Thursday, October 28, 1999

These Yankees have style all their own




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEW YORK — They are a dynasty of John Does. They are the champions of competence. They hold the major-league records for resourcefulness and resilience.

        They are not your father's New York Yankees, nor your grandfather's. They are too understated to be Bronx Bombers, too methodical to be Murderers' Row. They win less by brute power than by force of will.

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        The end result, however, is identical and seemingly inevitable. In the baseball games that matter most, there has never been a ballclub any better than this.

        “We're good,” said Yankee manager Joe Torre, “when we have to be.”

        Torre's team completed its second straight World Series sweep Wednesday night with a 4-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves at Yankee Stadium. It was the Yankees' third title in four years, their 25th of the century and culminated as dominant a demonstration as baseball's most fabled franchise has ever produced.

11-1 in postseason
        In 12 postseason games against the strongest competition in the sport, the Yankees won 11 times. They won principally with superb starting pitching and the impeccable relief work of Mariano Rivera, but also with rousing comebacks and improbable sources of power. They won Tuesday because an obscure outfielder named Chad Curtis struck two home runs on baseball's biggest stage. They won Wednesday because the Braves' defense wasn't worthy of John Smoltz' pitching while the Yankees were flawless behind a vintage Roger Clemens.

        “I finally know what it feels like to be a Yankee,” Clemens said.

        Clemens is the only clear-cut Hall of Famer on the Yankee ballclub, but his reputation was made elsewhere. The five-time Cy Young Award winner has pitched without distinction for most of the season — his first with New York — and was reduced to the role of a fourth starter for this series.

        But after being rocked at Fenway Park in his most recent postseason appearance, the Rocket rolled Wednesday night. He was pitching a two-hit shutout with two outs in the eighth inning before Atlanta's Walt Weiss stepped on his leg on a play at first base. The Braves subsequently rallied for their only run, Bret Boone chopping a run-scoring single through the middle against reliever Jeff Nelson.

Closer extraordinaire
        This brief threat prompted Torre to summon Rivera from his bullpen. And that, effectively, was that. Unscored upon since July, the Yankee closer retired all four hitters he faced, finished the series with a win and two saves and was named the competition's Most Valuable Player. Rivera has been the surest thing in baseball this season, and the Yankees have been able to match his mastery in October. In their last 25 postseason games, Torre's team is 22-3. That's a winning percentage of .880. That is utterly absurd.

        “It's amazing to me,” said Braves manager Bobby Cox. “Even with the great ballclub, things can go wrong and breaks could go against you and things like that ... I think it ranks way up there.”

        No ballclub — not the 1927 Yankees, not the 1976 Reds, and not Torre's Tornado — is as good as these guys have played in the postseason. Baseball is more random than other sports. So much depends on that day's pitcher.

        Yet in the last two years, over six postseason series, the Yankees have taken the best shots of the Rangers (twice), Indians, Padres, Red Sox and Braves, and been seriously challenged only once.

        The Yankees have the confidence of championship experience and the resolve of soldiers under siege.

        “They're very businesslike,” Torre said of his team. “They take nothing for granted. And they grind every inning.”

        Tuesday night, the Braves knocked New York starter Andy Pettitte out in the third inning en route to a 5-1 lead. The Yankees rallied to win it in the 10th.

        “We have such a special team,” Pettitte said. “It is incredible. People kept walking by me on the bench, patting my leg and, rather than blaming me, they were saying they were going to pick me up. We really felt we were going to win this thing.”

        This is a dynasty that never doubts.

        Tim Sullivan welcomes your email at tsullivan@enquirer.com

        SULLIVAN ARCHIVE