A-Rod's 20th career grand slam opened the floodgates for the Yankees' 11-2 victory over the Indians on Memorial Day in the Bronx, yet the way Pettitte was cruising, the veteran left-hander seemed to already have all the support he might need.
Pettitte won for the seventh time in eight decisions behind seven innings of one-run ball, retiring the final 14 Indians batters he faced and -- most importantly to him -- tying Ford on baseball's all-time wins list with his 236th career victory.
"That's awesome," Pettitte said. "It really is, because he's just been a special person for me in my career here. He's been a huge supporter of mine and he's a great man. I love him to death."
The Chairman of the Board owns the most victories in franchise history, and had Pettitte never left New York for a three-year stint with the Astros, he might be right there with Ford today.
Instead, Pettitte's next victory in pinstripes will be his 200th, and the Yankees are wondering if the 37-year-old has ever been this good.
"Andy is unbelievable," Rodriguez said. "He's got so much intensity and he executes his pitches. I really feel that he's pitching better than he ever has in his career, and that's because now he's using four to five pitches, not just the simple two that he was in the '90s and the early 2000s."
Rodriguez's 590th career homer gave the Yankees plenty of additional padding to support Pettitte, who allowed only Jhonny Peralta's second-inning homer, scattering four hits while etching his name alongside Ford's -- at least for the next five days.
"Two great Yankees is what it is," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "It is historical. You think about what Whitey meant to this organization and what Andy has meant to this organization, and it's an awful lot. Andy is in great company."
Pettitte was prepared to come back out for the eighth with only 90 pitches under his belt, but New York's 40-minute, six-run frame -- which also included a Robinson Cano solo blast -- stiffened the hurler and put an end to his afternoon.
Two hits and an ill-advised intentional walk to Mark Teixeira set up A-Rod, who greeted Chris Perez with a towering drive to deep center, moving him past Eddie Murray on baseball's all-time list with his 20th grand slam, trailing only Manny Ramirez (21) and Lou Gehrig (23).
"I felt it coming for some reason," said Rodriguez, who had three of New York's season-high 18 hits. "You kind of see things like that coming a little bit. I would appreciate it if we keep those numbers to ourselves and not share them with any other managers."
Pettitte has not issued a walk in his past two starts against the Twins and Indians, spanning 15 innings, with nine strikeouts. He said that his mechanics have allowed that, which he called "a huge key."
"I just hope I can continue to stay where I am and carry it along," Pettitte said. "Walks are a huge key for me, and I feel like I haven't been giving up as many hits either. I feel like I've been keeping the ball out of the heart of the plate, and when I do make mistakes, balls aren't going into the gaps like they could be."
Girardi has seen Pettitte's progression into a finished product, and given his choice for rotation purposes with a time machine, the 2010 version of Pettitte might exceed the younger, harder thrower who beat the Braves in his second World Series start.
"He's a lot different pitcher than he was in 1996," Girardi said. "He was more one side of the plate with his fastball, cutter, used his curveball and an occasional changeup.
"Now he throws that cutter on both sides, he has two different fastballs, he uses his changeup more. He's just a lot different than when I caught him. He's added pitches to his repertoire and it's really completed him as a pitcher."
On days like this, when Pettitte can lay claim to his lowest ERA (2.48) and fewest runs allowed (19) through his first 10 starts of any season, the Yankees must wonder how Pettitte can be unsure if he belongs on a mound beyond this year.
But, like in each of the previous three seasons, Pettitte believes he will have a decision to make in the very near future -- whether he sees 2011 as another play-it-and-see campaign, or his first in Deer Park, Texas, as a full-time, stay-at-home dad.
"That's where I still am," Pettitte said. "I just can't think long-term as far as any kind of extension. I'm just playing it out and I'll go home and see how the family is doing. I just can't see myself playing a lot, lot longer.
"A lot of people have been asking me that over the last month or so. Unless I have a serious injury, I just don't think it's going to be me not feeling like I'll be able to pitch anymore that makes me eventually retire. I feel like I need to be with my family a little bit more."
For now, the Yankees will gladly take whatever Pettitte can offer, and they put a quick lead on the board for him against Mitch Talbot in the first inning. Curtis Granderson doubled and scored on Rodriguez's sharp single to center, the first knock in a six-RBI day for the slugging third baseman.
New York added a second run in the fourth, as Nick Swisher doubled and came home on Brett Gardner's RBI single to center, one of three hits for the speedster. But that was all the backing Pettitte had while he pitched, as he walked to the dugout after the top of the seventh with a slim 2-1 lead, only to watch A-Rod help remove all doubt.
"This was a tough game," Pettitte said. "It looks like it was a blowout, but it wasn't a blowout, that's for sure."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.