HOUSTON -- If New York Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte imagined how the final start of his illustrious career would end, he could not have envisioned this. A starry-eyed dreamer couldn't have penned this script.
Pettitte tossed his 26th complete game, his first since returning to New York, pitching brilliantly in his career finale and earning a 2-1 win over his hometown Houston Astros on Saturday night at Minute Maid Park.
Pettitte (11-11) last produced a complete game on Aug. 16, 2006 while pitching for the Astros, dropping a 1-0 decision to the Chicago Cubs.
"This is almost a fairy tale," Pettitte said.
He retired nine consecutive batters and had 105 pitches on his ledger entering the ninth inning and, after allowing a two-out single to Astros first baseman Chris Carter, got J.D. Martinez to ground out to third base. Before he retired Martinez, Pettitte earned a mound visit from Yankees manager Joe Girardi. The discussion was brief. The decision was clear.
"He just said it's your call," Pettitte said. "Tell me what you want to do. I said I want to try to finish this thing. He just walked off. So that was it.
"I couldn't have dreamed this would have worked out the way it did. I'm so thankful and fortunate and blessed and I just feel like God worked this out exactly perfect. Just another day that I'll never forget."
Pettitte matched Whitey Ford for the franchise record with his 438th start and improved to 256-153 in his brilliant career, 219-127 with the Yankees. He allowed one run on five hits and two walks with five strikeouts, improving that career total to a franchise-best 2,020.
Pettitte needed a season-high 116 pitches to complete his masterpiece, and tipped his hat to the adoring crowd following the victory. Houston (51-110) dropped its 14th consecutive decision, but as Pettitte bathed himself in a lengthy standing ovation, the Astros' woes hardly mattered.
"Especially their guys and the fans here because they don't know me. I appreciated that," Pettitte said. "And then our guys know me better than anybody and just so many guys that I'm so close to and been around a long time. So that was just a moment I feel like I didn't deserve and I just appreciated it."
Astros right-hander Paul Clemens (4-7) appeared up to the task of matching Pettitte, retiring 10 consecutive batters after allowing singles to Alfonso Soriano and Ichiro Suzuki in the second inning. But after Yankees catcher Chris Stewart opened the sixth with a single, Clemens ran into trouble, cutting his right thumb with his fingernail while throwing a 1-2 curveball to Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson.
Clemens was bleeding heavily, and after manager Bo Porter and the Astros training staff paid Clemens a lengthy visit, he remained in the game and struck out Granderson on the ensuing pitch. But Eduardo Nunez and Robinson Cano followed with singles, the latter of which scored Stewart and tied the score at 1-1. Clemens was lifted in favor of Chia-Jen Lo, and the Yankees scored the winning run on an odd error.
After Lo walked Soriano, Houston catcher Mike Pagnozzi attempted to fake a throw to second base but lost control of the ball, spiking it into the ground. The ball bounced into foul territory and Nunez scored.
"We had a play on and I was telling myself just to read the play as it develops," Pagnozzi said. "If there was a chance (to erase Cano at second base) throw the ball, and if there wasn't a chance to hold up. I didn't think we had a chance, I didn't have a grip and I was trying to stop my arm and what happened happened."
Said Houston manager Bo Porter: "It's definitely a play that you would hope they make better decisions. Obviously it was a very costly play because it was a big error there and the man from third was able to score on that error. Again it's more understanding the game situation and allowing the decision to dictate itself."
Armed with the lead, Pettitte bore down and allowed just two more baserunners. With the crowd of 37,199 delirious upon his return to the mound in the ninth, it seemed fitting that his career would end thusly.
Pettitte went out in style, and did so with an abundance of supporters.
"I was pulling for him, knowing that he was there alone," said retiring Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. "This was his game and we just had to cheer for him, and that's what we did -- that's what I did."
Said Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter who, like Pettitte, also debuted with the Yankees in 1995: "It was great. Andy did an awesome job, but what would you expect? He's been pitching big games his entire career."
NOTES: Rivera ended speculation that he would log an inning in center field when he announced that Thursday night was his final game. Rivera cited his age and surgically repaired knee as reasons he won't play defense. Rivera said his relief outing against Tampa Bay was the last of his career. ... Porter wants to get Astros C Max Stassi at-bats before the season ends. Stassi was 0-for-1 Monday at Texas following his activation from the concussion list. He suffered the concussion against the Rangers on Aug. 21.