Pettitte superb in flirtation with perfection

Pettitte superb in flirtation with perfection

BALTIMORE -- These are the final years of Andy Pettitte's career, his last chances to accomplish great things, everyone seems to recognize. Even so, it takes a lot to push the veteran's emotions beyond the usual bubbling of competitive juices.

Treading into treasured waters, as Pettitte did in Monday's 5-1 win vs. the Orioles, seems to do the trick quite nicely. He could not recall pitching a perfect game or no-hitter at any level, dating back to Little League, but his effort dared the largely pro-Yankees cheering sections at Camden Yards to dream big.

After Pettitte retired the first 20 Orioles, a Jerry Hairston Jr. error broke up the perfect game with two outs in the seventh and Nick Markakis stroked a single to shatter the no-hitter a batter later. Pettitte happily settled for a victory in an outstanding pitching performance.

"There was no doubt, after the fifth inning, I started thinking about it a little bit. It was cool," Pettitte said. "That was neat for me to be able to do something like that so late in my career.

"There's not a whole lot that gets me excited, and I didn't really get too excited yet. I had a lot of outs left to get."

Pettitte finished his effort with eight innings in the books, leaving one run and two hits on the board, having bid farewell to the shutout when Melvin Mora led off the eighth with a solo home run to left-center.

But the flirtation with history had been exceptionally strong in the seventh inning, as Pettitte closed to within seven outs of perfection and appeared primed to do it against a sleepy Baltimore offense that had only worked four two-ball counts to that point.

"I was getting pretty excited about it when [he got] as far as he did," manager Joe Girardi said. "You start to get pretty excited. You start to count the outs. Unfortunately, he didn't get there."

For his part, Pettitte said that he had let his thoughts begin to drift through five innings, ducking back into the clubhouse runway while the Yankees batted against Orioles right-hander Jeremy Guthrie.

"I really felt good, and I was throwing everything for strikes and putting it where I wanted to," Pettitte said. "You're just like, 'Heck, maybe it could happen.' But in the back of my mind, I'm thinking, 'I've never done it.' "

Adam Jones broke up the perfecto in the seventh, smashing a hard grounder to third base that clanged off the heel of Hairston's glove. It was charged as an error to Hairston, who had made a sharp defensive play on Matt Wieters to keep the bid intact just an inning earlier.

"I wish I could have that one back," Hairston said. "Nobody feels worse than I do. It's kind of tough to swallow, but I've played long enough to know things happen. It's unfortunate. It's a shame."

One batter later, Markakis stroked the Orioles' first hit, taking an 0-2 pitch the other way and down the third-base line for a clean single. Pettitte said that he had been trying to throw a ball out of the strike zone, but Markakis put a good swing on it and made him pay.

The crowd of 25,063 -- Yankees and Orioles fans both -- rose as one to applaud Pettitte's performance.

"He was that special today," Jorge Posada said. "I wanted it more than him. I know how tough he is on himself, but he provided us with a good chance to do it. It's so tough to do."

Pettitte said that there was no time to think about what he'd almost accomplished, knowing that Markakis was on base as the tying run. But Pettitte got Nolan Reimold to ground out to end the inning and Baltimore's only real threat of the night.

"Pettitte pitched a tremendous, terrific, exceptional, outstanding, superb -- however you want me to say it -- ballgame," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "I think I said it in a nutshell, probably one of the year's finest. Tip of the cap."

Walking none and striking out eight, Pettitte completed the eighth inning, allowing Brian Bruney and Mariano Rivera to collaborate on the final three outs and put the victory on the board.

"He was great today," Rivera said. "It was beautiful to see him perform the way he did. It's too bad what happened like that. It's baseball. I was praying for him to get it done. It couldn't happen to a better person."

Given an opportunity to reflect postgame, Pettitte had to wonder what might have been.

"All my stuff was working, so I just felt real confident," he said. "It was really a weird feeling. I don't know if I would have gotten nervous if I carried it to the eighth and ninth. It didn't faze me in the sixth or seventh at all."

New York scored twice in six innings against Guthrie. Nick Swisher opened the third inning with a solo home run to right-center field, his 22nd of the season and 19th on the road.

In the fifth, Robinson Cano and Swisher clubbed back-to-back doubles to produce the second run. The Yankees pulled away in the eighth off Mark Hendrickson, as Johnny Damon drilled a run-scoring single and Cano popped a two-run double to right.

Pettitte said there was no disappointment, but his teammates were clearly hoping that this cool evening on the Inner Harbor would be remembered for more.

"It would have been something nice, that we could talk about for a while," Posada said. "Hopefully the next time we'll get better."

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