It was the 57th time Rivera has saved a win for Pettitte, tying Oakland Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley and starter Bob Welch for the highest total in major league history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
"I really didn't know about it," Pettitte said. "It's awesome."
This semi-arcane record won't make many waves, but it's certainly a tribute to two consummate professionals who possess the rare combination of skill and longevity.
When the veteran class of Yankees are finally gone, there are four who will be remembered above the rest: Pettitte, Rivera, Jeter, and Jorge Posada. All four played their first game in 1995, and aside from Pettitte's two-year stint in Houston, they've spent their entire careers in pinstripes. Together, they have 58 years in the Bronx.
There's something to be said for familiar faces, and that goes double when they've been such reliable figures. Year-to-year, Pettitte and Rivera have excelled, adjusting their style with age but maintaining a steady level of regular season success. Even more remarkable is their consistent quality of postseason play. Pettitte is 14-9 all-time in the playoffs, with an ERA under 4.
Many of those losses came in classic duels, including the game 6 setback to Josh Beckett in the '03 World Series. He's had his ups and downs (in the '01 World Series, after the fireworks in Yankee stadium, I would've bet my house and family that Andy would close it out against Randy Johnson in game 6. Instead, he imploded and lasted less than 3 innings), but throughout his fifteen years, he was the guy who consistently inspired confidence, and who you wanted on the mound in crunch time. He was also the guy who saved his biggest wins for games following a Yankee loss; he know how to pick up his team.
Pettitte's character was on full display last night. You could tell, in the top of the 7th, that he desperately wanted to finish the inning and leave the game in the hands of Bruney and Rivera. Chavez flew out to the catcher, and Kurt Suzuki came to the plate. Andy absolutely worked him, but Suzuki managed a desperation lunge that sent the ball dribbling down the third base line. It was an impossible out, and a classic pitcher's frustration. Cody Ransom, at third, didn't even throw the ball. The next batter, Rajai Davis, hit a hard grounder right at Ransom. He kept his glove up, and the ball snuck under into left field. Instead of an inning-ending double play, it left men on first and second with one out. Again, Ransom was the man on the spot. But Pettitte didn't let his frustration show, and two batters later, when the young third baseman made a nice inning-ending scoop to his left, the cameras showed Andy shouting "way to go, kid!"
And that's how he's always played.
Rivera, for his part, is arguably the greatest postseason relief pitcher in history. With an ERA of 0.77 (best all-time, minimum 50 IP) and 34 saves (best all-time), he's been a virtual lock when the Yanks take a lead into the 8th and 9th inning. Detractors like to talk about his 5 blown saves, but that's an unreliable stat, and if you look at the games, you can easily qualify 3 of the 5.
In Game 5 against Boston in the 2004 ALCS, he entered the game in the 8th inning with no outs, and men on first and third. Tom Gordon left him in the jam, and Rivera managed to get the next three batters in order. However, the man on third scored on a sac fly to tie the game, and despite Mariano's 0 ER, and what anybody would consider a good relief appearance (which included a scoreless 9th), he was awarded the blown save.
Then, in the bottom of the 9th in game 7 against the Diamondbacks ('01 World Series), he gave up a lead-off single to Mark Grace. The next batter laid down a poor bunt straight at Mariano himself. He spun, and this throw to second was off line. A potential double play was ruined, and from there the game got out of hand. But if he'd made a good throw, it's very likely the Yankees would have a 27th World Series to their credit. The "blown" save had more to do with poor fielding than poor pitching.
And finally, against Minnesota in '04, he gave up two runs in the 8th. But again, he inherited Tom Gordon's runners, and finished with 0 ER. He also pitched a clean 9th, and the Yanks went on to win the game.
All things considered, he's had 2-3 bad outings in 76 games. In 117 innings, he's allowed 10 earned runs. I mean...wow.
It's been a stellar playoff career for both pitchers. The regular season, of course, is no different. Pettitte's 217-127 record (an average of 17 wins per season), along with 96 wins at Yankee Stadium, make him a legitimate Hall-of-Fame contender, while Mariano, second all-time in saves, is a first ballot lock. Barring injury, they'll break the Eckersley/Welch record sometime soon, and will likely hold it for a very long time. It's not a piece of baseball trivia that will garner a ton of attention, but for Yankee fans who grew up with the '95 generation, it's more proof that we've been witness to long-lasting excellence.
In the midst of a long Yankee drought, and at the start of an uncertain season, today's theme is gratitude.