Andy Pettitte now has time for snowball fights.
One of the Rangers’ finest draft picks of the last generation came in Round 10 of the 1990 draft, when they found outfielder Thurman Clyde “Rusty” Greer at the University of Montevallo in Alabama, on the recommendation of accomplished area scout Rudy Terrasas and crosschecker Doug Gassaway.
Texas went back to Alabama in Round 18 (University of North Alabama righthander Rodney Busha, recommended by Terrasas and prolific area scout Randy Taylor) and Round 23 (University of South Alabama outfielder Keith Murray, recommended by Gassaway and national crosschecker Bryan Lambe), but Busha and Murray lasted only two years before their careers ended, only a couple decades (at least) short of another Alabama draftee that the Rangers passed over, Calhoun State Community College shortstop Jorge Posada, whom the Yankees took in Round 24 as a draft-and-follow and started experimenting with behind the plate the following summer.
The Rangers ventured into their home state only once in the first half of that year’s draft, taking Schreiner College outfielder David Hulse (Taylor and Gassaway) in Round 13, ignoring Deer Park High School lefthander Andy Pettitte with the rest of the league until the Yankees took a draft-and-follow flier on the southpaw in Round 22 (minutes after Texas popped Waldorf Junior College righthander Jarod Juelsgaard), signing Pettitte 11 months later after he spent one season pitching at San Jacinto Junior College.
Pettitte faced the Rangers in the 1996, 1998, and 1999 playoffs (2-0, 2.61), beating Rick Helling in nearly identical 3-1, Game Two wins in Yankee Stadium in 1998 and 1999, caught in each case by Joe Girardi rather than Posada, who did make appearances in both of those series.
In those three Texas-New York playoff series, nobody other than Pettitte recorded more than one of the Yankees’ nine wins.
The Rangers and Yankees both had their draft hits in Alabama in 1990, but New York — as was the case more than once in those days — did a better job amateur scouting in Texas than the Rangers did that year.
By the end of that 1999 series, when for the second straight year the Rangers scored only one run in three playoff games, whether the Yankees gave a second thought to the Rangers or not, it felt here like New York had a spell on Texas, a curse that we were reminded of every time the Rangers managed to get back to the post-season and were fed right back to the same team, the one that had traded David Wells, Graeme Lloyd, and Homer Bush for Roger Clemens just before that 1999 season, when Texas was sure it had its own deal with Toronto (Esteban Loaiza, Ruben Mateo, and Jonathan Johnson).
After that 1999 season, Texas signed Alex Rodriguez, and we all know what happened over the next three awful years, before A-Rod engineered his way to New York — and to add injury to insult, when the trade was made in February 2004, the Rangers had a choice of five minor leaguers to take in addition to Alfonso Soriano, and they settled on Joaquin Arias, rather than Robinson Cano.
The Yankees then went 25-10 against Texas from 2004 through 2007.
The Rangers started to ease their way out of the Yankees’ steamroller path after that, going 12-12 against them in 2008 through 2010, but the real turn of the tide came after one of the 2010 season’s deepest lows, a disgusting April 16-18 weekend series in New York in which the Rangers were disposed of easily in three straight.
In July, the Rangers traded for Cliff Lee when the “livid” Yankees thought they had a deal with the “double-dealing” Mariners for the ace lefthander.
On September 10-12, the first-place Rangers took three straight from the first-place Yankees in Arlington, the first Texas sweep of New York since April 1996, months before that ALDS loss that, on one hand, capped the greatest Rangers season ever, but on the other, launched a franchise nightmare.
Texas wrapped up the September 2010 sweep with a 4-1 comeback win, with eight strong from Lee (one run on two hits) and a three-strikeout ninth from Neftali Feliz.
Five weeks later, Lee faced Pettitte in New York, again going eight, again yielding only two hits, again giving way to Feliz for the final three outs, only this time it was to give the Rangers their first playoff series lead since John Burkett outpitched David Cone in Game One in 1996. Lee’s masterpiece (13 strikeouts, one walk, improving his post-season record with Texas to 3-0, 0.75) led to lots of frameworthy columns out of New York and lots of photos of Lee that we’ll still be seeing decades from now.
Four days after that Game Three, 8-0 Rangers win, Texas put New York away, as Feliz froze A-Rod with a slider that sent Texas to the World Series and the Yankees back home.
Mark Prior and Rougned Odor and Warner Madrigal and Erold Andrus notwithstanding, there was one Rangers-Yankees turf war left to play out over the winter (unless the fact that Pettitte called Nolan Ryan to wish the Rangers luck against San Francisco gets you more worked up than it should).
Although the Yankees made it very clear, publicly, that “for someone of [Lee’s] stature, it would certainly behoove him to be a Yankee,” he had different ideas.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman told a crowd of reporters (as if he needed to reassure his bosses, or his fan base) that he “flew into Arkansas especially to meet with Cliff Lee and his wife and his agent . . . very early in the process” and that he “was the first one out of the gates there” and “so everybody knows I got ahead of everybody else.” But that didn’t matter, ultimately.
Though “pestered by Texas,” New York lost out to Philadelphia in landing Lee — and apparently in not getting Pettitte back, as the retiring lefthander reportedly told at least one teammate, “If we sign Lee, I’m coming back for one last run at a title.”
With Lee a Phillie and New York still rummaging for pitching help, the Yankees took another opportunity to lash out at Texas last week, through the press.
New York isn’t quite sure what to do at number four and number five in its rotation behind C.C. Sabathia, Phil Hughes, and A.J. Burnett, bringing in Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia to battle for jobs with Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova — the same Ivan Nova who, unbelievably, would have made Lee a Yankee in July, probably would have made the Yankees the AL representative in the World Series in October, and likely would have made Lee and Pettitte rotation-mates with Sabathia and Hughes and Burnett today, if only the Yankees had agreed in July to send him (or infielder Eduardo Nunez) to Seattle, in place of injured second baseman David Adams, as the second player in the Lee deal — a much less significant piece than headliner Jesus Montero.
Instead, Pettitte’s outstanding career ended in the third base dugout at Rangers Ballpark, as Lee hopped the rail across the field on October 22. And at that moment, the Yankee curse over the Rangers, or whatever that thing was, felt
like it came to a long-awaited end, much as this scattered, delusional post about the Rangers and Yankees does with this sentence.