NEW YORK -- He could have come back to Yankee Stadium July 1 to take part in the team’s annual Old Timer’s Day festivities.
Instead, soon-to-turn 40 Andy Pettitte, who last pitched in the big leagues in 2010 and retired last season, returned Sunday to the site of many of his greatest triumphs as the newest member of the 2012 Yankees.
In the process, the un-retired and now 16-plus year veteran became the oldest pitcher to start a game for the Yankees since his friend Roger Clemens, whom Pettitte recently had to testify against in Clemens’ steroid-related perjury trial, started against Boston at age 45 in September 2007.
Pettitte pitched adequately, giving up four runs on seven hits, three walks and two strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings.
Unfortunately for him and the Yankees, his counterpart, 37-year-old Kevin Millwood, was better, allowing the Mariners to salvage the final game of their three-game series in New York and beat Pettitte (0-1) 6-2 before a Mother’s Day crowd 41,361.
Millwood (1-4) hurled seven strong innings for Seattle, surrendering just one run on three hits and four walks while striking out six, including the 2,000th strikeout of his 16-year career.
“Kevin’s pitched a lot better than his record would indicate,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “I thought he was outstanding today. He pitched a big ballgame for us.”
“We were locked in pretty good today," Millwood said of his work with young Seattle catcher Jesus Montero, with whom he reportedly has had a difficult time in some of his outings.
“He’s a young kid, and it’s going take him a while to figure out all the pitchers [on our team],” added Millwood. "But, we talked between starts, and he did a much better job this time. Things flowed pretty easily.”
Millwood was aided by three double plays.
Justin Smoak and Casper Wells hit two-run homers and had two hits apiece for Seattle.
Eric Chavez and Nick Swisher each had two hits, and Derek Jeter collected hit 3,142, equaling Henry Aaron for 16th all-time.
“Andy looked like he hadn’t missed a beat,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi of his former battery mate and staff ace said. “It wasn’t like he had to re-invent himself, because he wasn’t coming back from an injury. But, for not pitching in a major league game in well over a year, he was really pretty good.”
“I was surprised that I wasn’t more emotional,” Pettitte said. “It just felt good to be out there and be able to compete. Hopefully, I can progress and help the team get back to a championship. To be honest, I’ll know better in October how I feel about the season.”
Seattle began the scoring in the top of the fourth. With two outs, Montero walked prior to Smoak lining a 1-1 fastball over the left-field fence for his fourth home run of the year to give the Mariners their first hit and a 2-0 lead.
New York responded in the fifth. Mark Teixeira led off with a check-swing dribbler in front of the plate and beat it out for an infield hit. Swisher then singled to right, sending Teixeira to third and Raul Ibanez walked on four pitches to load the bases. After Chavez struck out looking, Russell Martin walked to force in a run, but Jeter bounced into a double play to end the rally.
Seattle scored two more runs in the sixth. Dustin Ackley led off with a single and Wells followed with his first home run of the season, a drive to right that hit the foul pole.
“It was a fastball up in the zone, and I was just lucky it stayed fair,” said Wells, who grew up a Yankee fan in the upstate New York town of Schenectady.
“I watched (Pettitte) all the time as a kid,” Wells said. “In fact, he’s always been my sister’s favorite pitcher. She was all excited that he was coming back. I said, hey, ‘I gotta face him Sunday, who you gonna be rooting for?’”
Following the left fielder’s homer, one-out singles by Montero, Smoak and Alex Liddi filled the bases. But, Pettitte escaped further damage when Mike Carp grounded to Teixeira, who stepped on first and fired home to get Montero at the plate for an inning-ending double play.
The Yankees tried to rally in the eighth off a shaky Seattle bullpen. Chavez and Jeter singled off Tom Wilhelmsen, and after lefty Lucas Luetge struck out Curtis Granderson, Wedge brought in Steve Delabar to face Alex Rodriguez, who worked out a full-count walk to load the bases. Lefty Charlie Furbush replaced Delabar and promptly walked Robinson Cano on four pitches to force in Chavez. But he recovered to whiff Teixeira and leave the bases loaded with only one run in.
The Mariners tacked on two insurance runs in the ninth off Clay Rapada, one on the pitcher’s throwing error. Brandon League pitched a scoreless ninth to finish up for Seattle.
NOTES: To make room for Pettitte on the roster, the Yankees optioned rookie reliever Cody Eppley to Triple-A Scranton. Eppley had appeared in five games. Mariano Rivera, still awaiting knee surgery, was transferred to the 60 day disabled list…Pettitte said he had numerous family attending his return to the Yankee Stadium mound. “My parents, my in-laws, everyone from my family is going to be there,” said Pettitte. “Except my oldest son, Josh. His high school team is in the playoffs down in Texas.".…Before the game, the Yankees honored former Marine Cpl. Megan Leavey. In 2006, after more than 100 missions in Iraq, Leavey and her bomb-sniffing dog Rex were both injured by a roadside bomb. The two were reunited last year when the ex-Marine adopted the discharged canine “Sgt.” Nick Swisher gave Leavey a jersey signed by the entire Yankee team.
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