NEW YORK — The first time they met was so long ago, it was hard for those involved to remember.
Technically, it May 31, 1998 — Yankees manager Joe Girardi was catching, Dennis Eckersley was still pitching, the Rays were two months into their first season.
Realistically, it was lifetimes ago.
They'll meet again tonight, for the seventh time overall, but on the grandest stage and with the highest stakes.
Andy Pettitte, the 37-year-old with 229 career wins and a major-league-record 17 in the postseason, the favorite son of the Bronx, trying to close out the World Series championship for the Yankees in Game 6.
Pedro Martinez, the 38-year-old with 219 regular-season wins and six more in the postseason, the reviled villain, trying to keep the Phillies alive by extending the Series to Game 7.
How do you describe what they've done?
How do you put it all into words?
"Two old goats going out there doing the best they can," Martinez said Tuesday. "And having fun with it."
They spoke of how fortunate they've been — both even saying they were blessed — to have the careers they've had and the opportunity, at their advanced ages, they have tonight.
Pettitte, who signed back with the Yankees for the chance to win another championship, was, typically, more earnest.
"For us both to still be pitching, and then to be able to be pitching in the World Series, I know he, I'm sure he feels the same way I do — I just feel very blessed, very fortunate to be able to have this opportunity," he said.
Martinez, who was unsigned in the Dominican Republic until signing with the Phillies in July, was, naturally, more emotional.
"What else would I want? … Two months back I was sitting at home not doing anything … and today I am here, probably pitching one of the biggest games ever in the World Series, two great teams with a whole bunch of legendary players. … I don't have enough words to describe how excited I am about being here. This is just a great gift to me. This is a blessing," he said.
Their history dates but is not extensive: Six regular-season meetings, all between 1998 and 2003, when Pettitte was with the Yankees and Martinez in Boston. Each is 3-3, though Martinez has the better head-to-head ERA — 3.86 to 5.88.
"Me and Derek (Jeter) were talking about it in the clubhouse (Monday) night, just how strange is this, after all the battles with him being in Boston," Pettitte said.
"I know I've faced him a bunch of times … in the course of a regular season and big series and stuff like that, and then to come full circle, this many years have passed, him with the Phillies and me back over here and stuff like that, it's going to be neat."
Martinez considers Pettitte as one of the legendary players. Pettitte described Martinez as "the best pitcher for a lot of years whenever I was over here with the Yankees, the best pitcher that I had ever seen for a stretch."
That they've lasted so long — tonight's pairing is the second-oldest in Series history — isn't by chance. "They were two guys that you knew worked very hard, that had outstanding stuff, that you knew could be around a long time," Girardi said.
"It says a lot about Pedro and about Andy," said Yankees catcher Jorge Posada, who was a backup in their first matchup. "Nowadays you don't see guys at the age of both of them to want to be out there. A lot of hard work. Pedro's gone through surgery, Andy's gone through surgery, it takes a lot to still be out there pitching."
Pettitte, who won Game 3 despite not pitching particularly well, is working on short rest, which will be a big part of the storyline. Martinez, who lost Game 2 despite pitching rather well, is on five days' rest and ready.
Even the other players, Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher said, are excited. "It's going to be fun to watch."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]