ATLANTA - When the Yankees arrived here on Tuesday, there were two newspaper columns that hit them in the face like a Mike Tyson combination.

One local columnist wrote that the Braves were one of the best teams in baseball history and could probably beat the famed 1927 Yankees. The 1996 edition was pushed aside like a pebble on the beach and treated as if it wasn't worthy competition for the Braves.

The other column was even worse. It talked about stopping the World Series after the first two games because the Yankees had no chance of beating Atlanta's starting pitching.

Those scribes weren't the only ones who doubted the Yankees after they dropped the first two games of The Series. Admit it. You probably shared those doubts.

Few, however, can feel that way after the Yankees did what most thought impossible, winning all three games in Atlanta. But that's exactly what they did last night, thanks to Andy Pettitte's 1-0 gem of a victory over John Smoltz in Game 5 at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

"Everybody wrote us off," shortstop Derek Jeter said. "We read in the papers that it was over.

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"We picked up the Atlanta papers and they said the Braves were going to dominate us."

Instead, it was the Yankees taking control. They are now just one win away from a championship most wanted to hand on a silver platter to the defending champion Braves a mere four days ago.

"People underestimated us," third baseman Charlie Hayes said. "With all the success the Braves have had, there's a tendency to want to start comparing them to all the great teams. But this is a pretty good team, too. We knew that."

And so would anybody who has watched the Yankees closely all season long. There was no way they were going to go out of the Series without a fight. That's not their character, their makeup. The team is filled with battlers. In many ways, the Yankees mirror New Yorkers. No matter how bad things look, there's a never-give-up attitude that can't be ignored. You need that in order to survive in the Big Apple.


You also need it to stay alive in a World Series many thought you had no shot to win after the disasters of Games 1 and 2. But the Yankees are a resilient bunch, a good team that belongs right where it is - on the verge of capturing its first world championship since 1978.

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"I was confident that we were better than that," manager Joe Torre said of his team's performance in the first two games in the Bronx. "What I mean by better than that, I don't necessarily mean winning three games, but just the quality of the game itself."

And they got better as the Series went on. Just when you thought it was impossible to approach the intensity and drama of the Yankees' 8-6, 10-inning, back-from-the-dead win Wednesday night, Pettitte turns in a big-time, edge-of-your-seat performance.

"This team is just very courageous," owner George Steinbrenner said after Wednesday night's game. "If I use any other word, it wouldn't be right. Everybody played so well. They never give up, these guys."

And while the Braves stuck it to the Bronx Bombers in Games 1 and 2 at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees aren't the Cardinals. Last night was a perfect example. Smoltz allowed one unearned run and the Braves still lost a game they had to win.

"When they started talking crazy about sweeping, our guys got upset," said first baseman Cecil Fielder, who had three hits and the only RBI in the game. "We have a lot of guys on our team that have a lot of pride and want to do well . . . We're not just going to roll over and just let you beat up on us."

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When you consider the Yankees' combined road record (18-0) against the teams considered to be the best in baseball - the Braves (3-0), Indians (6-0) and Orioles (9-0) - and the fact that they have gone a perfect 8-0 on the road in the postseason, you knew they had it in them to do what they did the last three nights.

A lot of what the Braves did against the Yankees in the first two games was pure emotion. They were so close to losing the NLCS. It was a wake-up call that carried over into the World Series. "They came off an incredible high," Fielder said. "We were off for seven days. That made it a little tougher."

Once you get by the Braves' starting rotation - and that's a tall order - you can beat them. They are a good but flawed team. Their bench is weak and their bullpen, other than Mark Wohlers, is even weaker. It showed through in Game 4 when the Yankees erased an early six-run hole.

The Braves didn't say it, but they know they got away with one against the Cardinals. They could easily be home watching this World Series. The Yankees, on the other hand, belong here. No question about it. They traveled tough roads - ones that ran through Texas and Baltimore - to get here. And when they finished each of those series, there was no doubt which team was better.

The same can be said about the Yankees in the World Series. They are better than the Braves in every respect, except starting pitching. That won't be the difference, though. "Our bullpen has been incredible," Fielder said. "That's why this team is so good."

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How good? "It's too early for destiny," Steinbrenner said. And four days ago, it was too early to write the Yankees off. Just ask the Braves.