NEW YORK -- The hug told you how much they cared about this one.
The hug told you this American League championship meant just a little more than those others. The hug reminded you that getting to the World Series isn't routine around here anymore.
The Yankees still expect it. They still demand it. They still believe that this is only one more step toward the goal that really matters to them.
But maybe they appreciate this step a little more now. Maybe the years without getting even this far made this step feel a little better, a little more meaningful, a little more significant.
The hug told you that.
"I haven't felt that kind of hug in years," Mariano Rivera said. "In six years."
Soon enough, they'll focus on that other drought that means so much around here, the eight dry years without adding a 27th world championship.
Sunday wasn't about that. Sunday was about getting there, the step the Yankees always said that they never took for granted, but the step that gained more meaning with each passing year.
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"It feels long," Rivera said. "It feels long."
So when he struck out Gary Matthews to end the 5-2 Yankees victory Sunday, finishing Game 6 and finishing off the Angels, Rivera grabbed Posada in the hug that said so much. They stayed there together, even as their teammates rushed to celebrate by third base.
They understood, the way Jeter understood, the way the fans and the organization understood.
Around here, 2003 feels like a long time ago.
"We had to thank a lot of people," Posada said. "He was thanking me, and I was thanking him, and we thanked a lot of people."
Posada didn't name names, but for this series, the Yankees had to thank CC Sabathia, who was named the ALCS Most Valuable Player, and Alex Rodriguez, who could have been the MVP. They had to thank Andy Pettitte, who started Sunday and ended up with his 16th career postseason win (a record) and his fifth clinching victory (also a record).
Pettitte is one of the dynasty quartet, the four current Yankees who played on those four championship teams from 1996-2000. But Pettitte left after that 2003 World Series.
He played in the World Series again two years after that, for the Astros. He wasn't part of the ALCS collapse against the Red Sox in 2004, wasn't part of the first-round losses to the Angels and Tigers in 2005 and 2006.
He came back to the Yankees in 2007, came back again last winter. He came back, he said, for moments like this.
|It's just like old times for Andy Pettitte (left) and Mariano Rivera, who will play in their seventh World Series together. (US Presswire)|
"I told Burnett, 'When we got CC, we're back in the postseason, and if we get you, we're going to the World Series,' " Johnny Damon said Sunday.
They couldn't have made it to the World Series without Sabathia, who went eight innings in each of his two ALCS victories and has been brilliant all month. Burnett hasn't been terrible, but he doesn't yet have a postseason win.
Pettitte has two.
He gave the Yankees 6 1/3 strong innings Sunday, gave them 19 of the 21 outs they needed to get to Rivera.
Even before the game began, manager Joe Girardi had planned for six outs from his closer, just as Joe Torre so often asked Rivera for six outs in October. Rivera did it 12 times for Torre, going six outs for a save, and Sunday he did it for the first time for Girardi.
"You know that he's unbelievable," Girardi said, clutching the championship trophy. "I've had him as a catcher, as a coach and as a manager. Let me tell you -- it's nice having him, no matter what you're doing."
It was 3-1 Yankees when Rivera entered Game 6, the Yankees building their lead with three walks and three singles in the fourth inning. They never did get an extra-base hit, only the second time all year they had gone through a game at the new stadium without one.
They had lost that other no-extra-base home game, just as they had lost the only four road games they had played without any doubles, triples or home runs.
They wouldn't lose this one, thanks in great part to Pettitte and just as much to Rivera.
The great closer did allow a run, his first postseason run since 2005 and his first in a home game since 2001. But he got the six outs, got them with 34 pitches on a night when Girardi said he would have been willing to let him go to 40 or even 45.
The one run lifted his postseason ERA all the way from 0.71 to 0.77. The save was his 37th at this most important time of the year, which means he now leads second-place Brad Lidge by 21 saves on the all-time postseason list.
The American League championship was his seventh -- seven of the 40 the Yankees have won.
The numbers tell you a lot. On this night, the hug told you more.
The hug told you how much they cared.