Pettitte rehab complete as Thunder grab Game 1

Andy Pettitte adresses the media following his final rehab start with the Thunder Tuesday night vs. Altoona in Game 1 of the ELCS.
(Photo by Mike Ashmore)

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Mike Ashmore.

ALTOONA, Pa. – Andy Pettitte was not where he wanted to be last night, both literally and figuratively, but that all should change come Sunday.
With his rehab assignment choices limited this week, Pettitte traveled more than five hours to play a starting role in the Thunder’s 3-2, 10-inning victory over Altoona in Game 1 of the Eastern League Championship Series last night at Blair County Ballpark.
Austin Romine’s two-out, run-scoring single in extra innings scored Austin Krum with the winning run as Trenton, seeking its third EL title in four years, grabbed a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series.
After five innings and 67 pitches, then another 10 in the bullpen following his start, alogn with his first real taste of adversity since officially beginning his comeback with four innings against New Hampshire at Waterfront Park Sept. 9, the 38-year-old left-hander is expected to return to the Yankees rotation Sunday against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards.
“Unless they tell me I am not starting I feel it’s time I get in a big league game and get going up there,’’ Pettitte said. “I am going to pitch Sunday in Baltimore, so that will give me three starts (before the playoffs). That will be enough. That’s what I’ve got (left). I am a long way from where I was, but I am working to get back there.’’
Pettitte yielded a solo home run to Altoona leadoff hitter Chase d’Arnaud on just his fourth pitch of the game, and the Western Division champion Curve hit several balls on the nose against the most successful postseason pitcher in Major League history to grab some early momentum.
“It was a flat cutter,’’ Pettitte said of d’Arnaud’s third homer of the playoffs. “I was ahead in the count (1-2) and didn’t bury it. If you don’t bury a cutter and it stays flat on the inner half that’s what happens to it. That’s definitely not the way you want to start the night, but I was glad I was able to give us a decent start to where our guys can hopefully pull the game out.’’
Pettitte allowed six hits and two earned runs with a walk and four strikeouts. He gave up just one run after loading the bases with one out as part of a 21-pitch third inning, then extracted himself from a bases loaded, no out jam in the fifth by inducing a 1-2-3 double play before striking out Curve cleanup hitter Matt Hague to keep the game tied at 2-2.
Andrew Brackman (1-0) relieved Pettitte and delivered five shutout innings in which he gave up just one hit and struck out four.
The 6-foot-10 Brackman also got out of a bases-loaded, one out situation in the eighth inning and was credited with his first playoff win despite seven days rest since his last outing Sept. 7 in New Britain.
In 40 innings this postseason, Thunder pitchers have a 0.67 ERA. Since Aug. 11, Brackman has an ERA of 0.71.
“They did it again … they pitched out of key situations,’’ Romine said of his staff. “You expect Pettitte to do it, but our entire pitching staff is bearing down. To see these young guys evolve and make the pitches they need to make makes you feel good as a catcher.’’
The Thunder smacked 10 hits and had a chance to send Pettitte on his way with a one-run lead, but Krum was thrown out at home plate in the fifth inning on a Romine single to right field _ nearly the identical situation as the 10th inning, just with a much more favorable outcome.
“I felt good,’’ Pettitte said. “I don’t feel like I was quite as sharp as I was (Sept. 9). I was a little more amped up, but the last couple innings were better in terms of mechanics. It was good to get into some trouble that (fifth) inning. I felt like I had to make some pitches.’’
In his two Double-A rehab appearances, Pettitte completed nine innings, gave up 10 hits, two earned runs, walked one, struck out eight and was charged with three wild pitches.
For the Thunder, a 1-0 series lead has served them well since the three-game collapse against Portland in 2006.
Trenton is unbeaten (5-0) in its last five playoff series when taking Game 1.
“Every pitch meant something,’’ Brackman said. “Once the playoff started everyone, and not just the pitchers, focused a little bit more because we want to win a championship. We didn’t play a whole season to just quit at the end.’’

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