Christmas comes early for Yankee fans

Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Chris Ruddick Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Who says you can't go home again?

The New York Yankees righted a wrong from three years ago on Friday, as they brought Andy Pettitte home to the Bronx, signing the veteran left-hander to a one-year $16 million pact. The deal also includes a $16 million option for 2008.

Yankee fans first fell in love with Pettitte in 1995 when as a 23-year-old rookie he helped lead the Bronx Bombers back to the postseason for the first time in over a decade.

It wasn't until his second season in pinstripes, though, that the rest of the league started to take notice. Pettitte won 21 games that year, but it was his start in Game 5 of the World Series that made people realize just how special he really was.

That night, with the series tied at two games apiece, Pettitte outdueled Atlanta's John Smoltz, the NL Cy Young Award winner that year, as he scattered five hits over 8 1/3 scoreless frames to give the Yanks the advantage in a Fall Classic that they would eventually win.

Andy Pettitte
Andy Pettitte won 149 regular season games in nine seasons for the Yankees during his tenure there.

That would be just the first of so many big games Pettitte would pitch over the years for the Yanks. He won 149 regular season games in nine seasons for them, won 13 more in the postseason and was a part of all four World Series championships under Joe Torre's watch.

As much as Yankee fans loved him, Pettitte never seemed to gain the respect of owner George Steinbrenner. His name would often come up in trade discussions and when it was time for him to test the free agent market after the 2003 campaign, the Yankees barely made him an offer.

You can make the argument that Pettitte had his mind set on going home to Houston and anything the Yanks could have offered would have been trumped by the allure to pitch in his hometown. But I think the Yankees' indifference, namely Steinbrenner's, towards the whole situation left a bad taste in a lot of fans' mouths.

Some people say the Yankees haven't been the same since Paul O'Nell and Scott Brosius left. With all due respect to those two, I say the Yankees haven't been the same since Pettitte took his trademark scowl to Houston.

How many times over the years did Pettitte come back and win Game 2 of a playoff series after someone dropped the first game? He did it three times alone in his last year with the team. With Pettitte gone there was no stopper. He was the ultimate security blanket for Torre and for some reason he was taken for granted by certain people in the Yankees organization.

What is that old saying? You don't know what you have until it's gone. Well I think that certainly fits in Pettitte's case.

Now the big question is will Roger Clemens follow his best friend back to the Bronx? Clemens showed no signs of letting up in the limited time he pitched last year and I am sure he is not pleased with the way the Astros handled this situation.

Clemens still has a 10-year personal services contract with the Astros waiting for him when he retires, but the idea of pitching with Pettitte again in the Bronx might just be enough to tempt the seven-time Cy Young winner back for another season.

Speaking of Houston, how could it find $100 million for free agent Carlos Lee, but not come up with the money to retain a hometown favorite like Pettitte? That boggles my mind.

On the baseball side of things, the Yankees actually need Pettitte. Chien-Ming Wang won 19 games last season and he looks like the real thing, but other than him the rest of the rotation is a question mark. Mike Mussina signed a two- year deal recently, but he is getting up there in age. Carl Pavano is expected back, but you know he is good for only about five starts. And who knows what you will get from Randy Johnson and this Japanese lefty Kei Igawa, provided the Yanks sign him.

As great of a story as it is, the Yankees actually need Andy Pettitte.

Yankees general manager made Pettitte priority No. 1 this offseason. When they learned Pettitte was going to pitch next season, the Yanks immediately told Ted Lilly they were no longer interested. You kind of got the feeling to that the Yanks were not going to let him get away again.

Too bad the Yanks didn't show him this kind of respect three years ago.

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