MLB

Pettitte testifies in Clemens' trial

Andy Pettitte leaves the Federal Court after taking the stand Tuesday.
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A.J. Perez

A.J. Perez previously worked at USA Today, AOL and CBSSports.com, covering beats ranging from performance-enhancing drugs to the NHL. He has also been a finalist for an Associated Press Sports Editors award for investigative reporting. Follow him on Twitter.

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WASHINGTON

Andy Pettitte looked about as enthused to be in court Tuesday as if he had just been shelled for a couple of innings and was about to hand the ball to the manager.

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More important for prosecutors pursuing a conviction of Roger Clemens on perjury and obstruction charges, Pettitte also appeared to be authentic and credible as he described conversations about Clemens’ alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs in US District Court.

“I haven’t spoken with him for a long time,” Pettitte said after one of the final questions from prosecutors.

It’s what they had discussed that led to the two former teammates with the New York Yankees and Houston Astros to sit a few feet apart in the courtroom. Pettitte testified that Clemens had told him he had used human growth hormone — a synthetic drug purported to increase lean muscle mass and reduce recovery time — during a workout in 1999 or 2000. The two spoke again on the topic during spring training in 2005 as the first major hearing into steroid use on Capitol Hill took place.

With usually short, mostly “yes” and “no” answers, Pettitte refuted Clemens' now-infamous claim that Pettitte “misremembers” those conversations. Pettitte testified he was taken aback by Clemens’ 2005 assertions that it was Clemens' wife, Debbie, not Clemens himself, who used HGH.

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The testimony was nothing new. Pettitte had told congressional investigators the exact same thing more than four years ago, before Clemens’ testimony in front of a congressional subcommittee in February 2008. But the fact Pettitte said the words during a trial in which Clemens faces up to 30 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine if convicted of all six counts made for a dramatic day.

Pettitte avoided eye contact with Clemens, at least until assistant US attorney Steven Durham asked Pettitte to point to the defendant in court. Clemens stood when Pettitte identified Clemens as the one in the “suit with a greenish tie.”

Pettitte went so far as to stare up at a wall, with his back turned to Clemens, during a break. Meanwhile, Clemens' eyes were affixed on Pettitte, except on the occasions he took notes.

The tension, however, doesn’t mean the two Houston natives have become enemies. Asked by Durham if he was still friends with Clemens, Pettitte said, “I believe so, yeah.”

It’s been a forced hiatus the past few years, as Pettitte was asked not to associate with Clemens because of his role in the case.

“Andy is my friend,” said Clemens lawyer Michael Attanasio, who read from Clemens’ congressional testimony. “He was my friend before this. He’ll be my friend after this.”

Attanasio, who spent less than an hour questioning Pettitte before court adjourned for the day, asked Pettitte if Clemens had pushed him to use PEDs.

“No,” Pettitte replied.

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Did Clemens look like a player aided by PEDs?

“No.”

Pettitte, a born-again Christian with a sterling reputation, is seen as one of the two most important prosecution witnesses. And, unlike the other top government witness, Brian McNamee, Pettitte doesn’t have a checkered past.

Still, Durham tried to get out front of one of the few inconsistencies in Pettitte’s background. Pettitte denied to the Los Angeles Times in October 2006 that he had ever used performance-enhancing drugs after the newspaper had reported that both Pettitte and Clemens were part of a federal affidavit in which six players were accused of using PEDs by former pitcher Jason Grimsley. The report, as it turned out, was erroneous.

“I was trying to make a statement that I felt was true but twisted the words a little bit,” Pettitte said on the stand.

The Mitchell Report, the independent investigation that detailed baseball’s steroid era, identified Pettitte and alleged he used HGH between two and four occasions in 2002 to rehabilitate an elbow injury. Pettitte admitted he used HGH twice and apologized after the Mitchell Report’s release in December 2007.

Clemens went the other direction, denying the charges in the Mitchell Report that hinged on the allegations made by McNamee. McNamee was a former strength coach for the Toronto Blue Jays and Yankees and trained both Clemens and McNamee privately as well. McNamee was fired from the Yankees after rape allegations came to light in 2001, although he was never charged. (Jurors will hear only that McNamee was let go after a police investigation.)

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“This was a key to the prosecution’s case,” said Peter Keane, dean emeritus of the Golden Gate University Law School. “At the end of this trial, the jury will have some doubts about McNamee and they will be looking for something to grasp onto. That could very well be Pettitte’s testimony.”

Pettitte, who will return to the stand Wednesday, was only the second witness called by prosecutors. Keane believes Pettitte's early appearance could work in Clemens’ favor since the trial could last as long as six weeks.

“I’m sure the defense is hoping (jurors will forget about Pettitte’s testimony),” Keane said. “This fact that this is going to be such a long trial is going to benefit the defense.”

For at least one day, the testimony was anything but forgettable. What it means to the trial as a whole or the friendship of Clemens and Pettitte isn't so easily handicapped.

Tagged: Yankees, Andy Pettitte

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