The New York Yankees are going to the World Series. Again. But this trip has much deeper meaning than any of the 37 others in the history of baseball's most storied franchise.
Emotion filled Yankee Stadium all night Monday as the Yankees pounded the Seattle Mariners, 12-3, to wrap up the American League Championship Series in five games. The city, of course, has been dealing with heavy hearts since the Sept. 11 terrorist destruction of the World Trade Center and a packed house of 56,370 spent most of the night releasing its pent-up despair.
The Yankees' rally from an 0-2 deficit in the division series against Oakland and their dramatic Game Four win against Seattle Sunday night on Alfonso Soriano's ninth-inning home run have given New Yorkers desperate for a diversion exactly what they needed.
"There's a certain responsibility to wearing that 'NY' on the cap," said manager Joe Torre. "Maybe it's hokey, but we're all taking life more seriously now. You make your own destiny and the city has been a big part of it. Our responsibility to this city is driving us."
When right fielder Shane Spencer corraled Mike Cameron's liner for the final out, the Yankees poured on to the field to celebrate near the mound with pitcher Mariano Rivera as the strains of Sinatra's "New York, New York" blared through the stadium.
Torre detoured from the dugout to kiss his wife, Alice, in the stands behind home plate and then escorted Mayor Rudolph Giuliani from his seat near the dugout on to the field.
Giuliani, who now gets standing ovations from the fans every time he walks down the aisle to his front-row seat, accompanied the Yankees into their clubhouse for a champagne toast. There was no screaming. No wild spraying of beverages. Just a subdued and respectful celebration.
"It's definitely a different type of year," said third baseman Scott Brosius. "All of us feel a certain responsibility representing New York at this point in our history."
"The more difficult the problem, the greater the response of this city and that's what we've seen the last six weeks," Giuliani said. "It's been that way for the Yankees. The greater the pressure on the field, the greater their response. You have to feel proud of them."
The Yankees became the first team ever to win the LCS four years in a row since it began in 1969. No team has gone to the World Series four straight years since New York went to five in a row from 1960-64.
The Yankees' 38th Series trip opens Saturday night at Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix against the Arizona Diamondbacks, a team still two years away from playing its inaugural game when the Torre era began here in 1996.
The Mariners, meanwhile, will be remembered as the biggest winners to fail to get to the Series. Their 116 regular-season wins were rendered moot.
The festive crowd sang, chanted and howled at the M's all night, creating an atmosphere that was a cross between a college football game and a European soccer crowd.
In the eighth and ninth inning, the fans sang goodbye to the Mariners and taunted them with chants of "Over-rated, over-rated." When Japanese star Ichiro Suzuki batted in the ninth, he heard 56,000-plus chants of "Sayonara."
"To see the crowd so excited was an incredible feeling," said New York outfielder Paul O'Neill, who cracked a solo homer in the fifth. "It's so much fun to win here."
It was an inglorious end for Seattle. The Mariners gave up four unearned runs in the third after an error by third baseman David Bell, four more in the sixth that made the score 9-0 and saw Tino Martinez's three-run homer in the New York eighth provide the final blow.
When Seattle manager Lou Piniella walked back to the dugout after relieving John Halama in that inning, the fans serenaded him with chants of "No Game Six, No Game Six."
After his team dropped the first two games at home, Piniella had guaranteed the series would return to Safeco Field. Seattle was five outs away from ensuring that before the Yankees rallied to win Sunday night, 3-1, and the Mariners never recovered from that stinger of a loss.
"The amazing thing was in about the eighth inning when the fans were really reveling in the stands, the one thought that did come to my mind strangely enough is, 'Boy, this city suffered a lot and tonight they let out a lot of emotions,' " Piniella said. "And I felt good for them in that way."
New York left-hander Andy Pettitte went 6 1/3 innings to win his second game of the series and earn most valuable player honors for the ALCS. Conversely, Seattle starter Aaron Sele gave up five runs in just four innings to lose to Pettitte for the second time in this series. He's 0-6 with a 4.46 earned run average in seven postseason starts, 0-5 against the Yankees.
The Yankees broke through against Sele in the third. Derek Jeter's sacrifice fly scored the game's first run, David Justice followed with a two-out RBI double to right and Bernie Williams worked a full count before launching a two-run home run to deep left center that made the score 4-0.
The fans came to their feet just before the 3-2 pitch, anticipating something big happening. The roar was deafening as Sele waited to deliver and the fans weren't disappointed as Williams teed off on a fastball to become the first player ever to homer in three straight LCS games.
With six innings still to play, the Mariners were done. A couple of hours later, the celebration became official.
"I don't know if things can ever be the same here," Torre said in the calm clubhouse. "But we're working, trying like hell to give the people here some rest. Everyone is worn out from this nightmare. It's great to give them something to be happy about."