Goodbye, Andy Pettitte

“I will not pitch this season. I can assure you of that. And I do not plan on pitching again.”

That’s what Andy Pettitte said on Feb. 4, 2011. And here’s what I said on Feb. 4, 2011:

When Andy Pettitte left his May 5, 2010 start against the Orioles in the sixth inning after throwing just 77 pitches and allowing one earned run on six hits, I knew something was wrong, I just didn’t know how wrong.

I was sitting in Section 203 in the right-field bleachers checking my phone for updates on Pettitte, but no one had any. When the game ended, it sounded like I might have watched Pettitte walk off a major league mound for the last time. But those reports were premature and 10 days later he shut out the Twins at Yankee Stadium over 6 1/3 innings to improve to 5-0.

Now Andy Pettitte is really done. All offseason there was certainly a chance that he would retire after a year in which he was an All-Star and pitched to a 3.28 ERA in 21 regular season starts and a 2.57 ERA in two postseason starts, but I didn’t think he would really walk away. At least I didn’t want to believe he would really walk away.

OK, so now Pettitte is really, really done (we think), but this isn’t as sad and heartbreaking and devastating as the goodbye for Number 42 is or the someday goodbye for Number 2 that I hope never happens. I got used to life without Andy Pettitte after the 2010 season when he left me wondering whether the 2011 season would even be one worth watching.

The last time Pettitte left the Yankees, which was the second time, I was devastated. The Yankees had lost out on Cliff Lee in December and would have to turn to either an unproven Ivan Nova, AAAA starter Sergio Mitre, Freddy Garcia 2.0 or the ultimate unknown in Bartolo Colon. I had gone into that offseason thinking the Yankees rotation could be CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Andy Pettitte, A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes, but instead it ended up being CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon at the start of the year. It worked out as the Yankees won 97 games, but the loss of Pettitte became even more devastating in October when the Yankees let Freddy Garcia start and lose Game 2 of the ALDS. The Game 2 Andy Pettitte always started.

Back in February 2011, I didn’t know why Pettitte waited so long to make his decision to retire and if he was willing to leave the game with so much in the tank, why was he leaving then? Why didn’t he leave after the 2009 season (aside from money, which shouldn’t have been an issue) when he pitched the clinching game for the AL East, the clinching game of the ALDS, the clinching game of the ALCS and the clinching game of the World Series? It didn’t make sense that Pettitte would retire since he could still pitch and the timing couldn’t have been worse after Lee had left the Yankees at the altar. I was upset at Pettitte for selfish reasons for leaving, the way I had been after the 2003 season when he went to Houston with Roger Clemens and left the Yankees with Mike Mussina, Jon Lieber, an even older El Duque, Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez to try to beat the Red Sox. I mean hypothetically speaking when it comes to the 2004 season since there wasn’t a season in 2004 because of the strike, which means there wasn’t a postseason either. What, you don’t remember the strike of 2004? Yes, Pettitte had his reasons to retire after the 2010 season the way he had his reasons to leave the Yankees for the Astros after the 2003 season, but that didn’t mean I had to accept them and I didn’t.

Sure, I was immature about his “retirement” almost three years ago and sure I said the following:

I never wrote a Goodbye piece for Andy Pettitte when he “retired” after the 2010 season, and thankfully I didn’t (mainly because it would have been a waste of time and words given his comeback) since I’m not good at saying goodbye, especially to members of the Core Four. Now I’m just happy Pettitte isn’t good at saying goodbye either.

I’m not any better at goodbyes now than I was when I said it to Jorge Posada or when Pettitte first retired two years, eight months and 11 days ago. But it’s been 16 days since Pettitte last pitched for the last time and I’m ready to say goodbye now.

I was eight years old when Andy Pettitte made his first appearance as a Yankee, 19 Aprils ago. I will be 27 for the start of the 2014 season, the fifth season without Andy Pettitte on the roster since I was in fourth grade and the first season without him leaving a chance to return.

“I feel like he was the greatest left-handed pitcher I ever saw pitch at Yankee Stadium. I never had the chance to see Whitey (Ford) pitch, so the first person I think of is Andy.” – Ron Guidry

Imagine Ron Guidry thinking you’re a better left-hander than Ron Guidry?!?! I’m pretty sure that’s the best compliment any left-hander could ever receive, no? I mean it’s coming from the guy who had the 25-3, 1.74 season in 1978. The guy who had a 1.69 ERA in four World Series starts. The guy who won the one-game playoff in Boston on three days rest in 1978. It’s Ron Guidry! The Effing Gator! Louisiana Effing Lightning!

Pettitte went 95-42 with a 3.70 ERA at on the original side of River Ave. and 21-13 with a 3.98 ERA on this side of River Ave, so Guidry does have a case.

“I think the impact he had on the teams we had in the mid-to-late 1990′s was enormous even though he was never the guy in the spotlight. He liked the fact that he wasn’t the No. 1 guy even though I trusted him like a No. 1 guy. – Joe Torre

Pettitte became known as the No. 2 starter in the postseason and became a staple of Game 2 of the ALDS (the same Game 2 that Freddy Garcia started that Ivan Nova was originally going to start in 2011). Pettitte pitched for the Yankees for 15 seasons. Out of those 15 seasons, the Yankees went to the postseason 13 times. Out of those 13 postseasons, Pettitte started Game 2 of the ALDS 12 times. (The only time he didn’t was in 2009 when he started, and won, Game 3 of the ALDS in the sweep of the Twins.) The Yankees won nine of the 12 ALDS.

There was a point in my life where I just figured Andy Pettitte would start Game 2 of the ALDS forever and Jorge Posada would catch him and Derek Jeter would be at shortstop and Mariano Rivera would come in to close the game as if they would were ageless and their lives were timeless. Eventually I realized this wasn’t possible and by eventually I mean in 2012 when Jorge Posada said goodbye before the 2012 season.

“A person and player the caliber of Andy Pettitte does not come around often.” – Hal Steinbrenner

After the hype and the near no-hitter in 2007 and the setup season in 2009 and the 18 wins in 2010, we thought Phil Hughes would be the most recent starter the Yankees drafted and developed and kept around like Pettitte, but that didn’t work out. Before Hughes there were pitchers like Tyler Clippard and Brad Halsey and Ted Lilly and Brandon Claussen as Yankees fans waited for one non-Andy Pettitte home-grown talent to either stay with the organization or pan out and neither has happened. Pettitte became the example of what Brian Cashman and his team look to draft every year and they have yet to even come close to doing so.

“Since I’ve been retired, I’m always asked, ‘Who would you have pitch a World Series Game 7?’ And I always say, ‘Andy Pettitte.’” – Tino Martinez

Pettitte didn’t have the left-handed arsenal of CC Sabathia or the combination of velocity, a devastating slider and intimidation of Randy Johnson. He wasn’t going to go out there and pitch a perfect game or always have clean innings. But he was going to battle and grind through a start even without his best stuff. Andy Pettitte knew how to “pitch,” he knew how to win and he knew how to win when it was for everything.

“He was a fighter and all about winning, and he was respected by every person in the clubhouse.” – Mariano Rivera

The last Sunday at the Stadium in 2013 was supposed to be all about Number 42, but of course he wanted to share it with Pettitte the way they shared 72 games that Pettitte started and Rivera saved.

“Andy has been a wonderful pitcher, one of the tops the Yankees ever had. He’s always a guy you always depend on and we’re gonna miss him.” – Yogi Berra

When the guy with one World Series ring for each finger calls you “tops” and says he’ll miss you, there’s not much else to add.

“I wanted to play for the New York Yankees. That was the bottom line.” – Andy Pettitte

I will remember Andy Pettitte for shutting out the Braves for 8 1/3 innings in Game 5 of the 1996 World Series (8.1 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 4 K).

I will remember Andy Pettitte for leaving Grady Sizemore at third following a leadoff triple with the heart of the Indians’ order coming up and the and the Yankees holding a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the sixth in Game 2 of the 2007 ALDS.

I will remember Andy Pettitte for winning Games 1 and 5 in the 2001 ALCS (14.1 IP, 11 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 8 K) and winning the 2001 ALCS MVP.

I will remember Andy Pettitte for the 447 games, the 438 starts, the two 21-win seasons, the 219 wins and 2,020 strikeouts.

I will remember Andy Pettitte for the 44 postseason starts, the 19 postseason wins, the six ALDS wins, the seven ALCS wins and the five World Series wins.

I will remember Andy Pettitte for the stare that became an October staple for the last two decades.

I will remember Andy Pettitte for doing everything he could down the stretch in 2013 to try to extend the Yankees’ season past Game 162 by pitching to a 1.94 ERA over his last 10 starts despite being out of gas.

I will remember Andy Pettitte for being part of five championships, for building the team into what it is today and for being a major reason why I enjoy baseball and like the Yankees as much as I do today.

I’m going to miss, “Number 46 … Andy Pettitte … Number 46.”