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I cant say that Monday night came as any surprise to me. There I was, sitting in my living room, starring at the television screen as Shane Spencer slid on the outfield turf to coral the final out of the American League Championship Series and give the Yankees yet another pennant.
Even though their foes were the Seattle Mariners, winners of 116 regular season games, it was no shock to watch Joe Torre once again climb the steps and emerge from the dugout along the first-base side, a tear in his eye, walking calmly to the pitching mound, where his players celebrated their triumph.
I mean, if this scene surprised anyone, they should check their pulse to make sure they are alive. The Yankees have made a habit of coming through in October, more so than anything else you can associate with the month. Halloween be damned.
They have the Rites of Spring, well, if someone gave it some thought the Rites of Autumn would include a trip to the Bronx to watch the Yankees wrap up another series against the newest challengers to the throne.
There was plenty of reason to think that this was the year the Yankees would finally get knocked off. They said the same thing last year too, if you remember, and look how that turned out. Well, if I can say one thing on the subject, the best thing any Yankee-hater can do is root for them, because rooting against them just aint working.
But this season seemed to live up to the billing. The pitching staff, while deep, did not seem to have the same kick as in previous years. The team never could find a stable fifth starter. Orlando Hernandez was hurt most of the season and Mike Mussina was less than stellar early in his first year in pinstripes.
The always solid bullpen was just that. I mean, you cant say a bad word about Mariano Rivera, the guy is approaching near demigod status with his ability to come through in the clutch. Perhaps the experts are right when they call him the best closer in the history of the game. Its hard to argue when Riveras dominance leaves the games best hitters scratching their collective heads.
But Riveras continued excellence, coupled with the pitching of Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, could not push the Yankees past the hated Boston Red Sox during the first half of the season. Boston seemed prepared to shake off the curse that has plagued the team since Babe Ruth was sold to the Yanks some 75 years ago.
Well, we all know that didnt happen. As soon as the Bombers caught Boston, the Red Sox imploded. Jimmy Williams was thrust onto his own sword by the Boston hierarchy and any chances of a Bean Town miracle went with him out the locker room door, leaving just the Yankees in the AL East.
All throughout the season the Bombers have received steady production from the usual dynamic duo of Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter. But production came from other places as well. Tino Martinez and Paul ONeil, both had resurgent seasons with both in the final years of their respective contracts with the team. Martinez, in particular, made a legitimate case for the Yanks to keep him in the fold instead of entering the Jason Giambi sweepstakes.
With David Justice hobbled much of the season, others stepped up, like catcher Jorge Posada, who had his best year as a pro and was even named to the All Star Game. Alfonso Soriano emerged as the second baseman of the future with Chuck Knoblauchs switch to left field. Scott Brossius was consistent, if not spectacular, as were the myriad of role players on the team, from Luis Sojo, Spencer and the reacquired Randy Velarde.
But even with all this, the Yankees were never considered the team to beat in the American League this season. Though the club was the three-time defending World Series champs, Seattles ability to pile up win after win in the regular season had a lot of people fooled around the baseball world.
Well, fooled might be strong. There is no doubt the Mariners are as solid a baseball team as there is. Despite the teams somewhat average starting pitching, the bullpen is deep and strong and the line-up is staked with one all-star after another, including the soon-to-be AL Rookie of the Year, Ichiro Suzuki.
The Mariners were expected to cruise to the World Series. What a laugh. If anyone thought the Yankees were going to roll over for any team, they were kidding themselves. This team in this city at this time, no way they were going down without putting up a fight.
And as it turned out, they had more fight, more bite, left in them than anyone seemed to give them credit. They bashed the Mariners in five games.
You cant underestimate the Yankees, nor can you underestimate this city. Every game at Yankee Stadium during the post season was a massive disadvantage for the Mariners. To have 55,000 screaming, rabid New Yorkers, people who have endured so much over the past month, I mean, it must have been downright draining.
Even Lou Pinella, manager of the Mariners, who had predicted a return to Seattle for Game Six, couldnt help but admit that it was hard not to feel good for the Yankees and their fans after everything that has happened since Sept. 11.
And I agree, completely. But knowing the Yankees, they would have won anyway.
Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.
©2001 Community Newspaper Group
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