The rookie left-hander whipped off his fourth straight win last night, beating the Orioles, 5-4, before 44,289 at Camden Yards, surviving a scare in the final inning to pull the Yankees into a tie with Seattle for the AL wild-card lead.
The Orioles trailed 5-2 going into the bottom of the ninth, showing no signs of life. After Bobby Bonilla's two-run homer in the first inning, Pettitte had made them look awful.
But Bonilla blooped a single to right, and Rafael Palmeiro pulled a high drive down the right-field line, the ball bouncing off the foul pole, Palmeiro's 35th homer of the year.
Yankees manager Buck Showalter hustled out of the dugout and called for closer John Wetteland, who picked up his 25th save by retiring Chris Hoiles on a fly to left and striking out Harold Baines.
"I think Pettitte will be one of the top left-handers in the league," said Orioles manager Phil Regan. "He wasn't as sharp maybe as the first time we saw him, but he's going to be a good pitcher."
Pettitte allowed a single run in six innings when he beat the Orioles in June, but it took the Orioles only four hitters to score more last night. With two outs, Cal Ripken walked, bringing up Bonilla.
The Yankees infield shifted dramatically for Bonilla, second baseman Pat Kelly positioned on the shortstop side of the bag, and Don Mattingly playing about 40 feet off first base.
Bonilla crossed them up, however, hitting to the right side -- a line shot that carried to the right-field fence. Paul O'Neill went back, felt for the wall, timed the ball and leaped high, reaching with his glove.
O'Neill landed, and besides those sitting in the right-field stands, the crowd waited to see if he had actually come down with the ball. But O'Neill pounded at the ground, and a burst of cheers came from the stands behind him. Home run, Bonilla's seventh in the American League.
But the Yankees would come back at Orioles starter Rick Krivda (2-5). The rookie left-hander had been very fine in his prior start against the Cleveland Indians, his breaking pitches sharp and his fastball nipping at both sides of the plate. Last night, his curveball rolled out of his hand, staying up in the strike zone, and he seemed to labor for each out, when he got them.
"Rick wasn't as sharp as he has been," Regan said. "He got some balls up, but I thought he battled. It's a good pitcher that goes out there on days he doesn't have his good stuff and still is able to pitch a good ballgame."
Ruben Sierra pulled a double leading off the second inning, and advanced to third when second baseman Bret Barberie fumbled Jim Leyritz's grounder up the middle. Gerald Williams popped to first, but Mattingly flied to center, scoring Sierra with New York's first run.
Bernie Williams hit a homer to left in the third inning.
Krivda hit Jim Leyritz with a pitch leading off the fourth, and with out out, Mattingly singled. Yankees rookie Russell Davis doubled, driving home Leyritz, and a grounder by Pat Kelly scored Mattingly, and the Yankees led 4-2.
Krivda battled through with less than his best, preventing the Yankees from adding to their lead through the eighth inning. But the Orioles could do nothing with Pettitte, who, in the shadow of Cone and McDowell, has become one of the hottest pitchers in the league.
The past two seasons Pettitte has been considered one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, and when other clubs have discussed trades with New York, they repeatedly have asked about Pettitte. In the 1980s, when the Yankees had a habit of dealing their top prospects, they may have considered.
But the Yankees hung onto Pettitte, and in light of the shoulder injury to Jimmy Key, this has turned out to be a critical decision.
He had won three straight decisions going into last night, victories over playoff contenders California, Seattle and Boston, allowing just five runs and 20 hits over 25 2/3 innings.
Last night, beyond trouble in his first and last inning, Pettitte dominated. Mark Smith singled with one in the second, and Pettitte picked him off first. Bonilla singled in the fourth and didn't advance. Smith singled leading off the fifth, and then Pettitte retired the next 12 hitters.
Krivda also stuck around. When Mattingly doubled with one out in the ninth, Terry Clark relieved Krivda, who had thrown 123 pitches.
Wade Boggs, bothered by a sore hamstring, pinch-hit for Davis and lined a single and Mattingly ran home with an insurance run that would prove all important in the bottom of the inning.