Friday, October 27, 2000

This old team is one for the ages

        NEW YORK — They will not go gently. They will not go without a fight. They grow old gracefully, grittily, like a stubborn heavyweight who still knows the ropes.

        The New York Yankees won another World Series Thursday night, a month after most people had written their obituary. Stumbling down the stretch, aging before our eyes, they were flawed and vulnerable and headed for an overhaul.

        Yet before their pinstripes could be put out to pasture, before weary warriors like Paul O'Neill and David Cone could be sent packing, the champions roused themselves for one last run. They could not bludgeon the New York Mets the way they had the San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves, so they won their third straight World Series by a collective act of will.

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        They beat the Mets, four games to one, and the total margin of their four victories was five runs. They prevailed in Thursday's clincher, 4-2, thanks to a two-out, ninth-inning single by Luis Sojo. Throughout the series, the Yankees have had about as much breathing room as a sumo wrestler in a broom closet. Somehow, they always seem to make do.

        “When you have to go through tough times, I think winning is more satisfying,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “Anything you work hard for is more satisfying, gratifying, when you accomplish it.”

Finding ways to win
        The Yankees had their work cut out for them Thursday night against Mets' left-hander Al Leiter. For eight innings, their offense consisted almost entirely of home runs: Bernie Williams' leadoff shot in the second inning; Derek Jeter's game-tying blast in the sixth.

        But Leiter was still there in the ninth inning, and he was one strike from escaping it, before losing Jorge Posada on a full-count walk. On his 141st pitch of the game, Leiter yielded a single to Scott Brosius. He was pitching mainly on guts at that point.

        Mets manager Bobby Valentine, managing as much with his heart as his head, left Leiter on the mound to face the slap-hitting Sojo. Then, for the second time in the series, a journeyman infielder the Yankees acquired in mid-season delivered the game-winning hit — a single through the middle.

        “I don't know how to explain this moment,” Sojo said. “It was like a dream come true.”

Fighting to the end
        With a payroll pushing $113 million, the Yankees can afford better role players than most of their rivals. They can also afford to re-tool during the offseason without the inconvenience of a rebuilding year. The Yankees team that will take the field next spring may bear little resemblance to the one that was spraying champagne at Shea Stadium.

        “No one here is focused on what happens next year,” Jeter said. “Give us a chance to enjoy this.”

        They were rejoicing, but also relieved. The Mets had pushed them in every game, each one tense at the finish. Even Thursday, trailing by two runs in the bottom of the ninth, the Mets would bring Mike Piazza to bat as the tying run.

        Piazza hit a long fly to center field, deep enough that Torre feared it was a home run. But the ball came down in Williams' glove, and the Yankees were champions for the fourth time in five years.

        “We may not have the best players,” Torre said, “but we have the best team.”



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