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Pettitte getting closer; After six starts he's eyeing Bronx

The numbers may not paint the same picture but Andy Pettitte says he's ready to help the New York Yankees' struggling rotation.

Pettitte gave up five runs in five innings and took the loss Sunday in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees' 7-5 defeat against Pawtucket at sold-out Frontier Field. Afterward, he said it's time to get to the big leagues for the first time since 2010.

"I feel like that I'm ready to go up and I think they're ready for me to come up," Pettitte said. "I felt good. I felt as strong in the last inning as I did in the first. For me that was another good test."

Pettitte threw 92 pitches, 59 for strikes, while giving up five runs (three earned). He struck out five and walked two. And the 39-year-lefty with 240 career wins said he's at a point of diminishing returns after making six starts at various stops of the minors and posting a 4.55 earned-run average.

"For me it's inevitable I believe to get me up there and get in the mix," he said. "You try to get locked in. I'm trying as hard as I can to focus but it's difficult. You're signing baseballs. It's exciting for everybody. I'm just trying to get my work in and more than anything stay healthy."

The stadium radar gun did not log all of Pettitte's pitches and the highest reading noted was 89 mph. Pettitte's consistent level was 85-87.

"I think he's pretty close but you need to ask him," said Scranton catcher Francisco Cervelli, who caught Pettitte in New York two years ago. "It all depends how he feels. He's a warrior. He knows how to pitch and he'll give a lot to the big club. If he gets his 88-89 all the time, everything is going to be better."

The Rochester Red Wings canceled Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bisons, instead opting to play a doubleheader here Saturday, to accommodate the Pettitte outing. Fans voted with their feet on that decision as the game became one of the biggest events ever in the Flower City.

The crowd of 13,584 set a regular-sason record for baseball in the quaint downtown ballpark that opened in 1997 (there were 13,723 in the house for an exhibition with the Baltimore Orioles in 1997).

More than 10,000 tickets were gone in just four hours Friday. Sunday morning, the stadium marquee facing Interstate 490 had a giant picture of Pettitte featuring the "Empire State Yankees" monikor being used for the Triple-A affiliate that is playing 38 games here.

The grandstand was packed and so were the grass berms down each foul line, some auxiliary bleachers in the left-field corner and standing-room areas behind the outfield fence. There were also a few dozen fans on a rooftop several floors up on a condominiuum building across the expressway behind the right-field corner. And the stands were filled with Yankees jerseys.

When Pettitte completed a 1-2-3 fifth inning by getting Josh Kroeger on a routine fly ball to left, most of the fans behind the Yankees' third-base dugout gave him a standing ovation as he tipped his cap in return and disappeared down the steps. Then a chant of "An-dy Pett-itte, An-dy Pett-itte" broke out and a five-inning, five-run performance earned a curtain call as Pettitte came up to the top step and doffed the cap to the crowd to more cheers.

After his postgame news conference in a stadium suite, Pettitte surprised fans in the main concourse by signing autographs for nearly 40 minutes.

The crowd was stunned early when Pettitte found immediate trouble in the first inning as leadoff man Pedro Ciriaco doubled to close an 11-pitch at-bat that saw the Yankees fail to corral two foul pop-ups. The first four Red Sox got hits before Pettitte recovered to strike out the next two and pick off Lars Anderson to end the inning.

Pettitte gave up an unearned run in the second but escaped more damage by getting top Boston catching prospect Ryan Lavarnway to hit into an inning-ending double play. He survived a leadoff double in the third with two strikeouts and gave up two runs in the fourth before retiring the final six men he faced.

"The feel for my offspeed pitches wasn't there today. It didn't feel real good coming off my fingers," Pettitte said. "Maybe the heat down in Tampa helps that. But it's good to get out there, good to get into trouble and work my way out of trouble."


Pettitte declined comment about his testimony in Roger Clemens perjury trial Wednesday last week in Washington, D.C., saying only, "It's great that is behind me. That's not anything I care to talk about."

He did, however, have plenty to say about the injury to Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, his longtime outfield shagging partner during batting practice.

"It was devastating news, that's for sure," Pettitte said. "Me and Mo, we've battled a lot of years out in that outfield over shagging fly balls. It was a freak accident.

"I love to shag. It's therapeutic to a certain degree. You feel like you're a kid out there running around and you relieve some of the stress out there. To see that happen, I just know I would have probably been out there right next to him."