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A most uncomfortable witness

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Andy Pettitte was fidgety. He was unhappy. He was uncomfortable. And he was in the last place he ever wanted to be -- testifying in court against his friend, workout partner and mentor, Roger Clemens.

In nearly two hours of answering questions Tuesday from federal prosecutor Steven Durham, Pettitte's answers were reluctant and short. He was a white-knuckle witness in the perjury trial of Clemens, hoping that if he answered quickly and briefly, his nightmare would soon end. But it is not over. Pettitte will face more questions from Michael Attanasio, one of Clemens' attorneys, and then even more questions from Durham on Wednesday.

As reluctant as Pettitte was, he gave Durham what the government needed -- testimony that Clemens at some point in 1999 or 2000 told Pettitte that he had used HGH. It's a critical piece of evidence for the prosecutors, and it's a serious problem for the Clemens legal team -- clear and convincing testimony from a Clemens friend and protégé that contradicts everything that Clemens told the U.S. Congress.

Pettitte's testimony for the government could have been even more powerful, but U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton put surprising limits on the things Durham could ask Pettitte. Durham had hoped to show that when Pettitte decided to try HGH as he was recovering from an injury, he went to Clemens' trainer, Brian McNamee, for the drug and help in injecting it.

If Pettitte went to McNamee for HGH, it would have made it more probable that Clemens also went to McNamee for the drug, and it would have supported McNamee's account of what he did for Clemens. But Walton would not permit Durham to ask Pettitte where he obtained the HGH. Nor would he allow Pettitte to describe who helped him with its injection. In both cases, it was McNamee who said he had provided the same services for Clemens.

Still suffering the effects of a blunder that led to a mistrial last July in the first attempt to convict Clemens of obstruction of Congress, Durham did not test Walton's ruling in his questioning of Pettitte on Tuesday. It was a situation in which many prosecutors would have pushed the judge to reconsider or to modify his ruling, but Durham was clearly not willing to risk the wrath of the judge and another mistrial and an embarrassing end to the entire government effort.

Even with the limits imposed by the judge, Pettitte's account of Clemens' admission that he used HGH clearly caught the attention of the jury. All 16 jurors were transfixed as Pettitte told his story.

Pettitte's testimony was a sharp contrast to the audio and video renditions of Clemens' denials of HGH and steroid use in his testimony before a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. In the first three days of trial testimony, jurors heard Clemens' denials in 36 excerpts of his testimony, each of them in tones of voice that rang with veracity. His testimony had none of the arrogance and rage that Clemens showed in his appearance on "60 Minutes" or in a news conference after the release of the Mitchell report.

Although Pettitte's testimony was no surprise to anyone who has followed the steroid era in Major League Baseball, it seemed to surprise the jury. Pettitte may have been reluctant, but his answers were quiet, categorical and persuasive.

In his cross-examination of Pettitte, Clemens attorney Attanasio has not yet attacked Pettitte's version of the HGH conversation with Clemens. He spent the first hour of the interrogation leading Pettitte through Clemens' remarkable career with descriptions of his flawless mechanics, his work ethic, his studies of hitters and umpires, his intimidation techniques, his team leadership, and his competitive nature.

Pettitte was clearly more comfortable describing his friend's heroics than he was describing his use of HGH.

The jury that had been captivated with Pettitte's account of Clemens' use of HGH was similarly captivated when Attanasio used a file folder on the courtroom floor as home plate and led Pettitte through a description of the importance of pitching inside to a hitter. The women in the front row of the jury box were nodding in apparent comprehension of something they might have never before considered, and two other jurors stood to gain a better view.

In response to other questions from Attanasio, Pettitte also described Clemens' development of a split-finger fastball later in his career. Relying on Pettitte's testimony, the Clemens lawyers will suggest the splitter, and not performance-enhancing drugs, was responsible for Clemens' success in his final years.

Pettitte's appearance early in the trial was a bit of a surprise. With a star witness like Pettitte, many prosecutors would hold his testimony as a finale to their evidence. But, sources say, the prosecutors presented Pettitte this week to accommodate Pettitte's planned return to the New York Yankees.