Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, tag-team for another Yankees victory
But on Thursday night at Yankee Stadium, the long-time teammates combined to lift the Bombers over the Red Sox, 4-2. In the process, New York ended its season-opening two-game losing streak.
While Rivera formally announced that he will retire at season's end, Pettitte believes he can pitch a few more years if he wanted to.
But Pettitte isn't looking too far into the future; he's looking five days ahead.
"I'm worried about my next start," Pettitte said. "I don't know what I'm going to do next year. I'm focused on right now."
On another chilly, early April night in the Bronx, Pettitte proved yet again why the Yankees don't fret when he's pitching. The veteran workhorse, healthy, strong and revitalized, is accustomed to shouldering the burden of achieving victory while the team is on the skids.
At the ripe age of 40, Pettitte kick-started what he and the Yankees hope will be a full season after last year's comeback was interrupted when a line drive shattered his left ankle and put him on the shelf for nearly three months.
On this night, luck was on Pettitte's side, as was his precision with a baseball.
Pettitte tossed an eight-inning gem, allowing one run on eight hits with a walk and three strikeouts to lead the Yankees to their first victory of 2013. For the 27th time in Pettitte's career as a Yankee, he started a game attempting to avoid a regular-season sweep. And, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, he improved to 18-3 in such outings.
Coming off six days of rest, Pettitte told pitching coach Larry Rothschild at the start of the game that he felt his command might be off because he felt too strong. The Red Sox gave him immediate trouble in the first by putting runners on first and second with two out.
Pettitte then uncorked a wild pitch, sending Shane Victorino to third base. Francisco Cervelli hesitated momentarily and Victorino ran for home, but the Yankees' catcher realized Victorino's intentions and raced to the plate, tagging the runner out to end the top of the first.
Cervelli admitted he thought he "fell asleep" before turning on the jets. But it was his hustle that kept the game scoreless before the Yankees ever came to bat.
"I really wanted to keep my focus sharp, especially early," Pettitte said. "I felt really good and I was trying to control myself. I feel like sometimes I'm better when I'm a little tired. Me and Cervy got into a good rhythm."
Working in and out of trouble, Pettitte allowed baserunners in seven of eight frames, but he also found ways to keep Boston off the scoreboard. He got the job done efficiently, inducing two double plays and recording nine ground ball outs while throwing a very tidy 94 pitches to win his inaugural start of the season.
The victory was the 245th of Pettitte's career, moving him past Dennis Martinez for 49th place on baseball's all-time list. He went eight strong for the first time since last May 18 against the Cincinnati Reds.
"It's what Andy does, he gets double plays," said manager Joe Girardi. "Andy really knows how to pitch. I thought he and Cervy did a tremendous job together."
Pettitte kept the Red Sox's offense quiet until Jackie Bradley Jr. laced a two-out double to right in the seventh inning for Boston's first run. They came close to adding two more, but Brett Gardner ran down David Ross' deep drive to center. A brisk wind may have kept Ross' ball inside the park, but when you're as accomplished as Pettitte, you create your own breaks.
"He gave it a ride and Gardner made a heck of a catch against the wall," said Red Sox manager John Farrell.
The Yankees' offense awakened in the second when Eduardo Nunez's ground-rule double put runners on second and third with two out. Lyle Overbay poked a single to left-center, plating both runners for the Yankees' first lead of 2013. Gardner led off the third with his first home run to make it 3-0.
After Bradley Jr.'s double cut into the Yanks' advantage, Cervelli homered in the bottom of the seventh push the lead back to three.
While Ryan Dempster buckled, the Yankees weren't able to knock him out. But Pettitte continued to shut down the Red Sox lineup. He erased any iota of a Boston rally with another double-play grounder in the eighth before handing the ball to a familiar face -- Mariano Rivera.
"I feel real good about things when you see that guy running in from the bullpen," Pettitte said of Rivera. "It will be special for me watching him knowing this is it. After this, he won't be closing games for us anymore, so I'll savor it as much as I can."
In the first appearance of his final season -- and first in a Major League game since last May -- Rivera jogged in from the bullpen, "Enter Sandman" blared from the loudspeaker and 40,611 people gave him a standing ovation. He allowed one run on the way to career save No. 609.
"I was waiting for 11 months," Rivera said. "There were a lot of emotions tonight, but you have to control that. You have to finish the game."
Since the save became an official statistic in 1969, Rivera has closed out 69 of Pettitte's victories -- the most win-save combinations for any pair of pitchers over that stretch. Per Elias, Thursday night marked the first time in MLB history a 40-year-old starting pitcher pitched eight innings and handed the ball to another 40-year-old for a save.
Yet again, two of the famed Core Four tag-teamed for a Yankees victory, the first time they had done so since the 2010 playoffs. The combination won't last forever -- nothing in sports does -- but right now, Pettitte and Rivera have work to do. The Andy and Mo show will one day draw its final curtain, but not before they display a few more acts.
"Those two have been doing it a long time together," Girardi said. "I've caught both of them and I've managed both of them, but as a fan it's really kind of neat to see."
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