The New York Yankees finished another season in the only place they feel comfortable. They finished on top of the baseball world, celebrating a 25th championship in a heap of bodies on the pitcher's mound of the game's most hallowed patch of earth.
In a season when they faced relentless pressure, were forced to deal with unexpected slumps and personal tragedy, these Yankees, like the Yankees of Ruth and Mantle before them, answered every challenge. They did so again tonight by completing a methodical four-game sweep of the Atlanta Braves with a 4-1 victory in Game 4 of the 1999 World Series.
"This club was very, very special," said Manager Joe Torre, his eyes welling with tears. "It's just sensational to be able to accomplish what we accomplished. This ballclub is close. They respected one another."
Roger Clemens added perhaps the crowning achievement to a remarkable 16-year career by doing about the only thing he had never done. After 247 career victories and five Cy Young awards, Clemens now has a World Series victory on his resume.
He had put on pin stripes for the first time in the spring after being acquired from Toronto, saying he wanted to be part of something special. In a season when he finished a disappointing 14-10 in the regular season, the 37-year-old right-hander got his wish tonight by helping the Yankees sweep a World Series for a second consecutive season.
"They did it all," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "They're awesome. They pretty much played a perfect Series. I'm just drained. I'm going home and sleeping for a week."
On a night that began with teammates embracing him before his first pitch and had most of the 56,752 spectators cheering him for each of his overpowering innings, Clemens controlled the game from the beginning, allowing four singles and a run in 7 2/3 innings. He departed with two outs in the eighth and received a roaring standing ovation. Clemens responded by tipping his cap and waving briefly.
"I think I learned what it feels like to be a Yankee now," he said. "It's just been wonderful to play with these guys. It has been everything I hoped it would be."
He then watched from the dugout as closer Mariano Rivera wrapped up both the game and the Series MVP award by getting the final four outs. Unlike past New York teams, these Yankees are built around pitching. They open games with the best starting pitching in the sport and end it with the most reliable closer.
Rivera, who didn't allow a run after July 21, got a win and two saves in three appearances in this World Series. He didn't allow a run in 4 2/3 innings and has a string of 25 2/3 shutout innings in postseason play.
When the final out settled into the glove of left fielder Chad Curtis, the Yankees became the third team to sweep the World Series in back-to-back seasons. The Yankees of Ruth and Gehrig did it in 1927 and 1928, and the Yankees of DiMaggio and Dickey did it in 1938 and 1939.
"It's not easy being a Yankee," owner George Steinbrenner said. "There's a burden that history puts on you. You carry that tradition with you. But I think this is a great team on a great run. New York should adopt this team. These guys are battlers, and New Yorkers understand that and appreciate that."
These Yankees maintain they are different from those teams. They don't have one or two feared sluggers, but are a collection of players whose sum is greater than their individual parts. That may be true, but they've also etched their place in history, right alongside the greatest Yankees of all time.
"It's been a really, really tough year for us," designated hitter Darryl Strawberry said. "But we have a tendency for overcoming. We didn't let ourselves down. We love each other and we stick together."
Tonight was their 12th consecutive World Series victory, tying a 67-year-old record held by the franchise. And in a season when they weren't supposed to be as good as the 1998 team that won a record 125 games, these Yankees sailed through the postseason by winning 11 of 12. Their 25th world championship is 16 more than any other team in baseball. Only the Montreal Canadiens, who have won 24 Stanley Cups, are close in any other sport.
This season began with Torre, beloved by his players, undergoing surgery for prostate cancer and missing the first 36 games of the season. Two players--third baseman Scott Brosius and infielder Luis Sojo--lost their fathers. And Paul O'Neill was in right field tonight, just hours after learning his father, Charles, had died after a long battle with heart disease.
"I just don't know if I could have done what Paul did tonight," Clemens said. "We played with a heavy heart tonight."
A night after clubbing four home runs, the Yankees returned to small ball tonight. They had been limited to six singles until Jim Leyritz delivered a pinch-hit home run with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning.
The Yankees scored three runs off starter John Smoltz in the third inning with a rally that included a pair of infield singles and an intentional walk. Tino Martinez drove in two runs with a single off the glove of first baseman Ryan Klesko in the third inning, and catcher Jorge Posada drove in the third run of the inning with a single.
Clemens was in nothing approaching trouble until the eighth and was overpowering at times. This was a different Clemens, more deliberate and in control. His velocity was limited by a strained hamstring, so instead of the Clemens who sometimes seems as if he is trying to strike out everyone, this Clemens was satisfied with sailing through the Braves with a minimum number of pitches. He departed with two outs in the eighth and enjoyed the remainder of his finest night from the dugout.
"The Yankees were awesome," Smoltz said. "I felt in 1996 that we should have won. I can't say that this time. I feel like the better team won. We had a chance to win every one of these games, but the Yankees had an answer for everything we tried."