Yankees go fourth to Series, 12-3

N.Y. ousts Seattle in 5

to put 3 straight 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 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, they 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.

"We feel that we are representing more than the Yankees now, with what New York has, and the country has gone through since the 11th of September," manager Joe Torre said as his team prepared to take the field for the decisive game.

The celebration was appropriately subdued 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.

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.

Mariners manager Lou 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.

The series only had a couple of momentum shifts, the last an eighth-inning home run by Bernie Williams in Game 5 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.

Left-hander Andy Pettitte, who had held the Mariners to three hits over eight innings in Game 1, turned in another strong postseason performance last night and 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 couple of 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.

Jeter, who had been largely quiet in the ALCS, drove home the first run of the game with a sacrifice fly and David Justice - baseball's all-time postseason RBI leader - followed with a run-scoring double. Williams would confirm the club's World Series reservation with his third home run of the series to give the Yankees a four-run lead.

Williams homered in each of the last three games of the series, becoming the first player ever to homer in three straight ALCS games.

There was a moment when the Mariners looked like they might quickly cut back into the lead, but after Soriano made an error to allow Bret Boone to reach base with no outs in the fourth, Edgar Martinez hit a line drive right at Tino Martinez for an unassisted double play that let the rest of the air out of the Mariners' great season.

The Yankees added a run in the fourth on a homer by veteran Paul O'Neill and batted around in the sixth to score four runs and extend their lead to nine. A three-run homer by Martinez in the eighth completed the damage.

The Mariners didn't go down without one last rally. They scored three times in the seventh inning to chase Pettitte -- the big blow a two-run single by Bell -- but it was far too late to make good on Piniella's promise at that point.

Their 116 victories will go down in history as equaling the most by any major-league team, but they would go the way of the 1906 Chicago Cubs and fall short of their ultimate goal.

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