Pettitte to Rivera, just like old times

NEW YORK -- As Metallica blasted through the frigid Bronx air, the legendary No. 42 wore the same placid expression he has donned for 19 seasons.

But this was different. The emotions were as raw as the 45-degree night. Mariano Rivera was on the mound for the first time since he crumbled on the warning track 11 months ago in Kansas City.

The day after he tore his ACL, he defiantly vowed to return. After wavering in the offseason, he signed with the New York Yankees and said he was not only coming back, but he was returning to win.

Then, in the spring he announced 2013 would be his last. So all that swirled inside as the 43-year-old Rivera went to the mound again.

Heavy metal may have blared through the loudspeakers, but this was Yankees classic rock.

The 40-year-old Andy Pettitte started and pitched brilliantly before handing the ball to Rivera. The most prolific starter-closer combination in the history of the save stat were giving Yankee fans another show.

Protecting a three-run lead, Rivera gave up a run before turning rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. into an ice sculpture on this chilly night and closing out the Yankees' first win of 2013, 4-2, over the rival Boston Red Sox.

Rivera immediately retrieved the ball from first-pumping catcher Francisco Cervelli.

"Usually I get them and give them to other people," Rivera told ESPNNewYork.com after he concluded talking with the media swarm. "This one I will keep."

The Yankees needed this win badly. Even the often staid Joe Girardi deemed it "pretty important" in the pregame, which is saying something three games in.

Girardi shuffled his lineup, moving Robinson Cano to the two slot, which is something he didn't do even once during the 2012 regular season.

Pettitte was masterful in his eight innings of one-run ball. He started 20 of the 30 hitters he faced with first-pitch strikes. When he got in trouble, he used three double plays to finish off innings.

It was a been-there, done-that performance in what felt like late Ocotber conditions. It was a big win, even if it was only game No. 3.

"You don't want to get swept to open your season," Pettitte said.

Pettitte took care of business and then stepped aside for Rivera.

Pettitte to Rivera has been a pitching double-play combination like no other. Since an official scorer marked down the first save in 1969, no starter and closer have combined for more victories. A remarkable 69 times Pettitte's left arm has fired the first Yankees pitch, while Rivera's right cut the last.

They combined for their first save against Boston back in 1997. That day, Tim Raines was in left field, Cecil Fielder was at first base and Wade Boggs was at third.

"It is special," Pettitte said.

They didn't do it alone on Thursday.

Lyle Overbay had a two-run single. Brett Gardner hit a homer. And Derek Jeter's stand-in, Eduardo Nunez, had two hits and played stellar defense.

Still, even with Pettitte's performance, the Yankees' starting pitching is unsettled. Ace CC Sabathia lacked his usual Opening Day velocity. No. 2 starter Hiroki Kuroda used his bare hand instead of his glove to try to stop a line drive, forcing him out of his start Wednesday. No. 4 starter Phil Hughes will pitch in Scranton on Saturday, trying to complete his recovery from a bulging disk.

Next up, in Detroit, Ivan Nova and David Phelps will have the ball Friday and Saturday. Even after Nova's success in 2011, and Phelps' in 2012, they are both wild cards this campaign.

On Thursday, however, it was finally a feel good moment for the written-off Yankees. As Pettitte started to wrap up the eighth, the crowd chanted his name in unison, "Andy Pettitte! Andy Pettitte! Andy Pettitte!"

Then Rivera returned to pick up his MLB-record 609th save of his career, and his first since April 30, 2012.

It was Pettitte to Rivera and, for a moment, it didn't feel like Old Timer's Day, just like old times.