Just Fine and (D)Andy

Occasionally lost amidst the seemingly daily turmoil surrounding the Yankees has been the steady brilliance of an old pro. As the roster introduces new faces like a freshman orientation, Andy Pettitte continues to take his turn every fifth day, dependable as ever. In case you missed it, Pettitte is enjoying one of his finest seasons as a major leaguer. Actually, "fine" is understating it. Superb does his season more justice

After defeating the Orioles Monday night to salvage a split in the four-game series, Pettitte raised his record to 16-7 as he shrank his ERA to 4.01. He has won 11 of 12 decisions, and in that one loss he gave up only two runs over nine innings.

Still, the overall numbers do not fully sum up the impact he's had. Rather, it's been the clutch, gutsy performances he's delivered at opportune times that have been most valuable.

Rewind to Fourth of July weekend on a sunny afternoon in the Bronx. The Red Sox had spent the previous two days hammering David Wells and Roger Clemens worse than the critics did to "Gigli." With Boston now only two games back, Pettitte threw a gem in the third game, stifling the Sox over eight innings by allowing one run on four hits. Joe Torre called it Pettitte's best regular season performance as a Yankee.

Later that month, the Yanks had just a squandered a lead to Boston on Sunday night, and all was not well. Raul Mondesi had just walked out and taken a separate flight to the west coast. George Steinbrenner was getting antsy. And Armando Benitez was a Yankee. But Pettitte threw another eight-inning masterpiece the next game, this time against the Angels, and the soap opera died down.

This season, Pettitte became the first pitcher since 1916 to win 12 games his first nine seasons in the majors. That's not just pinstripers – we're talking every pitcher in nearly a century of baseball. Of those nine seasons, he has won at least 15 games six times.

But despite his consistency, Pettitte's value is still questioned. A couple of summers ago, his name seemed to pop up in every trade scenario possible. Earlier this season, the walk year of his contract, many seemed to doubt Pettitte would be back with the Yanks next season. In seasons past, when his ERA failed to rank amongst the league leaders, detractors said he only won because of plentiful run support.

Sure, his ERA may have been in the fours, but you don't win as often as he has for as long as he has by being a mediocre pitcher. Some just know how to win, and Pettitte is one of those guys.

Take, for instance, his last two outings against the Orioles. Neither time armed with his best stuff, Pettitte willed himself into the late innings, giving the Yanks what they needed to pull out wins. That's what separates Pettitte from the average pitcher: what Pedro Cerrano would call "juevos."

Pettitte is a rarity on this Yankee club. On a team that seems to play under a dark cloud of tension every day, he has been unwavering. He's one of the few players Torre doesn't have to worry about loafing (stop staring at your fly balls Alfonso), claiming racism (good riddance Raul), throwing temper tantrums (Weaver), wearing down (Hideki Matsui has never played this many games in one season), breaking down (Wells' back), self-destructing (Osuna and Hammond and…Rivera?), or even producing (right field).

No, Pettitte just goes out and does his job with class. And he does it with fire, too. After someone makes a nice play behind him, who's the first to congratulate? Yep, it's Pettitte. When he's demonstrative, he doesn't roll his eyes like Wells or cuss his glove like Weaver. Pettitte's energy is positive, his actions professional.

The Yankees have been playing much better as of late, and much of the drama has subsided. But on a team that still has plenty of question marks, they're lucky to have ol' reliable in #47.

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