Why did this finally turn out to be the Yankees' year? (cont.)
So what made this Yankees team different? Well, they spent a lot of money to bring in two big-money starting pitchers (CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett). That helped. They spent a lot of money to bring in the biggest free-agent hitter on the market (Teixeira). That helped, too. There were stories about the Yankees players refocusing -- Derek Jeter worked out with a new trainer, and Alex Rodriguez searched for inner peace after a dreadful and painful spring training, and Mariano Rivera had a little surgery to clean out his shoulder and so on.
And the Yankees had another great season and made the playoffs again. They swept an overmatched and generous Twins team in the first round. They beat a surprisingly jittery Angels team in the ALCS. They reached the World Series for the first time since 2003, and they talked about how this team was different from the last eight years.
But the World Series is a whole different thing. It's different because it's volatile. There's no definitive formula for winning the World Series -- the best teams famously do not always win. A seven-game series is simply too short. Baseball has too many variables. Sometimes experience plays a big role in victory, sometimes it's youthful exuberance that is decisive. Sometimes luck plays. Sometimes destiny takes a hand.
Sometimes, a good starting pitcher does just enough to win, or someone makes a great play that changes the landscape or a shut-down bullpen makes the difference or a hot hitter can make the series his own.
The Yankees got all that -- and they got all that from familiar players. Andy Pettitte was the gutsy pitcher who, without great stuff, kept the Phillies from having that big and decisive inning. He won two games.
Damon made the big play. In the pivotal Game 4, with the score tied in the ninth, he paddled through a ferocious battle against Phillies closer Brad Lidge, finally rapped a single, the stole second and third on the same play. Lidge seemed rattled. Lidge hit the next batter then gave up back-to-back hits to Rodriguez and Jorge Posada.
Mariano Rivera represented that shut-down bullpen. Neither team seemed capable of getting outs late in games ... except when The Great Rivera was on the mound. He pitched in four games, and he did not give up a run.
Finally, the Yankees had that hot hitter. There was definitely a creeping panic in New York before Wednesday's Game 6. The New York Daily News warned manager Joe Girardi "You Better Be Right." The New York Post's cover featured Pedro Martinez in a diaper and demaded that the team "Spank Him." There was this sense of desperation in the air. The Yankees had to wrap this thing up. The city couldn't take much more.
And the Yankees had any number of players who could have been the star. It could have been Derek Jeter, of course, the Yankee captain. It could have been A-Rod, one of the best to ever play the game. It could have been Johnny Damon, who had been a force behind the Red Sox's first championship. It could have been Mark Teixeira.
But in many ways Hideki Matsui was as likely a choice as any of them. Matsui has been a baseball star on two continents for 17 years. He won three championships in Japan, was a three-time MVP in Japan, when he signed with the Yankees they held a parade down the streets of Tokyo in his honor. They called him Godzilla. His first game at Yankee Stadium, he hit a grand slam.
And so, what was Game 6 of the World Series? Another big game. His first at-bat against Pedro Martinez he ripped three fouls, each seemingly hit harder than the last, until finally Pedro left a ball over the plate and Matsui kept the ball fair for a two-run homer. Next inning, he again ripped a foul ball against Pedro before cracking a two-run single on a line drive. Two innings later, this time against J.A. Happ, he hit a two-run double -- that gave him six RBIs. Only one player -- Bobby Richardson in 1960 -- ever drove in six runs in a single World Series game.
"He hit whatever we threw him," Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel said, once more cutting right to the point.
So, you can say that there was something different about this Yankees team, something sturdier. The chemistry was better. They had a sense of purpose. And so on. And maybe all of that's true. It's hard to say. Matsui was a part of the last few Yankees teams that did not win. So were Jeter and Damon and Pettitte and A-Rod and those other thirty-somethings who sprayed champagne on each other in the clubhouse. The Yankees have long had Rivera to finish off games, and they have long had expensive starting pitchers with glitzy resumes, and they have been built around Jeter for a long time, and they have always had the New York fans who play their role.
So: Why THIS Yankees team? Well, the Yankees were once again a terrific team. And as for the rest -- it probably comes down to that most unsatisfying of clichés: It was just their year.
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