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11/01/09 2:38 AM EST

Pettitte's gem puts Yanks in control of Series

Lefty extends postseason dominance in pivotal victory

PHILADELPHIA -- If Reggie Jackson is Mr. October, Andy Pettitte has to be Mr. Postseason.

There has never been a more successful pitcher in October baseball than the Yankees left-hander from Texas. His big heart and gritty determination showed why Saturday on a miserable night at Citizens Bank Park.

He won his record 17th postseason game, sending the Phillies to a crushing 8-5 setback that may make defending their World Series title a long shot.

New York's victory, after an 80-minute rain delay, gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven tournament with their 27th championship well within sight.

I've always felt the third World Series game is pivotal. It became just that for the Yankees, who gained the momentum when they evened the Series in New York on Thursday night and extended in true Halloween fashion.

Now, the Yankees are in firm control and will send their ace, CC Sabathia, to the mound Sunday night on three days' rest. They'll be heavily favored to move a giant step closer to winning their first World Series since 2000.

Yes, this World Series may be all but over.

Sabathia, a 6-1 loser in Game 1 at Yankee Stadium, will be the first pitcher to start a World Series game on three days' rest since 23-year-old Josh Beckett tossed a five-hit shutout that clinched the Florida Marlins' 2003 World Series title. CC will be opposed by Joe Blanton, who hasn't started a game in almost two weeks.

Even if the Phillies salvage a win or even two at home the next two nights, they'll have to be successful in the unfriendly environment of Yankee Stadium.

Dandy Andy
Andy Pettitte's postseason ranks
Category Total Rank
Wins 17 1st
Starts 39 1st
Innings 243 1/3 1st
Strikeouts 161 3rd

"We'll come out tomorrow and we'll try to play better and hard," said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel after Saturday's loss. "We're that kind of team."

Pettitte, who said the rain delay interrupted his normal pregame routine, merely teased the Phillies when they vaulted out to a 3-0 lead after two innings. He then held them in check and even drove in a run himself when the Yankees took a 5-3 lead against struggling, ineffective Cole Hamels.

Pettitte said he's been in rain delays a lot this year, "but it really affected me a little bit today. I was heated up, ready to go and felt like I was in a real good place mentally. As I was about to walk out the [clubhouse] door to go to the bullpen, they shut me down."

He was brilliant at snuffing out the Phillies' left-handed batters.

Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez were 0-for-9, with six strikeouts.

Fall Classic workhorses
Most starts in World Series history
Rank Pitcher Inn. Starts
1. Whitey Ford 146 22
2. Andy Pettitte 72 12
3. Waite Hoyt 83 2/3 11
Christy Mathewson 101 2/3 11
5. Chief Bender 85 10
Red Ruffing 85 2/3 10
7. Bob Gibson 81 9
Art Nehf 79 9
Allie Reynolds 77 1/3 9
Catfish Hunter 63 9

Howard struck out six consecutive times (four in Game 2) before popping up to the shortstop in the sixth inning, then fanned again in the eighth with reliever Damaso Marte, another left-hander, on the mound.

Howard, MVP of the National League Championship Series, is now 2-for-13 with nine strikeouts. He hasn't had a hit since Game 1.

"It was a battle tonight," said Pettitte. "I wasn't able to get my breaking ball over. Fortunately enough, they had some lefties in the lineup that I was able to cut some balls, get away from them in some big situations and able to get some outs when I needed to get some."

The Phillies quickly built a 3-0 lead after two innings, but after that -- except for Jayson Werth's second home run of the night, a blast in the sixth -- Pettitte shut the door.

"The biggest thing was he closed out our left-handed hitters; he got our left-handed hitters out," said Manuel.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said, "You start talking about Utley and Howard and Ibanez, you're talking about three dangerous hitters. I thought Andy located the ball well. He used his fastball well and came inside. He just did a lot of things to get three really good hitters out."

After Pettitte punched out Utley, with runners on first and second and two down in the second, he didn't allow a hit until Werth led off the sixth with his homer.

Masters of October
Most career postseason wins
Rank Player W IP
1. Andy Pettitte 17 243 1/3
2. John Smoltz 15 209
3. Tom Glavine 14 218 1/3
4. Roger Clemens 12 199
5. Greg Maddux 11 198
Curt Schilling 11 133 1/3
7. Whitey Ford 10 146
Dave Stewart 10 133
David Wells 10 125
10. Catfish Hunter 9 132 1/3
Orlando Hernandez 9 106

Pettitte completely took away Philadelphia's offensive momentum when he set them down in order in the third inning. He did the same thing in the fifth and would have in the fourth had it not been for Alex Rodriguez's throwing error.

In all, Pettitte allowed five hits during six innings and struck out seven.

He admitted he struggled early, not being able to locate his pitches.

After the second, he said, "well, you're thinking, 'I've given up three, don't give up another one.' After that, I was frustrated and I'm thinking, 'You've got to go six or seven right there. You cannot give up another run.'"

With all his postseason success, he cannot ever remember winning a game when he fell behind 3-0 and couldn't find his normal groove.

"I may have, but I can't recall wining a game where I've struggled like I did tonight. It's very gratifying to be able to go out there and just battle through it. I knew after the first inning the ball wasn't going where I wanted it to exactly, and usually lately it has been."

Pettitte said the Phillies "had me on the ropes and I'm thankful I was able to get out of that [second] inning without giving up more than those three runs That was big for me right there."

And the reason why he picked up the pieces, rebuilt his game and is Mr. Postseason.

Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.