It was on this date eight years ago that one of the members of the Yankees’ famed Core Four came out of retirement to return to the mound. Left-hander Andy Pettitte rejoined two other players from that group (longtime teammates Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera) in the Bronx, agreeing to what proved to be a bargain contract for the club. It was a minor league deal worth up to $2.5MM – money well spent for the Yankees.
Pettitte retired after the 2010 season, his 16th in the majors and his 13th as a Yankee, but felt the urge to pitch again while working as a spring guest instructor for the team prior to the 2012 campaign. As one of the most accomplished pitchers in the history of the organization, the Yankees were happy to welcome back Pettitte, then 39 years old, even though they already had six other arms (CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia and Ivan Nova) for five rotation spots. But it turns out that they needed Pettite that year. Pineda didn’t pitch after succumbing to a torn labrum following the Pettitte reunion, while Garcia and Nova turned in ineffective seasons.
As someone who signed so close to the regular season, Pettitte took time to ramp up before his return to the mound became official. He didn’t make his 2012 debut until May 13, a 6-2 loss to Seattle in which he yielded four earned runs on 6 1/3 innings.
Pettitte was encouraged afterward, though, saying: “I just cannot believe how comfortable this is for me. I don’t know how to explain it.”
Indeed, while Pettitte’s first game back didn’t produce ideal results for him or his team, he returned to his old ways from that point forward. Pettitte tossed eight shutout frames five days later in a 4-0 win over the Reds. He continued to throw well in the coming weeks, but Pettitte fractured his left fibula in a June 27 start versus Cleveland and didn’t get back until the end of September. Pettitte posted three solid outings to conclude the season, ending it with 12 starts and 75 1/3 frames of 2.87 ERA ball with a lofty grounder percentage of 56.3 and 8.24 K/9 against 2.51 BB/9. His stellar performance contributed to a 95-victory, AL East-winning campaign for the Yankees, who edged out the Orioles by two games.
The Yankees couldn’t have realistically asked for more out of Pettitte, but he provided it in October. Typically impervious to the pressure of the postseason, Pettitte combined for 13 2/3 innings of five-run pitching in two starts (one against Baltimore, the other versus Detroit). The Yankees did get by the Orioles in an ALDS that went the distance, but the Tigers overwhelmed them in the ALCS in a four-game sweep.
While Pettitte was unable to claim his sixth World Series title in his first season back, he fared so nicely that it convinced him to stick around for one more year. The Yankees had to pay up that time, inking the three-time All-Star to a $12MM guarantee, but they also got their money’s worth in 2013. Even though New York finished 85-77 and didn’t qualify for the playoffs, Pettitte’s going-out party was one of the highlights of the team’s year. He put the exclamation point on his career with a complete game, one-run performance in Houston (where he pitched from 2004-06) in his last game.
Thanks to Pettitte’s decision to end his first retirement on March 16, 2012, he spent two years further cementing himself as one of the top pitchers in the Yankees’ storied history.