- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 1, 2003

NEW YORK — If it is painful for some Orioles fans to still watch former Oriole Mike Mussina in a New York Yankees uniform, they may be able to find some solace in the possibility that tonight’s starter for the Yankees, Andy Pettitte, could wind up in an Orioles uniform next season.

That would be a change, wouldn’t it — the door swinging from New York to Baltimore.

Pettitte will be a free agent once the season ends for the Yankees, and if the Orioles are willing to make a commitment to offer a big contract to a pitcher, Pettitte will be on the top of the list. He is a favorite of the Beatagan front office.

Along with Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams, Pettitte represents the best of what the Yankees have been able to accomplish during their championship run — the mixture of player development and free agent spending, which lately has been more of the latter and not enough of the former.

But Boss Steinbrenner has chosen to let Pettitte play out his contract — although that doesn’t necessarily mean he will let the big left-hander go. His ego may not allow him to lose Pettitte, particularly to a division rival like the Orioles.

With Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to the Twins in Game 1 of the American League Division Series, it is possible now that when Pettitte takes the mound tonight at Yankee Stadium, it could be his last start in a Yankees uniform — something he admitted he will be thinking about.

“I guess it will definitely be in my head,” Pettitte said. “I would be lying saying that I wouldn’t let it creep in there. But I’ve been able to set that all aside this season, and I want to continue to do it throughout the playoffs. I have one focus right now, and that’s trying to help this team win a World Series. And then my main focus obviously is trying to figure out how to get the Minnesota Twins out.”

The Orioles’ main focus right now is trying to find a new manager, and the search starts today with an interview with Eddie Murray at the B&O Warehouse. But nearly as intriguing as who will manage the team is, what will the club do on the free agent market this year? With big contracts like Scott Erickson-Guerrero (I wonder if Scott and Lisa will put their marriage vows on index cards) and Albert Belle’s (the one time the Orioles beat the Yankees on a free agent) done, the club could have enough money to sign two big ticket free agents, like a Vladimir Guerrero and a Miguel Tejada, or else a big bat and a top starter, like Pettitte, which would finally replace the loss of Mussina.

The Web site baseball-reference.com has a listing of comparable players as part of each player’s biography, and Mussina is listed as a comparable to Pettitte — except that, obviously, Pettitte is a left-hander, and at the age of 31, he is three years younger than Mussina, which means he would be the same age if he comes to Baltimore as Mussina was when he left.

Pettitte is coming off his second 20-win season, having gone 21-8 with a 4.02 ERA this year, and overall, after nine seasons. he has a career mark of 149-78. After nine full seasons with the Orioles, Mussina left the club with a 147-81 record. Another difference, though, is postseason success. Mussina, with his loss Tuesday (through no fault of his own), is 4-5 in 12 postseason starts. Pettitte, who obviously had the edge of being with the Yankees, will be making his 26th postseason start tonight and has a record of 14-4. That postseason experience only adds to his value, particularly on a team with young pitchers like the Orioles have. If this team is going to take the next step and compete, someone in the clubhouse will have to be there to show them how. No pitcher in baseball today has a better postseason resume than Pettitte.

In the front-office battles with the Yankees, the Orioles have not fared very well. They once traded free agent pitchers, in a sense, when David Wells left for New York after the 1996 season and Jimmy Key left the Yankees for Baltimore. Wells has gone on to win 110 games since then and has gone 5-1 in postseason play. Key was instrumental in leading the Orioles to the AL East title in 1997, with a 16-10 record, but he was done by 1998 with shoulder problems. Then there is the case of Belle, who, depending on who you believe, the Yankees were in hot pursuit of, which prompted owner Peter Angelos to foolishly sign Belle to a five-year, $65 million contract, of which the bulk of has been used for his green fees since he left the club for good with a career-ending hip injury after the 2000 season. That was a loss to the Yankees by addition.

The worst, though, came during the winter of 1995, when another Yankees pitcher went on the free agent market and nearly signed with the Orioles. The only thing that kept David Cone from signing with Baltimore was the difference of $180,000 over three years. If Cone comes to the Orioles — and doesn’t pitch for the Yankees for the next five years — it changes the course of history for both clubs.

History may be staring the Orioles in the face again this offseason in the form of a 6-foot-5 left-hander from Baton Rouge, who, if he loses tonight, won’t be the only one possibly making his last appearance at Yankee Stadium in the pinstripes.

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