Sturdy Pettitte wins No. 200 with Yanks

Sturdy Pettitte wins No. 200 with Yanks

NEW YORK -- When the Yankees made that sharp right turn into their home clubhouse on Friday night, Andy Pettitte had his left arm wrapped in ice and the rest of his body enveloped in a cluster of hugs from his teammates.

A beaming Mariano Rivera stepped into the swarm, clutching the ball he'd thrown for the final out of the game and presenting it to the veteran in recognition of Pettitte's milestone 200th victory with the Yankees -- a 4-3 win over the Astros at Yankee Stadium.

"It's special," said Pettitte, who became just the third pitcher to win as many games in pinstripes. "There's not a lot of guys that have won that many games. It's a good thing. I'm really happy."

A telephone was ringing with congratulations spilled from the drawl of Ron Guidry, one of Pettitte's kindred spirits within the family as a Yankees left-hander with Louisiana ties. But Guidry never ventured where Pettitte is now, a very exclusive club made up of just Whitey Ford (236) and Red Ruffing (231).

"One day, I think he'll sit back and be very fond of what he's done in his career," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, "and be able to enjoy it and share it with his children and grandchildren. Andy has meant so much to this organization and done a lot of special things."

For now, however, Pettitte's motivation -- and the reason he came back to once again put those pinstripes back on -- is to win another World Series championship. Round numbers like 200 did not factor into Pettitte's decision, and he insists his clock will soon run out, though his performance isn't exactly showing any signs of it.

Making his first career start against the club for whom he won 37 games from 2004-06, Pettitte limited Houston to four hits and two earned runs in 7 1/3 innings, picking up an assist from Joba Chamberlain to escape the eighth inning before Rivera locked down the ninth for his 15th save.

"In the back of my mind, I knew how important this was for Andy," Chamberlain said. "After all he's done for the team and all he's done for me personally, I wanted to be the guy who got to Mo and finish this game."

New York deposited a quick three-run lead into Pettitte's back pocket in the first inning, as Houston starter Brett Myers left a couple of curveballs up that resulted in a bases-loaded walk to Nick Swisher and Francisco Cervelli's two-run single up the middle.

The Yankees added an insurance run against Myers in the fifth, as -- in what Girardi later called "one of the key at-bats in the game" -- Kevin Russo walked, stole second base and scored on Mark Teixeira's broken-bat single to shallow right field.

Houston cracked into Pettitte in the second inning, as Tommy Manzella connected for a two-run double down the left-field line, but Pettitte settled in and wasn't touched again until the eighth, when Derek Jeter bobbled a double-play ball and helped set up Jeff Keppinger's sacrifice fly.

Chamberlain struck out Lance Berkman swinging in an even more key at-bat to end the threat, helping preserve the lead for Pettitte, who walked one and struck out four in a 98-pitch performance that he insisted wasn't really all that different for him.

"I'm able to block that out," Pettitte said. "I've been through so much and so many situations. Stuff like that is really not bothering me or affecting me. I knew the next one would be 200, but once I get out there, I'm able to set everything aside and get pretty locked in."

In fact, Pettitte said he was more struck by preparing to see the Astros' red-brick road uniforms. The feeling seemed to be mutual.

"It's like facing your old brother in backyard Wiffle ball," Berkman said. "You're kind of torn. Obviously, you want to do well and you're out there competing, but at the same time, you don't want to do anything to hurt him.

"It's a weird deal. He's one of my best friends, but when you step in the batter's box and the fact he puts the glove up over his face, it's really facing Darth Vader."

Every time Pettitte is reminded where his numbers sit in the Yankees' books, he can't help but think about the three years in Houston. He is thankful for the friendships with players like Berkman and Roy Oswalt, but he also recalls the pain that racked his elbow in that ill-fated 2004 National League debut season.

"You think, 'Man, if I'd stayed here, I'd probably never have check-swung,'" Pettitte said. "Maybe my elbow wouldn't have popped, and I'd be able to pass Whitey. But I don't regret it. I don't. I feel like it was what I needed to do at that time, with the situation and not being able to come back here with the Yankees and the way they were feeling at that time about me.

"I was able to go home and be with my family, coach my kids in some baseball for a while. I think it was great I was able to go there and help that team win a playoff series for the first time ever and get to a World Series for the first time ever. I felt like God has put me where he wants me."

At 8-1, Pettitte is off to the best start of his career. Chamberlain joked that perhaps he should pay a monthlong visit to Pettitte's living room in Deer Park, Texas, just to soak in the fountain of youth that Pettitte seems to have discovered.

But Pettitte, whom Girardi called "about as humble a guy as I've ever met," had a better explanation at the ready.

"I just feel very fortunate and very blessed to have been able to play in this organization and have a great bullpen with the greatest closer ever," Pettitte said. "You add that all up, and that's why I've been able to be successful."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.