With one more big finish that safely can be termed a fall classic, the Yankees reaffirmed their grasp on their sport and their city. They also took hold of their right to be ranked among the greatest teams of all time.
They won their third straight World Series and their fourth in the past five years as they beat the Mets, 4-2, in Game 5 last night at Shea Stadium. The Yankees celebrated in their own town but on their rival's turf, having secured the 26th world championship in franchise history.
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That glamorous history grew several distinctions stronger in this Subway Series, which they won four games to one. Only three times in major league history has any club won as many in a row (the Yankees won five straight between 1949 and 1953 and four straight from 1936 to 1939, the Oakland Athletics won three in a row from 1972-74). And only two other clubs won as many championships in as short a period of time-the Yankees won five of six from 1936 to 1941 and six of seven from 1947 to 1953.
With the score tied at 2, after Al Leiter struck out Tino Martinez and Paul O'Neill to start the ninth, Jorge Posada drew a full-count walk and Scott Brosius singled to left. Luis Sojo, who had just entered the game in the bottom of the eighth as a defensive replacement, then grounded Leiter's first pitch into centerfield for a hit. Jay Payton's throw to the plate hit the sliding Posada, and when the ball deflected out of play, Brosius also scored. Sojo went to third on the play.
"I think our run of four World Series appearances in five years is pretty damn good," manager Joe Torre said. "I think our ballclub, for what we've accomplished, should be right up there with any of the clubs that have put something together."
They put everything together in their first World Series against the Mets, and the first Subway Series between New York teams in 44 years. This one ended as so many previous Subway Series did, with the National League club settling for having provided a great ride but ultimately having to say, "Wait 'til next year."
Before the final game of the season, Mets manager Bobby Valentine said: " I do like my team. I respect the New York Yankees as a really fine team, a champion. The world champion. We're going to give them everything we have."
The Mets did just that last night, reaching the last stop in the Subway Series and matching the Yankees through most of a riveting pitchers' duel between Leiter and Andy Pettitte.
The Mets fought hard, as they did to make it through the first two playoff rounds. But the Yankees also are good at overcoming adversity, even if it is adversity or their own making, such as the unsightly seven-game losing streak with which they ended the regular season. They bounced back from trouble in both of their first two playoff series.
"I think it's more satisfying when you accomplish things when it's a little tougher," Torre said. "Anything you work hard for is more satisfying, gratifying, when you accomplish it."
It might have been the final victory lap for some key members of the four-time champions - veterans who might be retiring or heading to other teams.
"When you think about the guys you've been with for five years - O'Neill and Tino and David Cone, yeah, if you don't see them again in uniform after this year, it's going to be sad," Torre said. "But the fun part is to think of what it was like for those five years. And celebrating that, probably, would take precedence over anything."
Torre said before the game that any talk of a parade was premature (although he didn't flinch at the idea of having a parade for both clubs, noting, "I think getting to the World Series is what should be celebrated"). He already has seen what can happen to a team that has a seemingly commanding two-game edge. It happened to the Atlanta Braves against the Yankees in 1996, starting the Yankees' impressive run. After the Braves won the first two games, the Yankees swept the next four, three of them in Atlanta.
So if there was urgency for the Yankees last night, it was a feeling that they ought to end the Series before hits and bounces began going the Mets' way. "This club is very hungry to end this tonight," the Yankees' manager said earlier. " Wednesday night I heard Paul O'Neill say, 'I wish we didn't have to go home and go to sleep.' You just want to do this."
The Mets knew just as well how quickly things can change. "I think you draw on all your experiences, and we've had a lot of experiences, and we've had our backs up against the wall," Valentine said before the game, recalling his club's scramble just to make the playoffs last year, and the comeback from a first-game loss in the Division Series against the Giants this year.
It's almost as if the Mets play better when their predicament gets worse.
During batting practice, Todd Zeile went up to Valentine and said, "Who says the stars aren't aligned for us?" He pointed up to the sky, which had a blue-and-orange tint (Mets colors).
A star that was aligned the other way last night was Bernie Williams, who broke an 0-for-15 streak in this World Series and 0-for-22 slide overall in World Series play with a home run down the leftfield line in the second. The Yankees had said they expected some thunder from Williams.
Mets lightning struck in the bottom of the inning. With two outs and two on, Leiter - admittedly one of the worst-hitting pitchers in the big leagues - pushed a bunt between the mound and first base. Martinez bobbled it momentarily, then flipped it to Pettitte covering first. Pettitte didn't catch it, allowing Bubba Trammell to score on the error. Then Agbayani hit a chopper toward third that Brosius unsuccessfully tried to barehand. It went for a run-scoring infield single and a 2-1 Mets lead.
The Mets didn't score in the fourth, but their fans had a chance to cheer. Kurt Abbott shattered a bat on a foul ball, as Piazza did against Roger Clemens on Sunday. The barrel landed at the feet of Derek Jeter at short. Jeter smiled sheepishly as he "fielded" it and waited for the batboy to retrieve it. The crowd gave a loud, sarcastic ovation to mark the fact he didn't fling the shard, as Clemens had (Clemens sat stone-faced on the bench this time).
Of course, Jeter is best with a full bat in his hands, as he proved in the sixth. He drove a Leiter pitch deep into the Yankees' bullpen in left to tie the score at 2. He also extended his World Series hitting streak to 14 games, tying him with Roberto Clemente for third longest of all time.
Jeter, of course, has been one of several vital constants during five remarkable years. "When you go through things with the same group of people, the same core of people," O'Neill said, "you never lose faith in people."