Wiedmer: Andy Pettitte speaks for SCORE, gives God credit

Wiedmer: Andy Pettitte speaks for SCORE, gives God credit

November 20th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Andy Pettitte

Andy Pettitte

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

RINGGOLD, Ga. -- When you own the record for most major league postseason pitching wins with 19, there are a lot of great moments to reflect on. But Andy Pettitte is asked most often about his first World Series victory back in 1996 against the Atlanta Braves.

"I think Mr. Torre always references that one," he said of that 1-0 victory in Game 5, a win that put the New York Yankees up 3-2 in a series they would win four games to two two nights later.

"I just remember having an unbelievable peace and calmness that night. I was able to control my emotions, which had gotten the best of me in Game 1 (which the Braves won with ease). God gave me such peace in Game 5."

The fact that Pettitte still refers to former Yankees skipper Joe Torre as "Mr. Torre" might be one reason he was the featured speaker at SCORE International's fundraiser at the Colonnade on Tuesday night. The fact that few sentences about his professional success fail to credit God is surely the biggest reason the Christian-based organization requested his help in raising money for its ministry through athletics.

"It's hard to find people who've had as much success as he's had maintain their humility and sense of family," said former Kentucky baseball coach Keith Madison, who runs the baseball arm of SCORE. "But that's Pettitte. He's just a great Christian man."

Pettitte certainly had a great career. He retired at the close of this past season with a career record of 256-153, having never had a losing season during his 18 years in the majors. His final start as a Yankee fittingly ended with a complete-game victory over Houston, for whom he played from 2004 to 2006 before returning to The Bronx in 2007.

"It was incredible for God to do that," he said of his final victory. "I never thought I'd be playing there because we thought we would be in the playoffs and I would have sat that series out. But when we missed the playoffs, I got that opportunity."

And because Pettitte hadn't had a complete-game win in seven years (a span of 169 starts), he couldn't resist placing at least a little bit of the blame for that drought on the best closer in baseball history -- fellow retiring teammate Mariano Rivera, another longtime friend of SCORE.

"I told Mo, 'See, if you hadn't been available, I'd have had a lot more of these,'" Pettitte recalled with a grin.

Reflecting on a far more emotional moment with Rivera, the 41-year-old father of four remembered the Yankee closer's final game at Yankee Stadium, in which Pettitte and Derek Jeter removed Rivera from the game instead of New York manager Joe Girardi.

"He went to us the inning before and said he wanted us to take Mariano out," the pitcher said. "At first, we didn't want to do it. We didn't want to show anybody up. But then the rest of the team told us we had to do it. That it would be great. So I was the guy who put my hand out to take the ball from him. It was pretty emotional for all three of us, but I'm glad we did it."

It was so emotional for most sports fans that when ESPN gets around to its ESPYs awards show next summer, expect that moment to win something along the lines of "Most memorable non-championship moment."

If the cable giant doesn't yet have that category, it needs to start one.

There is one memorable moment from Pettitte's career that he'd surely like to forget: his brush with performance-enhancing drugs. Though he again denied Tuesday night ever using steroids, he did admit taking human growth hormone in 2002 to help recover from an injury.

"I think we've made a lot of progress [in ridding baseball of PEDs]," he said. "It's much better than it used to be. But then you hear about guys looking for an edge any way they can get it and you wonder if it will ever end."

Not that Pettitte is completely opposed to gaining an edge. During his one-year retirement in 2011, he accompanied SCORE to the Dominican Republic to help coach some high school kids. During a game against a Dominican team, Pettitte went to the mound to pitch for four innings, at which time he gave up a bloop single.

"But I picked him off first," the lefty smiled. "The crowd loved it."

As Pettitte prepared to speak to the crowd of more than 450 at the Colonnade, Madison spoke of Pettitte's trips to the Dominican.

"It's one of those places you check your ego at the door," Madison said. "And Andy's never acted any different than anybody else. He's more than happy to spend hours in the hot sun teaching barefoot kids how to throw a baseball."

And how to pick off any opponent brazen enough to reach first.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com