That Pettitte and the older Yankees remained strong into November was also made possible, in part, because the Red Sox did not challenge them in September. The Yankees held a comfy nine-game lead on Boston on Labor Day, and Girardi spent the month preparing for the playoffs by giving his everyday players occasional rests and his pitchers extra days off between starts. The plethora of off days in the postseason schedule also worked to the advantage of the older Yankees. New York had more off days (16) than game days (15) in October and November. By the time he took the ball on short rest for Game 6, Pettitte had made eight consecutive starts with at least one extra day off.
If the Phillies had won Game 6, the Yankees would have given the ball to Sabathia in Game 7 for what would have been his second start of the Series—and third of the postseason—on short rest. Says Pettitte, "I felt like we were treating [Game 6] like a Game 7. I know I was. I put a lot of pressure on myself. I didn't want to put it on CC in a Game 7."
Pettitte is the John Updike of the postseason, his oeuvre both consistent and prolific. He has won more postseason games (18) than anyone else while pitching to a 3.90 ERA, a tick better than his career mark of 3.91. With his appearance in Game 6, he became the only pitcher ever to start three clinching games in one postseason and the only one to start three World Series clinchers in his career. In the 86 World Series games played since 1993, Pettitte has three wins on short rest, as many as all other starters in baseball combined. In World Series history only Bob Gibson (five) and Ken Holtzman (four) have more wins starting on short rest.
In Game 6 Pettitte worked his way through nine base runners, punctuated by occasional fist pumps and a rare barking episode at an umpire. After throwing 10 balls on 11 pitches in one stretch in the fourth inning, Pettitte asked umpire Joe West where one particular close pitch missed, but West gave him no reply. When Pettitte walked off the mound after at last finishing a scoreless inning, he stopped to scold West.
"Why won't you acknowledge me?" Pettitte says he told West. "At least give me something, whether the ball was down or away. Whenever I say something, can you please answer me?"
Matsui provided Pettitte with the runs he needed with two-run hits in triplicate: a home run in the second, a single in the third (both off an ineffective Pedro Martinez) and a double in the fifth. Jeter, the oldest shortstop on a world championship team since Pee Wee Reese of the 1955 Dodgers, rapped three hits and scored two runs. Rodriguez, making good on his postseason plan not to chase pitches, twice turned walks into runs.
In the end, or at least what one fan in the upper deck prematurely believed to be the end, Rivera was pitching with Posada behind the plate, as familiar a postseason sight as Pettitte intently staring out from between the top of his glove and the bill of his cap like the gunner of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, or Jeter, with that mechanized inside-out swing, fighting off pitches as if shooing away bees, somehow shooting them to safe landing spots in rightfield. "We're like brothers," Jeter says of the four Yankees with five championship rings.
As the Phillies' Shane Victorino mustered a 10-pitch resistance against Rivera with two outs in the ninth inning, fouling off pitch after pitch, somebody on the third base side of home plate in the top tier of Yankee Stadium let loose a bunch of shimmery, metallic-looking confetti. The stuff cartwheeled and flip-flopped, catching the stadium lights here and there like snowflakes in moonlight. As Victorino kept fighting for the last shred of Philadelphia's playoff life, the confetti fluttered all the way to the field.
It was a cinematic moment, a real-life snow-globe scene worth preserving in memory for its historic familiarity. Rivera throwing to Posada, with Jeter at shortstop ready for another victory leap, and Pettitte prepared to run from the dugout to join them with yet another postseason win in his back pocket. It was a moment when they were the same old Yankees again. And no greater compliment could they seek.
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