Red Sox fan, Yankees fan, baseball fan, you have to root for Andy Pettitte.
He came clean.
He took human growth hormone.
The lefthander stood before the world in a tent at George Steinbrenner Field in Tampa the morning of Feb. 18, 2008, and admitted his mistake as his teammates stood behind him.
After the 2010 season, Pettitte retired from baseball. He spent a year away from the game, then rejoined the Yankees by signing a one-year, $2.5 million deal (with incentives) for one last hurrah at age 40.
Down in Sugarland, Texas, Roger Clemens, now 50, has resumed his pitching career with the independent Atlantic League’s Skeeters. He has looked good in two appearances, but Clemens has disputed the notion that he’d return as a major league pitcher with the Houston Astros — unless, he says, he pitches against a contender.
Clemens told Houston TV station KRIV, “I can tell you right now, and they would know, too, that if I was going to go do it, I am going to pitch against a contender, that’s who I want to knock out.
“Why would I want to waste my time running around and getting in shape? I get over to Minute Maid [Park], I’ll crank it up and get it over 90 for a contender. We’ll knock them right out of the playoffs.
“That would be the fun. Pitching against somebody that’s not in contention wouldn’t be any fun for me. It’s not going to happen.”
The two Texans, longtime friends and teammates forever linked by their relationship with unscrupulous trainer Brian McNamee, seemed to be running neck and neck as to which would return to a major league baseball mound sooner.
Now Clemens is dictating his terms.
After making nine very good starts this season (3-3, 3.22 ERA), Pettitte suffered a broken ankle June 27 when he was struck by a line drive. He has undergone major rehabilitation for more than two months.
Clemens, who beat perjury charges after being charged with lying to Congress about steroid use, was looking as though he’d return to the majors and stop the Hall of Fame eligibility clock. He is scheduled to be on the ballot for the first time in December. If he makes one big league appearance before then, five years are added to the timetable. By then, voters may look more kindly upon Clemens’s candidacy.
Pettitte should return to the mound sometime next week. On Wednesday, he passed a simulated-game test when he threw four innings, fielded bunts, and moved around well on his injured ankle at Fenway Park. He will see a doctor Friday and hopes to receive final clearance.
The issue would be how much he can give to the Yankees. Pettitte believes he can throw about 65 pitches a start, perhaps giving the Yankees five innings. Is that good enough?
‘‘I did everything I needed to do,” he said. “I felt good. It’s another step. They felt like my stuff was great. I just don’t know what the next step is.
“Hopefully I’ll get back in the rotation.”
There isn’t anyone in the Yankees organization that doesn’t believe Pettitte will give this team a lift. He has done it throughout his career, and if the Yankees make the playoffs, we all know that Pettitte is one of the greatest postseason pitchers in major league history — as his 19-10 record and 3.83 ERA in 42 starts will attest. He has five championship rings.
‘‘It’s just a matter of what they’re comfortable with, with this team, knowing I can’t give you 100 pitches,’’ he said. ‘‘There’s a lot of different factors. I feel great. My leg’s feeling great. Hopefully it’ll be the stamina — that’s the only thing.’’
Pettitte has had to watch helplessly as the 10-game lead the Yankees held on July 27 evaporated.
‘‘You want to embrace it,” he said. “You don’t want to be scared of the situation. It’s exciting. Do you want to fail? No. But you can’t be scared of failure.
“This game is tough mentally all the time and even more so when you’re struggling. You’ve got to battle through it. We’re all pulling for one another here.”
While Pettitte is adamant that he can do it, manager Joe Girardi is holding back a little until Pettitte sees the doctor. Girardi also indicated that it might be difficult to ascertain just how well Pettitte was moving because the simulated game was a controlled environment. Pettitte knew when a bunt was coming.
Pettitte sounds like a man who desperately wants to return to the mound. Clemens, 10 years his senior, obviously still has the competitive juices flowing but says he doesn’t want his return to be a sideshow.
As far as we know, the Clemens trial put a strain on their friendship, though Pettitte’s testimony last May might have set his old pal free. Pettitte testified that he may have misunderstood when Clemens told him he took HGH back in 1999. He was the government’s top witness until he pretty much did his friend a favor.
The last time Pettitte spoke about Clemens publicly, he claimed he no longer had contact with his former best friend.
Clemens is a free man, pondering his next move, one that may include pitching for the Astros this month. Pettitte is finally free of injury, hoping there’s one more burst of greatness in him — one more chance to prove his mettle as one of the best lefties ever.
Between the two of them, they have 597 wins — 354 for Clemens and 243 for Pettitte.
While a jury cleared Clemens, he will never know who believes him and who doesn’t, who’s rooting for him and who isn’t.
Pettitte’s mind is clear and truly free.
Amazing how two old friends now walk through life so differently.