NEW YORK — In January, Andy Pettitte was a pitcher without a team.
Sunday night he was drenched in champagne after leading the New York Yankees back to the World Series for the first time since 2003.
Although the Yankees spent more than $420 million during the last holiday season to sign free agents A.J. Burnett, Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia, they cried poverty when it came time to re-sign Pettitte. So the left-hander agreed to an $11.5-million pay cut for the chance to come back and take one more shot at a championship.
And Sunday that move paid off big for both the Yankees and Pettitte, who made history in a 5-2 win over the Angels in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.
The win was Pettitte's 16th in the postseason, a record, and his fifth in a series-clinching game, also the most all-time.
"I think everybody knows I wasn't real happy with the contract," said Pettitte, who eventually agreed to a one-year deal for $5.5 million. "But I wanted to take it and come back here and have a chance to do this.
"It's nice to have things work out the way you think they're going to work out. This is what I was kind of hoping for."
Pettitte, shortstop Derek Jeter, catcher Jorge Posada and closer Mariano Rivera are the last links to the dawn of the Yankees' resurgence, which started with a World Series title in 1996. That was New York's first championship in nearly two decades.
And in Sunday's win all four played key roles, with Pettitte giving up just a run in 6 1/3 innings, Jeter walking three times and scoring a run, Posada going the distance behind the plate and Rivera pitching the final two innings for his record 37th postseason save.
"What more can you say about Mariano Rivera?" Posada marveled in Spanish.
But there were two other Yankees who don't go back that far yet played a big role in winning this title: Sabathia, who beat the Angels twice in the ALCS to win the series MVP award, and Alex Rodriguez, who missed the first month of the season after hip surgery but came back to hit .429 with three homers, five RBIs and six runs in the six games with the Angels.
"I was scared because I feared that I wouldn't be able to contribute. I had a lot of limitations," Rodriguez said. "And the whole year for me was about trusting my teammates. And being one of the guys.
"But again for me, with no expectations and trusting my teammates and taking the walks and doing the little things, you end up doing big things. And that's the lesson for me. In order to win a World Series, you have to get there. And we've done that. And hopefully the good Lord blesses us with four more [wins]."