10/16/2004 7:02 PM ET
Bittersweet time for Astros' Pettitte
Happy for wife, Clemens, but wishes he was pitching
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
|Andy Pettitte, whose season ended Aug. 24 with elbow surgery, is unhappy that he can't help the Astros in the playoffs. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
HOUSTON -- Andy Pettitte was happy for his wife, Laura, who sang the national anthem and "God Bless America" on Saturday at Minute Maid Park. He was happy for his best friend Roger Clemens, who was the winning pitcher.
But deep down inside, there is a hurt that has been as hard to handle as the pitches Pettitte was accustomed to throwing in every October since 1995.
"It's almost like you're in a depression right now," Pettitte said, standing in front of his locker in the Houston Astros' clubhouse after rooting his teammates on to a 5-2 victory over the Cardinals in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series. "I'm just trying to do everything I can to stay up. ... What's it like for me is, I'm miserable. I'm sitting on the bench watching these guys, but I'm miserable. I'm trying to be happy that we're doing what we are, this team and this city."
"It's been like that for two months since he had surgery, dealing with his emotions," Laura Pettitte said of her husband. "He's trying to be excited for his team and the city of Houston. It's hard. He's used to starting -- especially at this time of year."
Indeed, this is normally Pettitte's time of year. There are 16 right-handed starters in these League Championship Series, the first time that has happened since division play began in 1969. The main reason was right here, the familiar man with the slicked-back raven hair, putting on a silk green shirt and the happiest face he could muster. His season ended with Aug. 24 surgery on his left elbow.
It is the first postseason in which Pettitte has not pitched since the Yankees began their string of playoff outings under manager Joe Torre. Pettitte was 6-1 in LCS appearances with the Yankees, with his only loss coming in 1998. He was 3-4 in 10 World Series starts, and had he stayed, he might have gone after some of Whitey Ford's postseason club records for a lefty. But he went home to Houston, and he brought fellow Texan Clemens with him after all that Yankee success they enjoyed together.
"That's what I keep trying to tell Andy," Laura said. "I tell him at home, 'Andy, you have something to do with this.' Look at this city."
Indeed, this is exactly where Andy expected to be on Oct. 16, 2004.
But only in a manner of speaking.
"When I came here and Roger signed, this is what we planned on," Pettitte said. "Only I planned on being a part of it, so that's been frustrating. I just try to look at what it's done for the city.
"I'm enjoying it, no doubt, just to see the guys who haven't been able to experience it."
Pettitte has that October experience, but his left elbow would not allow more in 2004. It has been a bittersweet year on the whole, watching this Houston club rally from nowhere to win the NL Wild Card. He was 6-4 in 15 starts for the Astros this season, dealing with a stint on the DL from April 7-29 (left elbow strain) and again from May 27-June 28 (left forearm strain). Then came the Aug. 24 surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in the elbow, and that meant the end of his personal postseason streak.
Only Atlanta's John Smoltz had a longer run of playoff pitching.
"I'm just in the rehab stage," Pettitte said when asked for a progress report. "I'm able to start using light weights to strengthen it, but I'm still a couple of months away from being able to do light catch."
Laura said she -- and surely many people around Houston -- hope the notion of Pettitte coming back healthy for 2005 will give Clemens another reason to stick around for at least one more season. Clemens hasn't announced his intentions yet.
In the meantime, Pettitte was only happy to help The Rocket in the dugout during the course of Game 3. Clemens was battling well into the fourth inning, struggling with his fastball and at one point seemingly shaken when Reggie Sanders stepped out of the box. Clemens continued with a moot pitch that trickled off toward the St. Louis on-deck circle, and then pointed to the home-plate umpire and said, "You call [timeout], not him [Sanders]." Through it all, there was a helping hand in his longtime friend and teammate, and Clemens settled down and dusted St. Louis thereafter.
"We talk during the game," Pettitte said. "I know his mechanics as well as anyone, and we talked during the game about it. ... This one [Clemens' start] was really impressive, because he was really struggling through the third and fourth innings, mechanically getting out of sync, and went to the splitter. Then he got in a good rhythm with that. ... He'd just been rushing a little bit. He started standing back, started standing tall."
Laura Pettitte was standing tall as well on this day, bringing her soprano voice to a ballpark for the first time.
"What's it like for me is, I'm miserable. I'm sitting on the bench watching these guys, but I'm miserable. I'm trying to be happy that we're doing what we are, this team and this city."
"I started singing when I was 11 at Central Baptist Church in Deer Park," she said, referring to the Houston suburb where they met and where Andy went to high school. "This was neat. It was quite an experience for me. I never sang the national anthem at Yankee Stadium. I'm not real outspoken, so I didn't ask to do that.
"During the last series in Atlanta, Andy told me that Pam Gardner [Astros president of business operations] asked him if I might be interested in singing, and he said, 'Yeah.' Then she called after that series. It was great. They just told me to have a lot of fun, and I did."
The sight of a Pettitte on the field for a playoff game, even if it had to be this way, was one that Andy said he greatly appreciated.
"It was a great day for us, being able to get a win and see my wife sing the national anthem," he said. "She can sing. I didn't think they would do anything like that, but I'm happy Pam asked. She's sung her whole life, and it was great for her. She wasn't nervous at all, and neither was I."
Pettitte brought with him that cool, Torre-fied mental toughness to Houston, and he just wishes he could use it again out on the mound. He still keeps one eye on his former club, and said he was not surprised to see the Yankees take a 2-0 lead in the American League Championship Series against his former rivals in Boston.
"Boston's got a serious hill to climb with that team," he said as Game 3 of that ALCS was about to get under way. "The reason we thought we'd have a serious chance here is, with [Brad] Lidge, it shortens the games. That's what we had with Mo [Mariano Rivera] in the playoffs with the Yankees. He always shortened the games, so you knew how much you needed to get out of your starter."
Lidge finally got into this series, saving Clemens' victory by striking out five Cardinals over the last two innings. Someone asked Pettitte if Lidge reminds him of Rivera.
"You can't ever compare anybody to Mariano, especially not this early, but [Lidge] has been incredible," Pettitte said. "When we went out and played Seattle [in Interleague Play], Edgar Martinez said Lidge has some of the nastiest stuff he's ever seen."
Talking about other pitchers was fine for Andy Pettitte. Talking about his wife's singing performances was a joy, as well. But for the man who has been an October constant for baseball fans everywhere, this is taking some getting used to.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.