Forum Spin Doctor
NEW YORK - Andy Pettitte walked into Yankee Stadium, put the pinstripes and navy cap back on, stepped to the podium and picked up as if he had never left.
He got his old number back, 46.
He got his old locker back, too.
Now all he has to do is pitch the way he did for the Yankees from 1995-2003.
"In the end, obviously this was the place that I really felt like my gut and my heart was telling me to be," he said Thursday when he walked into Yankee Stadium for the first time in more than three years.
Exactly two years after the now-jettisoned Randy Johnson was introduced in the Stadium Club, Pettitte walked down the stairs for a reintroduction. For a while, he wasn't sure when the Yankees would want him back.
"I thought an old-timers game," he said. "I didn't know if they'd invite me back or not."
Turning to a pitcher who helped them to four World Series titles, the Yankees hope to regain their winning postseason ways. They haven't captured the AL pennant since Pettitte and Roger Clemens left for the Houston Astros.
Pettitte, a 34-year-old left-hander, has effectively replaced the Big Unit, a 43-year-old left-hander. In one hour back, Pettitte smiled about as many times as Johnson did in two years.
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who once pushed to trade Pettitte, got on the telephone after the news conference to give a welcome.
"I'm happy your back. Go and do a great job for us. I'm counting on you," Steinbrenner told him, according to spokesman Howard Rubenstein.
"I'll be well prepared to do it. You can count on me," Pettitte responded, according to Rubenstein.
Pettitte agreed Dec. 8 to a $16 million, one-year contract, a deal with a $16 million player option for 2008. He had already held a news conference in Texas and a telephone conference call, but the Yankees wanted to officially greet him while cameras recorded the moment.
"This is way too much," he said. "This is definitely strange for me to be doing this."
Across 161st St., cranes were at work constructing the new ballpark that is scheduled to open in 2009. Pettitte focused on the current stadium.
"It's just a special place to play and to pitch. This is where it all started for me," he said. "I'm hoping that we can have a whole lot of special memories in the future here."
Since Pettitte agreed to return, the Yankees have sounded apologetic about the way they handled negotiations three years ago. They let Pettitte explore the market without aggressively wooing him.
"Sorry we lost you for a few years there," general manager Brian Cashman said as the news conference opened.
Later, Cashman described the approach this time as a "better bedside manner."
Pettitte said during his time playing at home, "I've become a little bit more of a cowboy at heart." At first, he was surprised at how aggressively manager Joe Torre and the rest of the Yankees pursued him.
"They really want me? They like me? They value me like that?" Cashman quoted Pettitte as saying.
Pettitte thought back to last month, when he came to Manhattan for his physical but didn't go up to the ballpark.
"Everybody was extremely excited. people thanking me for coming back and stuff like that," he said. "So it's been strange, but it's exciting. Everybody, I think, is very happy and excited about me coming back. And hopefully they'll still be excited after I pitch here for a while."
Having watched Johnson fail in two playoff starts, Cashman has worked to change the starting rotation, bringing in Kei Igawa along with Pettitte to join Chien-Ming Wang, Mike Mussina and perhaps Carl Pavano.
"You have to have horses," Pettitte said. "You need a group of horses to do this."
He has 14 postseason wins, one short of John Smoltz's record, and all but one of those wins have been for the Yankees.
Having been here before, Pettitte knows that if he doesn't add to that total, his return would be considered a failure.
"We're not looking for playoff appearances, I don't believe," he said. "Anything less than a World Series appearance is kind of a failure. Standards have been set."