Yankees go fourth to Series, 12-3

'America's team' ousts Seattle

3 titles on line vs. D'backs

October 23, 2001|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - It has become almost routine. The New York Yankees congregated on the infield at Yankee Stadium last night to congratulate each other on the franchise's 38th American League pennant. Except that nothing is routine this year.

The Yankees are headed to the World Series for the fourth straight season after soundly defeating the Seattle Mariners, 12-3, in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, but this time they are carrying an extra burden. This year, the three-time defending champs are representing more than just a great city's great sports legacy.

With all due respect to the Mariners and their enthralling 116-win season, the Yankees became America's team of destiny on Sept. 11, when New York bore the worst of the horrific terrorist attacks that shocked the world.

"I think what made it special is that this city needed something," manager Joe Torre said afterward. "We realized that we had a responsibility to more than just baseball fans. We had a responsibility to the whole city of New York. Maybe it wasn't fair to the other teams because we had a lot of inspiration."

Even losing manager Lou Piniella couldn't help but feel a strange sense that what happened to his team was part of the greater healing process taking place in New York.

`The amazing thing is, in the eighth inning, when the fans were really reveling in the stands, I thought to myself, `Boy, this city has suffered a lot. They're really letting loose their emotions,' " Piniella said. "I felt really good for them. That's a strange thing for a manager to think when he's getting his [butt] kicked."

The clubhouse celebration, which included a Torre toast to the team and the city, was relatively low-key in deference to the disaster that cost so many lives and the military action that has put more at risk in defense of the nation, but the Yankees had every reason to feel good about what they have accomplished so far this postseason.

"I think that obviously, what we have come back from being down to Oakland like we were and being able to rally back and then fire away to get to the World Series, I think that a lot of fans are going to rally behind us," said Yankees starter Andy Pettitte, who turned in his third strong performance of the postseason and won the ALCS Most Valuable Player Award.

The Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks will open the Fall Classic on Saturday at Bank One Ballpark, presumably with a matchup of former Orioles pitchers Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling.

It seems so long ago that the Yankees were down two games to the muscular Oakland Athletics in the Division Series - down so far that few would have imagined they could climb back up to earn a place in the ALCS opposite the team that broke their 3-year-old American League record for victories in the regular season.

Torre walked into a news conference in Oakland wearing a baseball cap bearing the famous motto of Yankees Hall of Famer Yogi Berra: "It ain't over until it's over." Everybody chuckled.

The Yankees, recharged by a great pitching performance from Mussina and a game-saving defensive play by shortstop Derek Jeter, won the next three games and extended their postseason win streak to five with back-to-back road victories over the Mariners.

Piniella tried to throw himself in front of the vaunted Yankees' mystique. He guaranteed that the Mariners would win at least two of three games in the Bronx to force the series back to Seattle. Turns out he has nothing on Nostradamus as the Yankees of Jeter and Pettitte became the first team since their predecessors in 1960-64 - led by Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford - to win four straight pennants.

The series only had a couple of momentum shifts, the last an eighth-inning home run by Bernie Williams in Game 4 on Sunday night that set the stage for rookie Alfonso Soriano to win that game with a walkoff homer in the ninth.

It never shifted back.

Torre is fond of saying that your momentum is only as good as your next day's pitcher. He turned out to be right.

Pettitte, who had held the Mariners to three hits over eight innings in Game 1, turned in another strong performance last night.

The Mariners did not have an answer. Right-hander Aaron Sele, who came into the game with an 0-5 record in postseason play, looked good for a few innings before allowing all the runs Pettitte would need in a four-run third.

The Mariners' dream season began to unravel when Scott Brosius reached first base on an error by Seattle third baseman David Bell to open the inning. Soriano followed with a solid single and Chuck Knoblauch moved up the runners with a perfect sacrifice bunt to put Sele face-to-face with the most dangerous part of the Yankees' batting order.

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