headed right for the bill of his cap, and tumbling backwards onto the mound with the force of the impact. As his teammates huddled around to make sure he was okay, a few sly smiles curling the lips of Alex Rodriguez and Morgan Ensberg, there was never a doubt that Pettitte would pick himself up off the dirt, brush off his own shoulders, and get himself headed in the right direction again.
That’s just who No. 46 is, isn’t it?
Now, there is also a reason you like Joba Chamberlain.
A tall, stocky, corn-husking farm-boy who grew up in Nebraska and finished his college career in Lincoln, only a leisurely three-and-a-half hour drive from the Royals’ home ballpark, he appears to be a man amongst boys at the tender age of twenty-two. So confident are you that he will succeed in his one or two innings of relief work that you forget how young he really is, how much of a rookie he still remains, and you start having the same expectations for him that you do of Mariano Rivera.
Nobody is gonna hit this kid, you say to yourself. And even when they do, like in the bottom of the eight inning last night, you have a very strange, very innate feeling that this man amongst boys is only toying with his opponents – working on a pitch perhaps – waiting for the perfect opportunity to blow them away with his freight train of a fastball.
First and third, two outs, clean-up man Jose Guillen worked diligently into a 3-2 count, representing the tying run from cleats to helmet. Every baseball game has one, defining, game-on-the line type of moment, and this was it last night. One swing of the bat, even if it was an inept, lucky swing, could even the score in a hurry. Joba peered in to Molina somewhere between his glove and the flat bill of his cap, gave a subtle, affirmative nod, then unleashed furry in the form of a 99 MPH heater right down the middle of the plate.
Here, he said to Guillen. See if you can hit this.
The ball crashed into Molina’s mitt with the force of a small hurricane, and Guillen looked like a hitter who couldn’t even remember if he had swung or not, staring blankly into the void between man and boy, caught somewhere between home plate and the mound. He had swung, in fact, and hit nothing… just the wake of the wind left behind by the pitch.
Strike three, inning over, thank you for playing, Sir.
Can this kid really be this good, this poised, this dominate, in such a short period of time? Yes is the only word popping into my mind, as lightening has quite possibly struck twice now in the Bronx, in the form of two unreal, iconic relief pitchers, in a span of only twelve, short years.
With that said, there is also a reason you like Mariano Rivera.
Because he throws one pitch and is still the best you’ve ever seen. Because he is going to teach young Joba everything he needs to know over time. Because he closed out last night’s game like he always does, short, swift, and confident, bringing the Bombers’ record back up to .500, the same as Boston’s no less, on the eve of a rivalry renewed in Beantown.
The first of eighteen begins tonight. And Alex Rodriguez, whose solo home run in the top of the ninth inning yesterday tied him with Micky Mantle on the all-time RBI’s list with 1509, now has the chance to both tie and pass Ted Williams on the all-time home runs list with 521 and 522. In Boston, at Fenway Park, in front of the most deserving baseball fans in the world… can you imagine?
Yes is the only word popping into my mind.