By Dave Sheinin
Thursday, November 5, 2009
NEW YORK -- The old ballpark sits across 161st Street from the new one, shrouded in funereal black mesh and towering metal scaffolding, awaiting any day now its death by wrecking ball. A gap in its outer shell provides a voyeur's gaze into its sad, gray innards, picked clean of anything salable. Just this week the giant blue letters that once spelled Y-A-N-K-E-E S-T-A-D-I-U-M across its famous façade were hauled away in trucks. Progress moves forward. Only memories remain, but what memories.
On Wednesday night, in the stark chill of November, the New York Yankees provided a moment and a game worthy of the old building and of their storied Yankee forebears, at the end of a long season that may rank among the best ever authored across the street.
Nine long, angst-ridden years since they last won the World Series, the Yankees returned to baseball's pinnacle for the 27th time Wednesday night, outslugging the defending champion Philadelphia Phillies, 7-3, in front of 50,315 enraptured fans at the new Yankee Stadium.
Closer Mariano Rivera threw his 41st and final pitch at 10 minutes before midnight, inducing a weak grounder to second, then disappeared into the center of a scrum of teammates rushing towards him near first base.
"It's good to be back," shortstop Derek Jeter, holding up the World Series trophy, shouted from a stage behind second base during a postgame ceremony. "This is right where it belongs."
The Yankees won on a night their old guard -- four players with a combined 57 seasons and now 20 World Series rings in the pinstripes -- shared the stage with the vast majority who had never tasted a title.
The 1996-2000 dynasty boys were lefty Andy Pettitte, the winningest postseason pitcher of all-time, who tossed 5 2/3 hard-fought innings on short rest Wednesday night, surviving five walks and one Ryan Howard home run; shortstop Derek Jeter, who had three hits and scored twice; catcher Jorge Posada (he got a ring in 1996 despite being left off the postseason roster), who guided Pettitte and three relievers through 27 treacherous outs; and Rivera, who did what he always does - end Yankee victories.
"All of them are great," Rivera said. "But this one is special. It was a drought for nine years, and we finally got one."
But it was designated hitter Hideki "Godzilla" Matsui, the Japanese import who arrived in the Bronx in 2003, who owned the night. He crushed a two-run homer in the second, laced a two-run single in the third, both off Phillies starter Pedro Martinez, then pounded a two-run double off rookie lefty J.A. Happ in the fifth, his six RBI tying a World Series record. For his efforts, Matsui was named most valuable player, despite starting only half the games in the series.
"It's awesome, just unbelievable," Matsui said through an interpreter. "I'm just happy that after all these years we were able to win and reach the goal that I had come here for."
Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, the latest symbols of the Yankees' financial might, made significant contributions ¿ a pair of walks and a pair of runs for Rodriguez, an RBI single by Teixeira -- on the night both won their first championship.
"He's been through a lot. He's one of the best players of all-time," Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman said of Rodriguez. "For the rest of his career, he can just write history. He doesn't have anything to answer to from anyone."
Years from now, this game could be recalled for its historic convergence of immortals, featuring three sure-fire, first-ballot Hall-of-Famers (Martinez, Jeter and Rivera) and several other potential electees (Pettitte, Posada, Rodriguez and Howard, among others) on the field at the same time.
Martinez, 38, is baseball's Muhammad Ali ¿ beautiful and powerful in his prime, elegant and noble in his later years, and always colorful, always quotable ¿ but his four-inning start Wednesday night was like watching Ali lose to Larry Holmes. In this case, Martinez's corner man, Manager Charlie Manuel, wouldn't let the beaten champ come out for fifth round.
"No regrets," Martinez said, as he departed the stadium.
Though he fought valiantly, Martinez's two duels with Matsui exposed his utter lack of weaponry. He simply did not possess a pitch that could get the man out. The homer came on an 89-mph fastball, at the end of an eight-pitch at-bat, the two-run single an inning later on an 0-2 mistake on the outer half.
Pettitte, meantime, won, in part, because he was the only Yankees starter in this series whom Chase Utley couldn't touch, as the Phillies' superb second baseman -- who tied Reggie Jackson's 1977 record with five homers in the series -- went 0 for 5 with a walk and three strikeouts against the big lefty, unable to find an escape from Pettitte's trap of fastballs on the hands and sliders off the outside edge.
"We kind of sputtered a little bit," Manuel said. "We got behind, couldn't come back."
Every out Pettitte recorded drew the Yankees that much closer to Rivera, and thus to victory. Pettitte finally ran out of gas in the sixth, when a one-out walk to Utley preceded a two-run, opposite-field homer by Howard -- who has been otherwise neutralized this series by a steady diet of left-handed pitching.
Two batters later, a double by Phillies designated hitter Raul Ibanez sent Pettitte out of the game to a standing ovation. He doffed his cap as he approached the dugout, then disappeared into a sea of teammates.
There was little doubt how the final 10 outs would be divvied among the Yankees' bullpen: Joba Chamberlain, the flamboyant, flamethrowing right-hander, was first, collecting three outs before running into trouble in the seventh. Next was lefty Damaso Marte, brought in to face the left-handed heart of the Phillies order.
Marte threw six pitches in notching two strikeouts ¿ getting Utley on a nasty 0-2 slider to strand two runners in the seventh, then overwhelming Howard to lead off the eighth.
Then, with flashbulbs popping and "Enter Sandman" blaring over the loudspeakers, Rivera entered like a bolt out of 1996, or 1998, or maybe 1999 or 2000, to nail down the final five outs.
His bald spot is a little bigger now, his eyes a little more weathered. But his cut fastball is timeless, and on Wednesday night it made the leap across 161st Street, and across nine titleless years, to carry the win home and restore the glory.