The winningest pitcher in postseason history stood in the corner of the Yankees clubhouse, drops of champagne running down his soaked uniform and occasionally punctuating his speech. The scene -- a wild, emotionally charged display following the Yankees' decisive World Series Game 6 win -- was hardly new to 15-year veteran Andy Pettitte. At 37 years old, the lefty is part of the Yankees' Core Four, a group that boasts five World Championships and includes superstars Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada.
"I really don't know what to say," Pettitte said in the wee hours of that November morning. "We've been here. We've been able to do it. I don't know how [the other three] feel, but I just feel so much more comfortable, I feel more relaxed. The more experience you get, it makes it easier for you to go through."
If experience was the factor in sealing New York's 27th World Championship, perhaps no team can compare with the Yankees. Both the result of their last 15 storied years and the increasingly rare comfort level among the veteran quartet is a freakish feat, unmatched on any team in recent baseball history.
Posada admits the smallest of movements, such as a seemingly insignificant head nod, is enough for him to communicate with Pettitte, his batterymate since Posada first traded his infielder's glove for a catcher's mitt.
The nods and subtle taps, like the one Posada gave to Pettitte to signify his night was over, are gestures that have their roots in places like Albany, N.Y., and Greensboro, N.C. It was in the lowest levels of the Minor Leagues that Pettitte gave his trademark stare and fired to the awaiting glove of a 20-year-old Posada.
"From early, on he understood the magnitude of the position," Bill Evers said of Posada, who the Yankees converted to catcher prior to the 1992 season.
Now a scout in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, Evers managed Pettitte and Posada for parts of three seasons at Double-A Albany-Colonie and Triple-A Columbus.
But it was at Class A Greensboro where the pair, along with Jeter, worked together for the first time. Pettitte was a non-drafted free agent (he was selected by New York in 1990 but didn't sign) struggling to command his fastball, while Posada, a 1990 24th-round pick, had moved behind the plate the previous fall in the instructional league.
They made a great pair, as evidenced by Pettitte's 10-4 record and 2.20 ERA in 27 starts. While Posada occasionally struggled defensively, he called a good game and developed a good rapport with his pitchers. His bat didn't hurt, either. In 101 games for the Hornets, the backstop batted .277 with 38 extra-base hits and 58 RBIs.
Posada spent the offseason fine-tuning his defense, while Pettitte worked on his changeup, which would become a critical part of his repertoire, in the instructional league. The pair opened the '93 season together at Class A Advanced Prince William, where they continued to learn the nuances of the game and each other.
Pettitte went 11-9 with a 3.04 ERA against the upgraded competition, earning a one-start call-up to Albany, where he struck out six in a five-inning victory to finish the year. Posada also ended the year with Evers in Albany as the Yankees looked past his Carolina League-leading 38 passed balls to some impressive power numbers.
"That first year, I think more balls hit the backstop than got in his glove," Evers joked. "But the amount of time he emphasized with his defense, he put in many, many hours blocking balls and trying to understand the footwork and trying to understand the position."
Posada opened 1994 at Columbus, while rising star Pettitte -- then ranked as the Yankees' No. 7 prospect -- joined the loaded Clippers squad after going 7-2 in the Eastern League. The Triple-A team was full of promising young players, including Jeter and Rivera.
Pettitte tossed three complete games and went 7-2 in 16 starts, mowing down opponents with 61 strikeouts against only 21 walks.
"That stare that you see is very indicative [of his look in the Minors]," Evers said of Pettitte's trademark over-the-glove gaze. "That's evolved over the course of time, but he always had that determination to get better each and every time he stepped to the mound. And I think that the relationship with Jorge has grown to this day. The confidence they have in each other, it's incredible."
Posada has been on the receiving end of Pettitte's cut fastball for 183 regular-season Major Leagues games, five World Series titles and more Minor League contests than either player probably cares to remember. Separately, they are All-Stars at their respective positions, unheralded draft picks who have succeeded at the highest level since making their big league debuts in 1995.
And when coupled with the heralded careers of Jeter and Rivera, the quartet from Columbus will go down in Yankee lore as the core of a dynasty that started in 1996.
"You don't see that too often with free agency nowadays, that many guys staying together," Jeter said amid the latest World Series celebration. "We're like brothers."
Minor League career breakdown
1991: Both Pettitte and Posada made their professional debuts. Pettitte went 4-1 with an 0.98 ERA in six Gulf Coast League starts before moving on to the New York-Penn League. Posada hit .235 with 33 RBIs in 71 games with short-season Oneonta. ||
1992: In his first full pro season, Pettitte was 10-4 with 2.20 ERA in 27 starts at Greensboro. Posada, assuming the catching role for the first time, batted .277 with 12 homers. ||
1993: Pettitte went 11-9 with a 3.04 ERA against upgraded competition in the Carolina League, earning a one-start call-up to Albany. Posada also ended the year at Double-A after putting up 17 homers and 61 RBIs in 118 games at Prince William. |
1994: Pettitte went 7-2 at Double-A, a recorded he duplicated in 16 starts at Columbus. He kept his ERA under 3.00 at both stops in what would be his final full season in the Minors. Posada hit .240 with 11 homers but missed the final six weeks of the season with a dislocated left ankle suffered in a play at the plate. |
1995: While Pettitte made the Yankees' Opening Day roster as a middle reliever, Posada spent the season at Columbus. He batted .255 with eight homers and 51 RBIs and was rewarded with a September call-up to the Bronx. |