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Pettitte's return is big deal for Yankees

March 04, 2007|From Times Wire Reports

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — Once Andy Pettitte jogged out of the dugout for his first inning of spring training on Friday afternoon, the left-hander received generous applause from the New York Yankees fans here.

It's as if the mere sight of Pettitte in a Yankees uniform again makes everyone feel as if this is the late '90s again. "I think people just associate his presence with what we did," Manager Joe Torre said.

And for two quick innings against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Progress Energy Park, Pettitte offered Yankees fans a glimpse of the old days with his pitching, retiring all six hitters he faced with very little trouble.

Afterward, Pettitte once again laughed at how he wound up back with the Yankees, insisting he seriously was going to retire. But Torre never believed that and revealed Friday that he took an active role in their aggressive pursuit by making "four-to-five" recruiting calls.

"At the end of the year we're all frustrated and we don't know if we want to do this again, and all of that stuff," Torre said. "He was so frustrated and he just felt there was something missing, and I think he felt that the something missing was his desire to play."

Torre was confident "something missing" wasn't a code phrase for elbow problems, citing several phone calls they shared last season. Torre said Pettitte told him during the first half, "I felt so good, but the results are so bad.... He's not going to lie to me about feeling good."

Considering how poorly the last three seasons ended for the Yankees, the idea of bringing back one of their own instead of an unknown was attractive; the Yankees wasted no time pursuing him.

Torre typically places one or two recruiting calls each winter, but he had no problem going hard after Pettitte because of their past. The manager tried to sell him on his past success, and what may be.

"Yeah, it's not home, it's not 15 minutes from your house. I grant you that stuff. I can't offer you that," Torre said, reciting one call to Pettitte. "But he thrived so much in New York, it's tough when you put the other stuff aside not to have that be appealing. Especially because when he left here, he had feelings we didn't want him."

Pettitte appreciated the calls from Torre and said he was comfortable discussing his options with him -- even though Torre obviously had a vested interest in what Pettitte's decision would be. "I can talk to Joe and share stuff with him I wouldn't feel comfortable sharing with other people, things that concern me," Pettitte said.

Now, months later, Pettitte has returned looking to be that kind of mentor to younger, less-experienced teammates.

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