NEW YORK - If the heavily hyped Subway Series proved anything, it is that the New York Yankees are the third rail of postseason baseball. It's a bad idea to come in contact with them in October.
They won their third consecutive world championship last night with a 4-2 victory over the New York Mets in Game 5 at sold-out Shea Stadium, enhancing their status as the most successful team of their generation and one of the greatest teams in the glorious history of the Yankees' franchise.
Who's going to argue after they won their fourth championship in five years and continued to be one of the most dominant teams in World Series history?
The victory last night was the 16th in their past 17 World Series games, an incredible record against some of the best teams of the past decade. The Mets didn't go down without a fight, but there was no question afterward which team was the toast of the Big Apple.
Journeyman second baseman Luis Sojo's two-out single in the top of the ninth inning scored catcher Jorge Posada, and a second run scored when outfielder Jay Payton's throw to the plate hit Posada and bounced into the Mets' dugout.
What a moment for Sojo, who came back to the Yankees in August as insurance because of the defensive problems of veteran second baseman Chuck Knoblauch. He also played a solid supporting role for the Yankees in the 1996 World Series.
What a night for Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who was named World Series Most Valuable Player after hitting a game-tying homer in the sixth inning and finishing the series with a .409 batting average.
"Derek Jeter thinks this happens every year," said Yankees manager Joe Torre, "and it has for him. What a player. What a leader."
Jeter got to carry home the MVP trophy, but he tried to spread the credit all around the champagne-soaked visitors clubhouse.
"What can you say, this is a whole team of MVPs," Jeter said. "From Jose Vizcaino in the first game to Mariano Rivera to Luis Sojo tonight. Everybody came through tonight."
The Subway Series may have been short-lived, but it still lived up to the hype.
Every game was a knee-knocker. The Mets suffered each of their first three losses by one run. Their only victory was a two-run win in Game 3. The Yankees may have won four of five, but they had to battle to the final at-bat in every game against their crosstown rival. They outscored the Mets by just three runs over five games.
The final game came down to a long fly ball by Mike Piazza with a runner on third in the bottom of the ninth, but Bernie Williams faded back and squeezed it for the final, title-clinching out.
"In my opinion, the Mets were the toughest team we have played in my five years here," Jeter said. "Every one of these games could have gone either way. They could have given up after [losing] the first two games, but they never quit. You can't say enough about the New York Mets."
Mets left-hander Al Leiter carried a five-hitter through eight innings and seemed determined to buy his team one more shot at Roger Clemens in Game 6, but Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte pitched seven strong innings as the Subway suspense built to a late-inning crescendo.
Left-hander Mike Stanton would get the victory for pitching a scoreless eighth inning, and Rivera would come back from a strenuous performance in Game 4 to record his 19th career postseason save.
Leiter would suffer the heart-breaking defeat after getting the first two outs of the ninth without allowing a runner to reach base. Posada worked hard to draw a two-out walk, and Scott Brosius singled to left to bring Sojo to the plate.
It was another tough loss, but Mets manager Bobby Valentine was not about to apologize for his team's effort.
"I'm extremely proud of everybody who played for the Mets this year," he said. "I couldn't ask anything more of a group of guys. I couldn't ask for better effort, for better preparation, for better camaraderie. They're the National League champs. I think that they were champs this whole series.
"We lost to the world champs. They just did a little better than us this year, and they deserved to win."
It had been 44 years since two New York teams played each other in the World Series, but not much has changed since then. The Yankees are baseball's marquee franchise, just as they were when they defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 Fall Classic.
"The Mets gave us everything we could want," said an emotional George Steinbrenner, the Yankees' owner, as he and Torre received the world championship trophy from baseball commissioner Bud Selig. "They're a great team. This is great for New York."
Steinbrenner didn't hesitate when asked if this might be one of the greatest Yankees teams ever. The Yankees won five straight world titles from 1949 to '53, but it was another era.
"It's different," Steinbrenner said. "You've got to get through three levels of playoffs now. They never had to do that before."