NEW YORK - Evergreen New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte gave the Bronx Bombers reason to rejoice on Wednesday in his return from a three-month injury absence despite an unfamiliar feel in a pennant race game.
Pitching for the first time since fracturing an ankle on a batted ball on June 27, big-game pitcher Pettitte took the mound before an uncommonly sparse Yankee Stadium crowd of about 15,000 in a rescheduled game to make up for Tuesday night's rainout.
"I probably would have liked more of an October feel," the 40-year-old left-hander said after earning the win in a 4-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays that nudged the Yankees into first place in the American League East.
"It helps you get into the flow. In the beginning of the game, it was almost like you could hear people talking and I'm just trying to focus, you know what I'm saying?
"So I think for me it would probably have been better if we had a packed house."
Pettitte was not at his sharpest, having to pitch out of first-and-third jams in the second, third and fourth innings, but when he needed to, he was able to coax a ground ball that helped him escape danger.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi was pleased.
"He pitched out of some jams, got some important strikeouts. He did a really good job," said the skipper.
Asked how much Pettitte could help the Yankees, whose 10-game AL East lead in July has evaporated with the charge put on by the red-hot Orioles, Girardi said: "A lot. There's a lot of experience there and he knows how to get it done."
Pettitte, who ended a one-year retirement from the Yankees to come back this season, said he was getting antsy to pitch.
"When you see these guys go through what they've been going through and I've been sitting here watching, trying to cheer-lead for them, it's just great to be able to go out there and cotnribute a little bit," he said.
"Any time you win at this time of the year is precious."
Girardi said having Pettitte back was big.
"You have confidence in Andy because he knows how to get that double play ball, get that strikeout and make the big pitch, and know he's not going to be overwhelmed by the situation."
Pettitte, who improved to 4-3, threw 75 pitches, right at the limit Girardi had set for him in his return. He gave up four hits, walked two and struck out three.
"I didn't think my command was as sharp as I would like. But it's obviously a good win and I'll take it," said Pettite, a perfectioninst who has thrived in the postseason and tops Major League Baseball's all-time list with 19 postseason wins. "It's good to get out there and compete with these guys.
"My arm feels great. I'm 100 percent. I just have to get my legs back in shape and get my pitch count up so I can get us late into games."
Pettitte, winner of five World Series rings with the Yanks, said the team expects the race to go down to the wire.
"We know this is going to be a dog fight," added Pettitte, who said the team saw highlights of Tuesday night's 18-inning win by the Orioles over Seattle before Wednesday's game.
"Obviously, you'd love to see them lose some games, but we just need to keep winning, keep playing well." (Editing by Frank Pingue)