"I don't see what you guys are saying about uncertainty," Sabathia said with some out-of-character gusto when asked about the Yankees' rotation. "Andy Pettitte is the best pitcher in the playoffs in the history of baseball."
On Thursday, he showed why.
Coming off a serious groin injury and two sub-par starts to finish the regular season, Pettitte held the Twins to two runs in seven remarkably efficient innings at Target Field, winning his Major League-record 19th postseason game in the Yankees' 5-2 win, giving New York a 2-0 lead in the ALDS.
"I have never felt so unprepared going into the playoffs," Pettitte said. "But it was just so similar."
Imagine that. On the game's grandest stage, in front of the largest crowd in Target Field history, against a Twins team so set on exploiting him, Pettitte felt comfortable. He had been in this position so many times before, making a record 40 previous postseason starts and winning a record 18 of them, along the way amassing more innings than anyone in the history of the game. Entering Day 2 of the Major League playoffs, Pettitte had compiled nearly twice as many postseason innings as the day's other five starting pitchers combined.
"He's been in all of those situations, so it's nothing new for him," said shortstop Derek Jeter, who has taken part in 36 of Pettitte's 41 postseason starts. "It's always easier to relax a little bit if you've been there before, and he's been in there when we've been ahead in series, behind in series, must wins. There really isn't a situation that he hasn't been a part of."
Or, as Sabathia put it, "It seems like this is his time."
So no, there were no worries regarding Pettitte this week, despite the fact that he had made merely three starts since returning from the disabled list with a strained left groin -- and despite the fact that he had posted a 6.75 ERA in those three starts. Whatever juice Pettitte might be lacking, the Yankees knew, October could provide.
"When you look at what this guy's done in the postseason," Sabathia said, "how could you have any doubts?"
The only doubts on this night came after the second inning, when Pettitte allowed a run on Danny Valencia's sacrifice fly but escaped from a bases-loaded jam. Following that Twins rally, the team's best of the night, Pettitte huddled with pitching coach Dave Eiland in the tunnel leading from the dugout to the clubhouse.
Moments later, he emerged and retired the next 10 batters he faced, part of a string of a dozen consecutive outs for Pettitte. The only other damage against him came on Orlando Hudson's solo home run in the sixth.
Otherwise, Pettitte was pristine, striking out two of the final three batters he faced in the seventh. Needing only 88 pitches to complete seven innings, Pettitte gave the Yankees more length than they needed despite concerns regarding his pitch count.
"You know what? He really didn't give into us," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He threw the ball pretty doggone good."
Gardenhire, like so many others, also made sure to note that "we have seen it before." Because the Twins have. Last year, Pettitte shut down Gardenhire's Twins in a clinching Game 3, before moving on to win all three of the Yankees' series-clinching wins.
In sum, Pettitte has won six postseason clinchers, more than anyone in Major League history. And just in case the Yankees sputter at home this weekend, Pettitte is in line to pitch a potential clinching Game 5 back here in Minnesota.
"The intensity, the adrenaline -- nobody manages that better than Andy," said Yankees designated hitter Lance Berkman, who played alongside Pettitte for three seasons in Houston. "He'd do it for the Pirates or the Royals if they happened to make the postseason."
But on this night, Pettitte simply did it for the Yankees. Again.