In the moment, the cocksure 37-year-old lefty seemed ageless, pitching as well as -- if not better than -- he has at any point in his career.
In his first trip to the mound in 10 days, Pettitte won for the fifth time in seven starts this season, shutting out the Twins over 6 1/3 innings. Despite missing a start in Detroit, the lefty is tied for the American League lead in wins, and his 1.89 ERA is the lowest it has been throughout his career after seven starts. Pettitte has allowed only nine earned runs all season -- three of which came on one Paul Konerko swing two starts ago.
"I never doubt Andy Pettitte because of his heart," manager Joe Girardi said. "I always believe Andy can be great any time he takes the ball. I've caught him, I've coached him, I've managed him. To me, he really has what it takes inside to be a consistent player. ... I would never put a limitation on Andy because of what he has inside."
On Saturday, Pettitte proved why he is beyond reproach. He required only 22 batters to record 19 outs, holding the Twins to two singles. The biggest threat he faced was self-created in the sixth. After getting the first two outs and strike one to Denard Span, Pettitte threw his next 11 pitches out of the strike zone. Behind Joe Mauer, 3-0, he induced a long fly ball to the warning track that Brett Gardner tracked down just in front of the 399-foot marker in left-center.
"I didn't want to give in to him and was still trying to make a pitch," Pettitte said. "Fortunately, I was able to get him to hit it to the big part of the ballpark."
Pettitte came out for one more batter in the seventh, striking out Justin Morneau looking at a cutter.
Before the game, Girardi said he would check intermittently with his veteran lefty to see how his elbow felt. It didn't take long for Girardi -- or the Twins -- to see that Pettitte was his same old self.
"He had his curveball and his cutter from the beginning, which made me feel really good about how he felt," Girardi said, referring to the two pitches that Pettitte struggled to throw while dealing with the elbow inflammation. Catcher Francisco Cervelli said he called the game for Pettitte the same as always, complete with a steady diet of curves and cutters.
This isn't to say Pettitte did it all by himself on Saturday; the left-hander even admitted he made his share of mistakes. But he was aided all afternoon by a sparkling Yankees defense that kept runners off base or erased them once they got there. Gardner made that apparent from the first play of the game, when his sliding shoestring catch robbed Span, Minnesota's leadoff man, of a hit in the first.
"It sets a tone; it absolutely does," first baseman Mark Teixeira said of Gardner's catch. "That ball drops, maybe it trickles away; it might be a triple with how fast Span is. That was a huge play to start the game and really got us on the right foot."
Right fielder Nick Swisher added his own diving catch in the third inning to take an extra-base hit away from Drew Butera, and the Yankees turned two double plays -- the second on a sharp line drive straight to Robinson Cano off the bat of Morneau.
"Whoever their advance scout is, I hope they are paying him pretty good," Span said. "The first inning, I've got Gardner diving, catching my ball, and then you've got Swisher diving, catching balls and [us] hitting bullets right at people. Their advance scout, I hope we can get a trade and bring him over here. He's doing a heck of a job."
The cherry on top of the cake was the Yankees' offense, which chipped away at Francisco Liriano for three runs in six innings before slicing through the Twins' bullpen for four runs in the seventh -- the second straight day New York put up a four-spot after "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Jesse Crain walked Swisher -- batting right-handed against the righty pitcher because of the soreness in his left bicep -- before serving up an absolute moon shot to Teixeira.
"That ball was hit pretty well," Teixeira said, underselling his home run, which reached the third deck in right field. "He left one middle-in, and I put a good swing on it."
Alex Rodriguez followed with a double off the top of the wall in right-center field before Jorge Posada smashed the second two-run homer of the inning to put the Yankees up a touchdown.
The late-inning eruptions -- sparked by the middle of the order -- have been a welcome sight after the offense was largely dormant during a four-game series in Detroit, where the Yankees were shut out twice.
Add it all together, and the Yankees seemed to suck the life out of a Twins squad that came into New York tied with the Yanks for the second-best record in the American League. And with a 25th win in its past 28 tries against Minnesota at Yankee Stadium, New York, like Pettitte, declared that nothing has changed.
Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.