Money was the name of the game in MLB
You spend almost $210 million in salary, play in a new, audacious, $1.3 billion stadium, sign the top three free agents in baseball, you are supposed to win the World Series.
As such, you play a season without real joy at accomplishment; rather, you plod through, meeting expectations painted with a bottomless checkbook.
“You can call us anything you want,” said Brian Cashman, the general manager who annually concocts the rich stew of talent. “You’re also going to have to call us world champions.”
The Yankees’ 7-3 win in Game 6 on Wednesday night gave them their 27th World Series trophy, their first since … um … 2000.
That’s the sort of championship drought any other franchise would love to endure. Of course, few franchises endure the criticism the Yankees face. Second-year manager Joe Girardi and Cashman drew scathing reviews after Girardi replaced Joe Torre, who was allowed to walk.
Girardi, strict and abrasive, rubbed many players the wrong way in 2008. This spring, he called off a practice for a bonding exercise: a pool tournament. That unity lasted, Cashman said:
“To be able to maintain that in this city, with the scrutiny that we have, and the big egos that come with players that we are attracted to, it’s a remarkable job by the manager … Thankfully, we were able to do something for the city and the boss.”
Hank Steinbrenner agreed. The son of George and the man running the show with his father’s health deteriorated, he lauded Girardi and reported that this title made his father “very emotional.”
Well, nine years is a long time.
The wailing you hear is coming from Wrigley Field.
Wednesday night’s re-ascension was not without a few pleasant moments.
Japan’s most fearsome import to date, designated hitter Hideki Matsui, drove in six runs, tying the Series record set by the Yankees’ Bobby Richardson in 1960. He finished at .615 with three home runs and eight RBI, and won the series MVP award. He is a free agent and, after landing in New York having won three titles in Japan, this was his first World Series title.
It could be a sweet sayonara if, as expected, it is Matsui’s last game as a Yankee.
Pleasant lefty Andy Pettitte played a central role, too. He won Game 2 and, on three days’ rest, came back and muddled through the dangerous Phillies lineup for 5 2/3 innings, seldom sharp: five walks, three runs, four hits.
He was sharp enough, long enough.
Pettitte left after Ryan Howard’s two-run homer and Raul Ibanez’ two-out double in the sixth, having given the Yankees the best he had, as usual.
Pettitte, 37, is again contemplating retirement. He left the mound Wednesday night to a standing ovation from the 50,315 devoted and tipped his cap; a touching adios to his legion of amigos.
Pettitte now has 17 playoff wins, the most in history. Six of those wins clinched postseason series, also a record. He’s 6-2 in 11 clincher chances, including all three the Yankees needed this year.
He is unbeaten in his last eight postseason starts.
The rest was, well, rote.
Derek Jeter, the captain, finished with a .407 Series average.
“It’s good to be back,” said Jeter, who won four in his first five seasons. “It’s back where it belongs.”
Alex Rodriguez, after being hit by Cole Hamels in Game 3, awoke from a Series slumber to continue his torrid 2009 postseason run, erasing four years of playoff struggles by the richest player ever.
“Good for him. He’s been through a lot,” Cashman said. “The rest of his career, he can just write history. He doesn’t have anything to answer for anymore. He’s done everything now.”
Even Mark Teixeira, signed to a $180 million contract that began this season, managed a big hit Wednesday night; his RBI single in the fifth was his third hit in 21 World Series at-bats, and it helped end things early.
CC Sabathia, the gem of the free-agent pitching class this year, was a horse in Game 1 and Game 4, also on three days’ rest. A.J. Burnett, his big-money wingman, won Game 2 and tried his best on three days’ rest in Game 5. His failure just meant a party in new Yankee Stadium.
“The day we signed, CC and I went out and this is what we talked about,” Burnett said, dripping in champagne, 20 feet away from Sabathia, also soaked.
It delayed what, for Yankee fans, brass and players, was inevitable. By design.
“Some years it works out. Most years it doesn’t … You throw a bunch of talent together,” Cashman explained. “Some years, the right talent mixes well enough where it’s combustible and it creates chemistry and love and fight. This team had all that.”