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Unparalleled experience in Pettitte's arm

Unparalleled experience in Pettitte's arm

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MINNEAPOLIS -- Forty starts have taught Andy Pettitte plenty. Forty starts have taught Pettitte that he need not be perfect. Forty starts have taught Pettitte that even now, even entering another postseason at something less than top form, he can win.

He's won enough to know. In 40 career postseason starts -- more than any other pitcher in the history of the game -- Pettitte has racked up more innings (249) and victories (18) than anyone alive or dead. October has become as familiar to him as April or June, and that's rare.

"Obviously the experience isn't going to help you if you can't find your stuff," Pettitte said. "But just for me, I know emotionally that whatever happens, I am not mentally going to get out of the game. So I think that the experience will be able to help me."

The Yankees are banking on that much, sending Pettitte to the mound for Thursday's American League Division Series Game 2 start against the Twins at Target Field.

Some around Pettitte might feel that he can use the crutch of his experience -- or any crutch, for that matter. In three late-season starts after returning from the strained left groin that sidelined him for two months this summer, Pettitte posted a 5.25 ERA, lasting fewer than five innings in two of the outings. Had another starting pitcher submitted those kinds of numbers, it would be cause for panic. Look no further than A.J. Burnett for proof.

But Pettitte is not another pitcher. He is not Burnett, to be certain. He is -- and the statistics bear this out -- the most accomplished starting pitcher in postseason history. He may not be the best -- that's an argument for another day, one that Pettitte almost certainly would not win. But in terms of sheer longevity, in terms of the combined weight of his October results, Pettitte has been best.

He leads all Major League pitchers in October starts, victories and innings, and before this postseason is over, he may lead them all in strikeouts as well. Most pitchers, including Pettitte's Game 2 opponent, former Yankee Carl Pavano, like to say that they treat postseason outings no differently from regular season starts.

Pettitte says that, too, because that's what pitchers are supposed to say. But he also knows the truth.

"Mentally, it just seems that the game is a little bit different as far as your tunnel vision as a pitcher, your focus, just the way you kind of zone in on everything," Pettitte said. "For me, that's the difference. But I don't go out there approaching it any differently. I guess the magnitude of the game kind of makes everything a little different."

Consider that a comforting thought during this frenetic, nail-biting time of year. But there is still plenty of concern surrounding Pettitte, who has allowed 19 hits over his last 7 1/3 innings.

Pettitte's groin may be healthy, but his command is not even close to where it was over the first half of the season, when he roared out to an 11-2 record with a 2.70 ERA. The Yankees, then, simply must hope that Pettitte can find that command -- along with whatever else he's missing -- in time for his Game 2 start against the Twins.

"I feel pretty good about it," manager Joe Girardi said. "I actually think the extra rest that he had when he made his start in Boston probably helped him. He went really hard up to that point. He said he felt really good about his bullpen [session on] Monday. That makes me feel better."

So does the experience. It's not as if Pettitte accrued all of his postseason accomplishments years ago, back when he and the Yankees were busy winning four World Series titles over the span of five years. Some of them occurred back then, of course. But some came later with the Astros. And some came last year, when Pettitte won all three of the Yankees' series-clinching games.

The first of those occurred here in Minnesota, when he outpitched Pavano in the deciding Game 3 of the ALDS. Asked about his former teammate on Wednesday, Pettitte said he couldn't quite recall what kind of competitor Pavano was during his days in New York.

And that makes sense. Of course he couldn't. Tunnel vision, remember?

"I feel good about Andy," Girardi said. "Andy has been here so many times that he makes you feel pretty good."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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