After an eight-year drought, why did these Yankees finally win it all?
NEW YORK -- The Yankees clubhouse reeked of champagne, it smelled the way you might imagine
And there's really only one question left worth asking: Why THIS Yankees team?
In one way, it's an easy question to answer: These Yankees were the best team in baseball in 2009. There really wasn't much doubt about that. They won 103 games, the most in baseball. They scored the most runs, they hit the most home runs, closed out the most saves. They were the best team, and in a World Series that offered just enough drama to keep the tabloids interesting (but no more), they closed out the Phillies in six games. They clinched their 27th World Series championship with a dry and bloodless 7-3 strangling Wednesday night in the new Yankee Stadium.
Still, in the larger sense, the question remains: Why THIS Yankees team? New York had not won a World Series since 2000, and while eight years hardly seems to be a dry spell, it is a major dry spell when you are spending a lot more money to get players than any other team. And the Yankees spent a lot more money every year. Well, in 2001, they spent only about $3 million more than the team with the second-highest payroll. But they lost the World Series in seven games (to the EXPANSION Arizona Diamondbacks, for crying out loud), and it was time for some serious New York overkill.
Now, look, when you are spending that much more money than any other team -- and remember this is more than ANY team -- you should win. You better win. You have no excuses when you don't win. The Yankees won plenty of games -- averaged 97 victories a year -- and they won some playoff series. But they didn't win it all.
And you heard it everywhere: Something was missing. The Yankees got shut out by a young
Or simply: Blame it on
So what made this Yankees team different? Well, they spent a lot of money to bring in two big-money starting pitchers (
And the Yankees had another great season and made the playoffs again. They swept an overmatched and generous Twins team in the first round. They beat a surprisingly jittery Angels team in the ALCS. They reached the World Series for the first time since 2003, and they talked about how this team was different from the last eight years.
But the World Series is a whole different thing. It's different because it's volatile. There's no definitive formula for winning the World Series -- the best teams famously do not always win. A seven-game series is simply too short. Baseball has too many variables. Sometimes experience plays a big role in victory, sometimes it's youthful exuberance that is decisive. Sometimes luck plays. Sometimes destiny takes a hand.
Sometimes, a good starting pitcher does just enough to win, or someone makes a great play that changes the landscape or a shut-down bullpen makes the difference or a hot hitter can make the series his own.
The Yankees got all that -- and they got all that from familiar players.
Damon made the big play. In the pivotal Game 4, with the score tied in the ninth, he paddled through a ferocious battle against Phillies closer
Mariano Rivera represented that shut-down bullpen. Neither team seemed capable of getting outs late in games ... except when The Great Rivera was on the mound. He pitched in four games, and he did not give up a run.
Finally, the Yankees had that hot hitter. There was definitely a creeping panic in New York before Wednesday's Game 6. The
And the Yankees had any number of players who could have been the star. It could have been Derek Jeter, of course, the Yankee captain. It could have been A-Rod, one of the best to ever play the game. It could have been Johnny Damon, who had been a force behind the Red Sox's first championship. It could have been Mark Teixeira.
But in many ways
And so, what was Game 6 of the World Series? Another big game. His first at-bat against Pedro Martinez he ripped three fouls, each seemingly hit harder than the last, until finally Pedro left a ball over the plate and Matsui kept the ball fair for a two-run homer. Next inning, he again ripped a foul ball against Pedro before cracking a two-run single on a line drive. Two innings later, this time against
"He hit whatever we threw him," Philadelphia manager
So, you can say that there was something different about this Yankees team, something sturdier. The chemistry was better. They had a sense of purpose. And so on. And maybe all of that's true. It's hard to say. Matsui was a part of the last few Yankees teams that did not win. So were Jeter and Damon and Pettitte and A-Rod and those other thirty-somethings who sprayed champagne on each other in the clubhouse. The Yankees have long had Rivera to finish off games, and they have long had expensive starting pitchers with glitzy resumes, and they have been built around Jeter for a long time, and they have always had the New York fans who play their role.
So: Why THIS Yankees team? Well, the Yankees were once again a terrific team. And as for the rest -- it probably comes down to that most unsatisfying of clichés: It was just their year.