NEW YORK -- Andy Pettitte looked the same. With the brim of his New York Yankees cap pulled down tight on his forehead, his eyes stared intently, peeking over the top of his glove. It was the championship stare from so many Octobers.
"It felt like I never left," Pettitte said.
Hailed with standing ovations at every turn, Pettitte didn't allow a hit until there were two outs in the fourth inning of his first major league game in more than a year and a half. It was a majestic beginning at Yankee Stadium on Sunday.
Reality, though, first smacked the 39-year-old Pettitte when Justin Smoak launched a two-out, two-run homer in the fourth. Over Pettitte's final 1 2/3 innings, he failed to make the Seattle Mariners miss, allowing four runs on seven hits, two of which were homers.
In all, Pettitte was so-so against maybe the worst hitting team in baseball.
Even with his All-Star first half in 2010, the margin for error was already closing on his aging body. If this is all there is, the real end of Pettitte's career might not be pretty.
Still, it is just one start and, as Pettitte correctly pointed out, you will have ones like this over the course of a season.
"I feel like I'll be able to say this is a success or not in October," Pettitte said, sitting at the same podium he announced his retirement in February 2011.
In judging Pettitte on Sunday, it depends on your point of view. He controlled his pitches reasonably well and surprisingly reached 90 mph on the gun. He even kept his velocity into the seventh. There were positives.
If you are looking to make excuses for Pettitte, you could even rationalize he really got beat on only two mistake cutters.
"I thought he was pretty good," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, eternally looking for the bright side in judging his players.
Derek Jeter added, "He was nervous, but he did a good job."
Still, it is the Mariners. They have one of the worst lineups in baseball. They don't have one .300 hitting regular. Ex-Yankee Jesus Montero has a team-best five homers.
By comparison, the Yankees entered with five guys with a least five homers. So we may look back and say that this initial bad start against the Mariners meant something. Anyway you look at it, Pettitte must improve to really succeed.
"I feel like I'll get stronger over the next couple of months," Pettitte said.
On Sunday, in the sixth, Pettitte failed to stick to his plan when the game nearly spiraled totally out of control on him. In the two-run, five-hit inning, Pettite gave up the runs on a Casper Wells homer off the right-field foul pole.
Pettitte kicked himself for not staying with his softer stuff; especially on a fastball that caught too much plate to Montero and a sinker that failed to move to Smoak. The bases were loaded when the Mariners' .167-hitting DH, Mike Carp, hit into a double play to end the inning.
Pettitte has always been an escape artist. But he is now trying to find that ability again, and with his 40th birthday around the corner it may takes some time, if it is not gone for good.
A year ago, Pettitte was home as a dad, coaching Pony League, watching high school baseball down in Deer Park, Texas.
Since the middle of March, when he agreed to return to the Yankees for $2.5 million on a minor league contract, Pettitte has lived a little bit of a circus-like life. The travel, he said, has been crazy as he darted from one minor league city to another, while returning to Tampa to train and Texas to see his family. Then, at the beginning of this month, he finally testified in the Roger Clemens perjury trial.
"It's been a little draining from the standpoint of how much traveling I had to do," Pettitte said.
Still, Pettitte felt mostly comfortable on Sunday. He came out a little nervous but pumped up, firing his first pitch at 89 mph.
In the pregame, Girardi lowered expectations on Pettitte's velocity, saying that it might be a bit off in his first start in more than a year. He thought Pettitte eventually could be at 87-89 mph. Pettitte would hit 90 in the first.
Since forcing Bengie Molina to ground out to end the seventh inning of Game 3 of the 2010 ALCS, Pettitte had not been on a major league mound. That is a lot of time off to just pick things up where they were left off.
To ease his nerves, Jeter went to the mound in the first with some Captain-ly advice. He told him to pretend it was Old Timers Day and he was facing Luis Sojo or Mickey Rivers. (By the way, Sojo, 46, or Rivers, 63, might be able to start for this Mariners' offense.)
From there, the Bleacher Creatures included Pettitte in their roll call. Pettitte finished off the first with a 6-4-3 doubleplay that ended with him pumping his first as if he just finished off one of his classic Game 2 playoff wins.
After an out in the seventh, Girardi took Pettitte out. Pettitte jogged off the mound to a standing ovation. He gave a little wave before stepped into the dugout, appreciating the reception but realizing he hadn't done his job in full.
About six hours earlier, Pettitte arrived in the Yankees' clubhouse. Wearing a pink buttoned-down shirt and slacks, he was one of the first in the room. When he arrived at his locker, equipment manager Rob Cucuzza said, "I have to get your name plate. Once you get it, you are legit."
Actually, after his first six-plus innings in more than a year and a half, we still don't know if Pettitte is legit.