Yankees are greatest team money can buy

Thursday, October 22, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Joe Torre and Scott Brosius
(AP photo)

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SAN DIEGO -- Now they belong to the ages. Now they can only be measured against memory. Now the deed is done, and the New York Yankees have completed their spectacular championship run with a sprint to the finish.

They proved their greatness Wednesday night, and also their grit, completing a four-game World Series sweep with a 3-0 shutout of the San Diego Padres.

After three nights of spectacular slugging, the Yankees prevailed this time with infield singles and useful outs, with masterful pitching from Andy Pettitte and a bulletproof bullpen. Counting the regular season and the American League playoffs, it was New York's 125th victory of the season -- a total unprecedented and nearly implausible.

These dudes have game

Team of the Century? Probably not. Expansion and payroll disparities have exaggerated the difference between baseball's best and its bottom. But Wednesday's victory was the Yankees' seventh straight of the postseason, and their 11th in 13 tries.

As they say in Southern California, that's dominance, dude.

"This club -- the Yankees I'm talking about -- has to go down as one of the greatest teams of all time," said San Diego manager Bruce Bochy. "We had them on the ropes, and they came back on us. They have no weakness on that club."

"I only have about 40 years of history," said Yankees manager Joe Torre, "but we have to take a backseat to no one in my life."

For five innings, Padres ace Kevin Brown matched Pettitte's scoreless pitching. Working on three days' rest, Brown retired the first 10 hitters he faced, avoiding the deep counts that helped tire him in Game One.

But in the top of the sixth inning, the Yankees mounted a resourceful rally for the only run they would really need. With one out, Derek Jeter beat out a high chopper to shortstop, and Paul O'Neill belted Brown's next pitch into the right-field corner for a double.

Tony Gwynn cut O'Neill's ball off quickly, forcing Jeter to stop at third base and temporarily preserving the scoreless tie. But with the Padres infield playing in, Bernie Williams hit a carom off the hard-packed earth in front of home plate. The ball bounced so high that when Brown finally fielded it he despaired of stopping Jeter and made his only promising play, at first base.

The great teams can win in a variety of ways, and few teams have ever been as versatile as these Yankees. They beat the Padres primarily through their patience at the plate, working the count to their liking, and systematically exhausting San Diego's starters. Then they feasted on Bruce Bochy's flimsy bullpen.

"If Joe Torre wrote down on paper what he'd like coming into this World Series, they've done it," Gwynn said.

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Pettitte, who had won a 1-0 game in the 1996 World Series, clung to his narrow lead like a man hanging from a ledge. He had been a puzzle during the playoffs, brilliant against Texas, bombed by Cleveland. Then his search for consistency was complicated by a personal crisis, his father's heart bypass surgery last week.

But on this night, he pitched as if there were no pressure. When he finally left the game in the eighth inning, the Yankees had padded his lead with a pair of insurance runs.

"The first pitch I saw him throw, I knew we were in good shape," Torre said. "He just let it go."

In the bottom of the eighth, Pettitte gave way to Jeff Nelson and then Mariano Rivera, who retired playoff hero Jim Leyritz with the bases loaded for the game's most crucial out. Rivera finished the game by getting pinch hitter Mark Sweeney to ground out to Scott Brosius, the series Most Valuable Player.

Now that their dream season is over, the historical arguments can begin.

"The comparisons will go on and on," Brosius said, "and maybe nobody will have a definite answer for the best team of all time. But you can look at this year and say we had the best single season of any other team, and that's a great accomplishment."

Greatest ever? Who's to say? But great enough.

Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at tsullivan@enquirer.com.