NEW YORK – The New York Yankees bolted from the dugout even before the last grounder was scooped up. After waiting nine years for championship No. 27, no one would dare hold them back.
“It feels better than I remember it, man,” captain Derek Jeter said. “It’s been a long time.”
Hideki Matsui tied a World Series record with six RBIs, Andy Pettitte won on short rest and New York beat the Philadelphia Phillies 7-3 in Game 6 on Wednesday night, finally seizing that elusive title – the most in all of sports.
Nearly a decade after their dynasty ended on a blooper in the desert, the Yankees are baseball’s best again.
Matsui, the Series MVP, powered a quick rout of old foe Pedro Martinez. And when Mariano Rivera got the final out, it was ecstasy in the Bronx for George Steinbrenner’s go-for-broke bunch.
What a way for Alex Rodriguez and Co. to christen their US$1.5-billion ballpark: One season, one World Series crown – the team’s first since winning three straight from 1998-2000.
“The Yankees won. The world is right again,” team president Randy Levine said.
The season certainly ended a lot better than it started – with a steroids scandal involving A-Rod, followed by hip surgery that kept him out until May.
“My teammates, coaches and the organization stood by me and now we stand here as world champions,” said Rodriguez, who admitted using steroids from 2001-03 while with Texas. “We’re going to enjoy it, and we’re going to party!”
For Chase Utley and the Phillies, it was a frustrating end to another scintillating season. Philadelphia fell two wins short of becoming the first NL team to repeat as World Series champions since the 1975-76 Cincinnati Reds.
Utley tied Reggie Jackson’s record with five home runs in a Series. But Ryan Howard’s sixth-inning shot came too late to wipe away an untimely slump that included 13 strikeouts, also a Series mark.
Meanwhile, Phillies pitchers rarely managed to slow Matsui and the Yankees’ machine.
“I told them that I loved the way they played. We’re fighters and never quit,” Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel said. “We want to keep what we got as far as attitude and chemistry.”
For second-year manager Joe Girardi, a three-time Yankees champion as a player, it was the fulfilment of a mission. When he succeeded Joe Torre in October 2007, Girardi chose uniform No. 27, putting his quest on his back for all to see. His tenure didn’t start out so well, with New York missing the playoffs in its final season at old Yankee Stadium following 13 consecutive appearances.
“To be able to deliver this to the Boss, the stadium that he created and the atmosphere he has created around here is very gratifying for all of us,” Girardi said.
In a fitting coincidence, this championship came eight years to the day that the Yankees lost Game 7 of the 2001 World Series in Arizona on Luis Gonzalez’s broken-bat single off Rivera.
Steinbrenner spent billions trying to win another Series. At long last, his team did.
Fittingly, it was dedicated to the 79-year-old owner, who has been in declining health and didn’t make the trip from his home in Tampa, Fla.
Still, his presence was felt.
“Boss, this is for you,” the giant video screen in centre field flashed during post-game ceremonies while his son, Hal, the team’s managing general partner, accepted the championship trophy.
For the Four Amigos, it was ring No. 5.
Jorge Posada, Jeter, Pettitte and Rivera came up together through the minors and were cornerstones for those four titles in five years starting in 1996.
Now, all on the other side of age 35, they have another success to celebrate. And surely they remember the familiar parade route, up Broadway through the Canyon of Heroes.
“It’s an honour for me to win a championship with those guys. They are Yankee legends,” Mark Teixeira said.
But, hey, Babe and Yogi, Mr. October and Joltin’ Joe – you’ve got company. Teixeira, CC Sabathia and a new generation of Yankees have procured their place in pinstriped lore.
Moments after second baseman Robinson Cano fielded Shane Victorino’s grounder and threw to first for the final out, Joba Chamberlain and Nick Swisher led a victory lap around the warning track, carrying flags that read “2009 World Series champions.”
Players high-fived fans, then sprayed bubby behind the mound – the same sort of celebration Philadelphia enjoyed last year after beating Tampa Bay.
“We think we can be back here again and again. We have a great squad,” Phillies closer Brad Lidge said.
New York wasted its chance to wrap things up in Game 5 at Philadelphia, then set its sights on clinching the World Series at home for the first time since 1999.
While nine years between titles is hardly a drought for most teams, it was almost an eternity in Yankeeland.
New York’s eight seasons without a championship was the third-longest stretch for the Yankees since their first one, following gaps of 17 (1979-95) and 14 (1963-76).
Jackson’s three homers in Game 6 against the Los Angeles Dodgers made the Yankees champs in ’77. On this November night, Matsui delivered a sublime performance at the plate that must have made Mr. October proud.
“It’s awesome,” Matsui said through a translator. “Unbelievable. I’m surprised myself.”
Playing perhaps his final game with the Yankees, Matsui hit a two-run homer off Martinez in the second inning and a two-run single on an 0-2 pitch in the third.
A slumping Teixeira added an RBI single in the fifth off reliever Chad Durbin, and Matsui cracked a two-run double off the right-centre fence against lefty J.A. Happ.
A designated hitter with balky knees, Matsui came off the bench in all three games at Philadelphia. Still, he had a huge Series, going 8 for 13 (.615) with three homers and eight RBIs. His go-ahead shot off an effective Martinez in Game 2 helped the Yankees tie it 1-all.
Bobby Richardson was the only other player with six RBIs in a World Series game, doing it for the Yankees in Game 3 against Pittsburgh in 1960. Richardson had a first-inning grand slam and a two-run single in the fourth.
Matsui’s big hits built a comfortable cushion for a feisty Pettitte, who shouted at plate umpire Joe West while coming off the field in the fourth. Still, Pettitte extended major league records with his 18th post-season win and sixth to end a series.
The 37-year-old left-hander, pitching on three days’ rest, became the first pitcher to start and win the clincher in all three post-season rounds. He beat Minnesota and the Los Angeles Angels in the AL playoffs.
Pettitte lasted 5 2-3 innings, allowing three runs, four hits and five walks. Chamberlain and Damaso Marte combined for 1 2-3 innings of scoreless relief before Rivera secured the final five outs.
“You don’t look at it as a failure,” Howard said. “We had a great season. We just got beat by the better team.”
It had been nearly a half-century since players had won five titles with one team. The last to do it? Of course a bunch of Yankees: Yogi Berra (10 titles), Mickey Mantle (seven) and Whitey Ford (six) in 1962, according to STATS LLC.
NOTES: Jeter batted .407 in the Series. … It was the fourth time Rivera got the final out of a World Series. … Yankees LF Johnny Damon left after three innings with a strained right calf.