After staying put, Pettitte tries to move Yanks forward; Trade talk behind him, he takes ball for Game 4; ALCS notebook


BOSTON -- Trade rumors have swirled around Andy Pettitte in the past, but not with as much velocity as this season. And the Yankees' left-hander, normally immune to such talk, began to listen.

As the trade deadline approached, Pettitte figured he would be changing teams. Instead, he'll be starting tonight in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, with the chance to put the Yankees ahead 3-1 in the series.

"I really did feel like I might be gone," said Pettitte, who began the season on the disabled list with a strained elbow and was 5-7 with a 5.59 ERA in his first 16 starts. "It was tough but I felt like I was really able to block it out and still continue to work on my pitching and figure out what I was doing wrong."

Relieved to be staying in New York, Pettitte went 9-4 with a 3.84 ERA over his last 15 starts. "It was very gratifying to turn the year around and be able to have a strong second half," he said.

Manager Joe Torre anticipated this happening. He lobbied for owner George Steinbrenner to keep Pettitte, whose 69 wins over the last four seasons is the third-most over that span, behind Boston's Pedro Martinez (72) and Atlanta's Greg Maddux (71).

"I think it was just [pitching coach] Mel Stottlemyre and myself basically could not shake the memory of how well he's pitched during the postseason and very important games during the time we've been here," Torre said. "Every time I was asked for my opinion, they were strongly in favor of keeping Andy. It got to a point where George Steinbrenner said, 'Well, it's going to be your decision.' We made it and I'm glad we did.

"Andy, to me, was not the same pitcher. He went out there very tentatively. I think there's a lot going on in his mind. I think all the talk about being traded had something to do with it. Even though he denied the fact, that we passed the trade deadline and all of a sudden he started pitching well, he didn't think that had anything to do with it. I think it had something to do with it. His stuff was good. It was just a matter of how aggressive he was going to be."

Playing with pain

Paul O'Neill continues to play with a cracked rib, which has caused Torre to reflect on a statement Steinbrenner made about the Yankees' right fielder a few years ago while introducing him at a dinner.

"He called him a warrior. That exactly was the perfect name for him," Torre said.

O'Neill suffered the injury while running into a wall at Tampa Bay during the last weekend of the regular season. He missed one game of the Division Series against Texas, then pleaded with Torre to include him in the lineup for Game 1 of the ALCS. "Paul might have a great career ahead of him as a Washington lobbyist," Torre said.

O'Neill strengthened his case for staying off the bench by blooping a single that gave New York a Game 2 victory over the Red Sox.

"I think it's getting a little better on a daily basis," Torre said. "I thought he felt a little uncomfortable not playing. It seems when he gets it loose, it's fine, but when he's just doing the things we normally do, going to eat lunch or going to sleep, that probably bothers him more."

Stanley hangs in

As expected, Boston's Mike Stanley remained in the lineup despite a right wrist that was "sore to the point of impact."

Stanley has been keeping the wrist wrapped in ice since being hit by a Jeff Nelson fastball in the eighth inning of Game 2. He was lifted for pinch runner Donnie Sadler and had X-rays that were negative.

With Stanley available, Boston manager Jimy Williams was able to keep the same lineup yesterday, other than moving Jason Varitek to third and dropping Brian Daubach to seventh.

Rest for bullpen

Boston's bullpen was at full strength yesterday, thanks to the 6 2/3 innings turned in by starter Ramon Martinez on Thursday and the ensuing day off.

Rich Garces played catch with pitching coach Joe Kerrigan on Friday and pronounced himself fit for duty. He had been bothered by a strained muscle on his right side. And Derek Lowe enjoyed two straight days off for the first time since the final weekend of the regular season. He remains Williams' first choice as closer, though game circumstances can change the manager's thinking.

Hargrove supporter

Mike Hargrove's dismissal in Cleveland didn't sit well with Torre. The explanation given by Indians general manager John Hart was even more disturbing.

"The thing that bothered me, and I watched Mike being interviewed [Friday] night and he was a little broken up about it, when you fire somebody -- and I'm speaking from experience -- I wish people would say, 'We're going to make a change. We're going to try something different,' " Torre said.

"Don't say, 'We're trying to get to the next level,' or 'We want to get these players to play harder.' Just make a change. Managers understand that. It's just a little insulting when some of the reasoning comes out, that we're going to the next level."

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