Tonight, Andy Pettitte makes the 39th start of his postseason career. In the first 38, he threw 237 1/3 innings with 3.83 ERA and a 154/63 K/BB ratio. Twenty-four starts, including his last six and nine of his last 10 dating back to the 2003 World Series, have been quality starts. That’s one big reason why his teams are 23-15 when he takes the mound in the playoffs.
Any discussion about Andy Pettitte’s Hall of Fame chances has to start-not eventually get to, not politely acknowledge, not use as a supporting piece of evidence-with those 38 starts. Pettitte’s career matches exactly the three-playoff-tier era that has elevated the playoffs to a spot just above the regular season. During Pettitte’s career, we’ve diminished regular-season performance, pennant races, the six-month trial, and we’ve elevated October above all else.
In that crucible, in games deemed so important that we needed to create another round of them, and build entire narratives around the heroes and goars created by them, Pettitte has been great. That 3.82 ERA isn’t anything special by regular-season standards; in a related story, he has no postseason starts against the Royals or Pirates. Pettitte has a season’s worth of innings in the highest-profile games at a time in the game’s history when we care more about the postseason than at any other. Nearly 2/3 of his postseason starts have put his team in position to games, games that can directly lead to a championship.
I’m not a fan of the increased importance we place on the postseason, but I don’t get to make the rules. We play more postseason games and care more about them than at any point prior, and we have to evaluate Hall of Fame candidates in that light. Pettitte is part of a large group of pitchers whose regular-season work will get him considered as a Hall of Famer. He’s the type of pitcher who used to be better handled, before the voting pool decided that 300 wins was just about a bright-line test for induction. When you add a season’s worth of high-leverage innings thrown at an above-average level of quality, though, it becomes nearly impossible to keep him out.
I can’t come up with a way to factor this into JAWS, and maybe I shouldn’t. What I do know is that Andy Pettitte, like John Smoltz, has the postseason track record that isn’t just an adjunct to a reasonable Hall case; it’s one that demands he be a Hall of Famer.
I don’t know if tonight will add to that case. It is, and I may be the first person to use this phrase at a World Series in a while, unseasonably warm, and there’s just a light breeze out to center. It feels like a great night to have a bat in your hands-no, the other kind-and while I’ve pounded the idea that Cole Hamels is going to have a great World Series into the ground, I’d feel better about that meme if the mercury was slightly lower. We’re supposed to get intermitten showers, and at about 7 p.m. as I post this, we’re getting one.
To some extent, tonight’s game just sets the narrative up. We don’t know yet whether we’re going to have a classic World Series, a long one, and tonight won’t give us that information. We’ll be 2-1 in the morning, and then Game Four happens, and we can worry then about one team trying to take a commanding lead and the other looking to make it a best of three. For tonight, we just have one lefthander on his way to Cooperstown off a great postseason resume, and the version of himself about ten years younger.
The Jerry Hairston Experience doesn’t get to start against a lefty, as Nick Swisher is back in the lineup. Down Hideki Matsui, it seems Joe Girardi wanted to get some power back into the lineup. Matsui was never a real option, as he’s rarely played right field and barely played any outfield this season. One reason he had a strong year this season was his being limited to DH, which helped his knees tremendously. It will be interesting to see if Girardi is able to get Matsui into the game in a high-leverage spot; his ability to hit lefties will help if that spot is against Hamels.
In case I didn’t mention this last year…Citizens Bank Park is gorgeous, one of my favorite of the new breed of parks. Everything is, to one extent or another, a Camden Yards knockoff, but they pull it off here very well, and even by new-park standards it has a lot of open space on the inside.