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Dandy Andy is Yankees' security blanket

If you're a Yankees fan, you're feeling pretty good right now. This is easily the best Yankee team and the loosest clubhouse in the Bronx since the 114-win juggernaut of 1998. So what might make you fret come October? I say it's starting pitching. You say what? Well, Joba Chamberlain is currently a mess so the Yankees are probably going to go with three pitchers in the Division Series.

That means CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte. Big CC, remember, has lost his last three postseason starts (two for the Indians in the 2007 ALCS against Boston and one for the Brewers in last year's division series in Philadelphia). Burnett is struggling and has never pitched in the postseason (he was on the disabled list when the Marlins won it all in 2003).

But Pettitte is the Yankees' great security blanket. If there's any hiccup, he's most able to set things aside. Pettitte is third in Yankees history in wins behind only Whitey Ford and Red Ruffing. He's second all time in postseason wins with 14 (behind only John Smoltz's 15) and the co-leader in starts at 35 with Tom Glavine.

At age 36, Pettitte is having his best season since winning 17 games for the Astros in 2005. No coincidence that Houston team went to its only World Series.

Pettitte has been going year by year since he left Houston and there's some thought this would be his last season. Not now. While he insists he'll wait to the winter to decide like he always does, most Yankees insiders think Pettitte wants to come back. And the team will certainly want him.

Pettitte's cutter is sharper than it's been in recent years, especially late in the season. The curveball is also sharp. And most important, Pettitte is healthy. No pain in his shoulder. No elbow pain.

"That's really been it for me," he told this corner last weekend in Toronto. "I've just been feeling good. I feel strong in the second half and I've been getting into a good rhythm. I've been able to do that. The biggest thing has been to hold that rhythm and keep all your stuff together."

Pettitte is unbeaten in his last eight starts and the Yankees are 20-9 this year in games he's taken the mound. And I love this stat: Pettitte is 81-42 in regular-season starts immediately following a Yankees loss. Keep that in mind if the Yankees find trouble in October.

As for Chamberlain, it's a virtual certainty he'll only be used in relief in the division series because there will be enough off days to only need three starters. If the Yankees get past that, it will be interesting to see if Chamberlain gets a start. That's what he wants but he's hardly been awe-inspiring in recent ones.

Chamberlain, however, understands he has to pitch in whatever role the Yankees use him.

"But at the end of the day, it's really not about what I do," he said Thursday during a promotional appearance. "We play to win a world championship and get No. 27. So when that time comes, we'll see what's going to happen and what fits best for us and go from there."

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>Around the horn

* Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen, who has a contract through 2012, on the White Sox's slide out of contention: "If I'm going to get fired, everything in my office -- everything -- is going on eBay, and I'm going to give that money to somebody else. I don't want to see that stuff anymore.

". . . It's my fault. I can say that right now, I can say that tomorrow, I can say it two weeks later. I took this job to take the blame. My players win games and I will take the blame every time we lose. . . . I'm not going to retire. They will have to fire me."

* The International League hits leader (Jesus Feliciano of the Bisons) didn't get a September call-up. Neither did the IL batting champion, former Bison Jordan Brown of Columbus. He hit .336 but went home because the Tribe said it didn't have at-bats for him. Brown is still trying to improve defensively in the outfield and it's likely he may not fit in Cleveland's plans and will be a Rule V draftee this winter.

* It's been a big couple of weeks for the Canisius College program. Former pitcher John Axford was called up by the Brewers, culminating a one-year rocket from Class A ball to the big leagues. And former Griffs second baseman Kevin Mailloux has been named an Arizona Rookie League All-Star at second base.

Mailloux hit .311 with five homers and 37 RBIs in 46 games for the Mariners' rookie league entry before getting promoted to Everett in the Class A Northwest League, where he went 4 for 14 in four games. The native of Windsor, Ont., was Seattle's 45th-round pick in June.

* Longtime former Courier-Express and News Sports Reporter Norm Warner passes on news of the Aug. 30 death of Clarence-born Jack Phillips, an ex-Bison who played parts of 10 seasons in the majors (1947-57) at first base with the Yankees, Pirates and Tigers.

Phillips was 87 at the time of his death in Chelsea, Mich. The Lancaster High graduate was a lifetime .283 hitter in 343 big league games and played 212 games for Buffalo in 1958 and 1959, combining for 23 home runs and 180 hits.

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>Herd home talk

Jim Mandelaro of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle is one of the true pros covering the minors and he's the senior beat writer in the International League, having just completed his 19th season (he's got me beat by two!). Every year on his Extra Bases blog, he puts together a post on what the Red Wings could do to make the experience better at Frontier Field and the discussion is always interesting.

So we're going to try that here as Coca-Cola Field is in middle age but still looking pretty darned good even though it's the oldest ballpark in the IL. What do you think the Bisons should do to make the experience better?

I'd like to see some upgrades on the scoreboard, more out-of-town scores and more Bisons history displayed (including a more prominent place for the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame). Concessions have been a growing issue, according to my e-mail. That's just a start.

What changes should be made to the park? Go to the Inside Pitch blog at buffalonews.com/blogs to see more of my thoughts and be sure to give us yours.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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