None of those seven Yankees, however, showed obvious signs of decline this year. Jeter, for instance, stole 30 bases and hit .334, a combination untouched at that age in 84 years, and done before then only by three Hall of Famers: Max Carey, Eddie Collins and Honus Wagner. Rivera, the first man to pitch in five World Series--clinching wins, told Yankee Stadium fans during the trophy presentation that he wants to play another five seasons. "I'm serious," he reaffirmed later that night.
Damon and Matsui present the most pressing questions for the Yankees as the team tries to shape the defense of its title. Damon turned himself into an extreme fly ball hitter to take advantage of the new, homer-friendly Yankee Stadium, where his OPS was 120 points higher than it was on the road. Defense, especially his throwing, is not his strong suit. The club needs to get younger and more athletic in the outfield. (The other starting corner outfielder, Nick Swisher, turns 29 this month and was sometimes removed for defensive reasons.) Matsui had the second-highest slugging percentage of his MLB career and, like Damon, has the perfect stroke for the new stadium, but his inability to play the field clogs the DH spot, which manager Joe Girardi will most likely want to open up for a rotation of his aging players, Posada and Rodriguez in particular.
Pettitte, though, may be less disposable, given the rotation's limited depth. (There was a good reason the Yankees went with a three-man rotation through the entire postseason.) The old lefthander says he will repair to his Texas ranch for bow hunting, four-wheeling and just plain relaxing before he decides whether he wants to keep pitching or retire. "I know I'm close," Pettitte says of retirement. "I can't sit here and tell you exactly when. You never know what can happen, but I don't think three years from now I'll be pitching or trying to pitch. It's getting close to that time."
Pettitte weighed the same decision last winter, though then it was complicated by the condition of his shoulder, a nonissue now. Pettitte pitched through pain at the end of the 2008 season, after which he was examined by doctors from the Yankees and the Astros. If instability that suggested an injury waiting to happen was found in his left shoulder, Pettitte decided he would quit. "The last thing that I wanted to go through was to break down during the season," he says.
The reports from both doctors were encouraging. His shoulder would be fine with stretching and resistance exercises. He decided to keep pitching, and, though other teams were interested, he wanted to continue on with the Yankees.
"I thought, I'm going to come back," he says. "I wanted to pitch in the new ballpark and make a run at this thing with the boys I came up with. This was about the time of [the Yankees'] signing CC [Sabathia] and A.J. [Burnett]. I'm looking at the team and going, Oh, my gosh. If I can stay healthy and A.J. and CC stay healthy, we have a chance to win the World Series."
There was one hitch. The Yankees, after doling out $423.5 million in free-agent contracts for Sabathia, Burnett and first baseman Mark Teixeira, were not sure if they had room left in the budget for Pettitte. "It wasn't about Andy Pettitte," the team's managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner says. "We had a payroll number in mind. I'm a financial guy, what can I say?"
Pettitte was coming off a 14-win season in which he led the Yankees in innings and strikeouts in the wake of his December 2007 admission that he had used HGH earlier in his career. New York G.M. Brian Cashman signed him for a below-market guarantee of $5.5 million. He earned another $5 million in performance bonuses. Pettitte gave the Yankees another 14 wins and his usual reliability, missing a single start, his first in five seasons. Since 1995, when Pettitte broke into the big leagues, he has more wins than any pitcher in baseball (229) and more starts (458) and innings (2,926 1/3) than any pitcher except Greg Maddux.
The new $1.5 billion ballpark turned out to be more than just an inspiration for him to come back. "I love to run," he says. "I've always had a mind-set about sticking to my workouts like, I'm not going to pitch well unless I do this and that." The new stadium is equipped with a small pool that has a current in it which allows a user to swim in place. Dana Cavalea, the club's strength and conditioning coordinator, persuaded Pettitte to use the pool in between starts as a workout and cut down on his running, to put less stress on his body. "As you get older," Pettitte says, "you have to be a little more open to adjustments in your routine."
Pettitte also enjoyed the bigger, brighter weight room in the new stadium, a welcome contrast to the cramped, dark facility in the old stadium. "It's like working in an office that doesn't have good lighting, and the workplace production is not as good," he says. "Then you change the lighting, and it brightens your day. It's a better working environment."