Yankees back on top

After nine years in 'exile,' baseball's winningest franchise reclaims throne

11/05/2009 12:19 AM

11/05/2009 6:39 AM

NEW YORK — Jorge Posada tapped Andy Pettitte on the chest when it was time to leave. Derek Jeter watched from the mound, knowing exactly what it meant.

Along with Mariano Rivera, who was waiting in the bullpen, they have been the heart of the New York Yankees for 14 seasons.

And now after the Yankees beat the Philadelphia Phillies 7-3 in Game 6 on Wednesday night, the group finally has its fifth World Series championship.

"I've been blessed because I have four guys, we played for 15 years together," Rivera said, "and we have accomplished everything together."

The lone holdovers from the mid-1990s, when the Yankees began their run of four titles in five years were all fittingly involved in the win Wednesday. When Mark Teixeira caught the final out, Pettitte raced from the dugout, Jeter threw his hands in the air at shortstop and jumped, Rivera ran from the mound toward first base and pumped his fist, Posada leaped from behind the plate but stood back from the big scrum, taking it all in for an extended moment.

They were back on top.

"The funny thing about those four guys is the team in the 1990s couldn't have won without them, and the team now couldn't have won without them," said Paul O'Neill, a star of the four title-winning teams and a current Yankees broadcaster. "I don't think you'll ever see that again, four constants like that."

No player had won five titles with one team since Yogi Berra (10 titles), Mickey Mantle (seven) and Whitey Ford (six) in 1962, according to STATS LLC, did it as Yankees.

The core four have gone from upstart 20-somethings who brought a championship back to New York after a nearly two-decade absence to pushing 40. After the on-field celebration, Rivera and Pettitte sought out their families and Posada ended an interview and dropped his catching gear to hug his distressed young daughter — she didn't get to say hello to her dad yet.

"It's such a blessing to be a part of this group. I told Mo and Derek and Jorge and Andy that I feel very blessed, I feel so lucky to be a part of their fifth championship and my first," said Teixeira, a free-agent signee last off-season. "It's an honor to play with these guys."

It took nine years for the bunch to make it back to the top and give Yankees owner George Steinbrenner the franchise's 27th title.

Since their run of three straight championships ended against Arizona in 2001, the Yankees spent $1.66 billion trying to win that elusive crown but time and again, as the Yankees failed, Jeter said the team is not the same as those that won in '96 and 1998-2000.

This group was also different, he said.

"We got contributions from a lot of different guys and for them to come in here and perform the way they performed, that's the reason why we're here," Jeter said.

Pettitte was 24 in 1996 when he beat Atlanta's John Smoltz 1-0 in Game 5, and he had an equally gritty start Wednesday on three days' rest, going 5 2-3 innings and giving up four hits and three runs. He secured the win in the clinching game in all three series victories in the 2009 postseason as a 37-year-old, who has talked about retirement after each of the past couple of seasons.

After New York's last trip to the World Series in 2003, Pettitte left for Houston. He returned in 2007 and admitted to using human growth hormone when the Mitchell Report was released in December.

"I'm a benefit of a lot of great teams I've been on. I've had a lot of wonderful players surrounding me," said Pettitte, who earned his playoff record 18th win. "This is what I came back for."

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