Yankees starting pitcher Andy Pettitte waves to the Yankee Stadium crowd on his way to the dugout after being removed from his first comeback start against the Seattle Mariners Sunday. Credit: William Perlman/The Star-Ledger via US PRESSWIRE

Being Andy Pettitte


Being Andy Pettitte was pretty cool on Sunday, even if he couldn’t win the game in his return to the New York Yankees’ pitching rotation. How long it will remain cool to be Andy Pettitte during his new baseball life in the Big Apple is an open-ended question.

They love him in the Bronx right now, but a few more starts that produce an earned run average of 5.68–where it is at the moment–and the Bronx cheers will turn to a Bronx Cheer and Pettitte will wish he stayed in retirement.

There are no sure things about this. The southpaw who has a long love affair with Yankees fans is 39. He took all of 2011 off. He worked his way back into big-league condition by pitching in the minors the way a recovering Tommy John surgery patient does. He created little buzz with his starts. They were all feel-it-out aspects of the process of re-educating his left arm for pitching in Major League game situations.

The road back and the appearance on the mound Sunday all added up to the most heralded return to New York since Douglas MacArthur came home from the wars. Everyone seemed to be pretty happy at Yankee Stadium even though Pettitte allowed four earned runs on seven hits in 6 1/3 innings. He has pitched better in his long career en route to accumulating 240 victories. None of those will be as important as obtaining No. 241. At least not to Pettitte’s immediate future.

Yankee brass owed Pettitte this courtesy-call fresh chance for all of his years of worthwhile service. The option to plug Pettitte into the rotation had to seem appealing, too. If you take away CC Sabathia, then the rest of the New York starters haven’t looked much better than Pettitte in his debut. New York has nothing to lose and the upside, in case Pettitte’s guile and left-over arm strength click enough for him to win maybe 10 games, is well worth taking the gamble.

But there is just as much chance that Pettitte will go 5-9 with a 5.90 ERA as he will go 9-5. It’s too bad Pettitte didn’t pitch straight through and squandered a year in temporary retirement.

The comments emanating from New York after the Yankees lost to the Seattle Mariners, 6-2, were so upbeat one might have thought this was an exhibition game, not a contest that counted in the American League standings. It was like a welcome-back party in the Yankee clubhouse.

“I just cannot believe how comfortable this is for me,” Pettitte said after absorbing the defeat.

Even wackier was the childlike enthusiasm expressed by outfielder Nick Swisher. “I thought it was so awesome,” Swisher said of Pettitte’s return. “I was so excited. I know we lost today and that’s what a lot of people are going to focus on–I could really care less about that. We got our boy back.”

The late George Steinbrenner, formerly dictator of the Yankees, would have had Swisher taken out to center field and shot him for making a sacreligious statement like that. Don’t these people get it? For Pettitte’s comeback to be satisfactory he had to win the game and look impressive doing so. Pettitte and his teammates made this appearance sound like just another minor-league way-station to gauge effectiveness.

Andy, you’re here. You’re in the majors again. You’re in New York. Good on ya, mate. But now you’ve got to win or you go back to the ranch in Texas.

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Tags: AL East Andy Pettitte CC Sabathia Douglas MacArthur George Steinbrenner New York Yankees Nick Swisher Seattle Mariners Tommy John Surgery Yankee Stadium