Pettitte named Clutch Performer
Southpaw first hurler to win six games in single month in '07
KANSAS CITY -- Andy Pettitte encapsulated a brilliant month in one four-batter sequence. Down 2-1 in the fifth inning on Aug. 6 against the Blue Jays, Pettitte faced a jam with runners on second and third and no one out. Pettitte made several clutch pitches and kept the game manageable for the high-octane Yankees offense.
First, he struck out All-Star Alex Rios, the Blue Jays' best hitter. Vernon Wells followed with an infield single that scored a run and put runners at the corners. But Pettitte evaded further damage when he struck out All-Stars Troy Glaus and Frank Thomas.
"That was one of those innings where Andy shines," manager Joe Torre said. "The game slows down for pitchers like that, in that situation. Some other guys maybe speed up a little bit and have trouble getting through it, but Andy just kept everything right there and got huge outs."
Bouyed by Pettitte's excellent pitching, New York rallied for four runs in the top of the sixth and eventually won the game, 5-4, and moved into a virtual tie with the Tigers in the American League Wild Card race. Pettitte finished with three runs allowed in 5 2/3 innings.
"That was the game," Pettitte said. "That was the inning right there. I'm thankful I was at least able to pull it together, to get out of that and hold it to three runs and give us a chance. That's all you want to make sure you're doing, especially when the guys are swinging the bats as good as they are."
The outing yielded Pettitte's second straight win in August. Four starts later, he finished the month 6-0 with a 2.36 ERA and helped the Yankees take control of the American League Wild Card race.
Pettitte, who became the first pitcher to win six games in a month this season, was also selected as August's Major League Baseball Clutch Performer of the Month, presented by Pepsi, honoring the player who best excelled with games on the line.
The honor is one of two new MLB-sanctioned, Pepsi-sponsored awards as part of an ongoing multi-platform marketing campaign involving Major League Baseball, Major League Baseball Advanced Media and Pepsi, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary as the official soft drink of Major League Baseball.
At the conclusion of the 2007 regular season, fans will have the opportunity to vote on the Major League Baseball Clutch Performer of the Year Presented by Pepsi from among six finalists selected by a special MLB.com editorial panel. Fans will also be able to enter for a chance to win a trip to the 2008 All-Star Game.
Pettitte was the rock for a starting rotation hurt by injuries and inconsistency. Mike Mussina lost his spot in the rotation, rookie Phil Hughes was mostly ineffective and Roger Clemens wasn't his usual self. Overall, the team had a 5.19 ERA in August, easily its worst month of the season.
However, helped by Pettitte's consistent starts and the Majors' best second-half offense, the team went 18-11 in the month, including a 6-0 mark when Pettitte pitched.
"Andy knows when it's important for us to win, but every time he goes to the mound it's important for him to win," Torre said.
Pettitte's pitching has helped New York possibly avoid its first season without playoffs in the Joe Torre Era. New York entered the All-Star break with a .500 record. The team knew the entire second half would be one series.
"We treated every game like a playoff game," Alex Rodriguez said.
And no one has been better than Pettitte. This year has proven to be no different for a pitcher who has always risen to the occasion in the biggest regular-season games and in October.
In the second half, Pettitte holds a career 106-43 record and a 3.48 ERA -- nearly three-quarters of a run better than his first-half mark. In the playoffs, Pettitte is 18-6 with a 4.08 ERA.
With every game playing a role in the playoff chase, Pettitte has a Major League-leading nine second-half wins and a 3.14 ERA this season.
"I try to take extremely good care of myself," Pettitte said of his continued second-half success. "I try to train awfully hard in Spring Training before I get to the season starting and try to carry it throughout the year. I'd like to think that's the reason why."
Pettitte finished July with a 1-1 record before he started one of the best months of his already impressive career. He threw seven innings against the White Sox in his first August start and then won his next five in a row, including wins over the Indians, Angels, Tigers and Red Sox.
"I'm really just feeling good," Pettitte said. "My command's been there and that's the key. I'm throwing my stuff for strikes and my two-seamer has been there. It's been a big pitch for me."
Before his third August start, against Cleveland on Aug. 12, Pettitte made several mechanical changes that helped him continue his success. Those changes helped him control his pitches and work deeper into games.
"It's something you can't even see on video," Pettitte said. "You've just got to feel it."
He finished with big victories against Detroit and Boston later in the month, too. The win against the Tigers gave the Yankees another game in the Wild Card race.
The win over the American League East-leading Red Sox on Aug. 28 was punctuated by a fifth-inning strikeout of David Ortiz. Big Papi swung and missed at strike three and helicoptered his bat into the field seats behind the first-base dugout. As he walked off the mound, Pettitte pumped his fist and shouted, "Come on!" to no one in particular.
But the clutch play -- and exuberance -- in a postseason-type atmosphere was only another moment in Pettitte's great month.
Conor Nicholl is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.