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July 23, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

Andy Pettitte is like a box of chocolates with far too many coconut-filled. You never know what you're going to get, and far too often it's something you don't like, but once you've taken a bite, you can't put it back, so you're stuck with coconut, even though you hate that kind. That's why I buy the Whitman's Samplers, it tells you what each one is right on the inside of the box, so you're never stuck with one you don't want. They even have little diagrams, so someone can't shuffle them around and try to make you take the Coconut Cream when you really wanted the Vanilla Butter Cream. The Cherries are awesome, too, but I could do without the Chocolate Messenger Boy. Too bland.

And that's what Andy Pettitte is like.

He's not a bad pitcher; he is in fact, a good pitcher. The problem is that, while in some games he can win for you all by himself, other times he'll lose all by himself, too--and you never know which Pettitte is coming out. In his 21 starts this season, he's been good nine times and bad nine times--and was godawful in five of those bad starts. He's a pitcher you can feel comfortable throwing out there every fifth day, but you don't feel even remotely comfortable pitching him in a big game. Are you going to get Game 5 of the '96 World Series, or Game 6 of the 2001 World Series? He can, and will, do both.

Tonight he was like Game 5 of the 2000 World Series--good, but not dominant. Against the Orioles, that was enough (and it might have been enough to beat Halladay yesterday, too), as the Yankees eventually were able to get to a surprisingly good Rick Helling to take the lead and the game. Armando Benitez was brought in after a Deivi Cruz home run in the eighth and pitched well, and Mariano Rivera came in to close it out. It should be noted that Pettitte has now won his last six starts, and seven straight decisions. That is due in large part to extraordinary run support (over 7½ runs/9 innings), but he also had two excellent starts in this run, against the Mets and Red Sox.

Benitez pitched well again tonight in his third appearance, all of which have been acceptable. I'll be tracking the success of each outing (rather than overall stats) on the sidebar the rest of the season. The evaluation of his performance will be subjective, and determined by myself, but I'll ask the input of the Game Chatter gang after each outing, and if you don't like my call, you can argue it in the comments and maybe I'll change it. Hopefully, this will provide a quick reference of how effective Benitez is the rest of the way, by measuring the impact of each outing. And yes, I more or less stole the idea from Jim Bouton.

One last note--Nick Johnson's back this weekend, and none too soon, as Robin Ventura and Raul Mondesi have a combined .625 OPS this month (and it was .532 before tonight). With two holes like that in the lineup, they don't need a third with Todd Zeile and Ruben Sierra.