BRONX, NY – CC Sabathia said he was not surprised that he and his teammates were American League champions and ready to host the Philadelphia Phillies in the Bronx Wednesday evening. Was there any doubt that the New York Yankees would return to the Fall Classic when they acquired a real pitching ace like Sabathia, another quality starter in A.J. Burnett and the bat of Alex Teixiera.
There were some questions in early May, before Alex Rodriguez returned to the lineup. After that the Yankees proved they were destined to get back to the World Series. They were the best team in baseball from then on, and now four more wins await them this time, before they can be called the best against the defending champion Philadelphia Phillies
And just like the ALCS battle with the Angels, the Yankees know their destiny to get championship number 27 won’t be easy. They don’t know much about the Phillies with the exception of the three games they played against them in June when the Phils came to the Bronx and took two of three games.
And so the mission for Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenner owned Yankees is almost complete. It was Cashman, last October, after seeing his team fail to make the postseason making a statement. “We are not satisfied and won’t be,” he said, “unless we are in the World Series.”
So they spent money again to make it correct. They had to with a spanking new billion dollar ballpark. And the hope is it will all culminate in the next week with another World Series trophy. But these Phillies provide just as much power as the Yankees do, and play just as well at their ballpark as the Yankees do in the Bronx.
“Don’t know a thing about them, don’t know much about them,” said the captain Derek Jeter when asked about the Phillies in the new spacious Yankees clubhouse that got another dose of champagne Sunday evening. Jeter is a part of that core of four with Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte who now go to their seventh World Series.
For Rodriquez it is his first time going to the Big Dance. And all of the demons of previous postseasons are history. He could have been ALCS MVP that went to Sabathia, but what is more important is how Rodriquez shut the mouths of critics and finally became a Yankee the past few weeks.
He reached base five times in the ALCS finale, batted .429, hit three home runs, and drove in six against the Angels. After two of the core players embraced after the final out, Posada and the closer Rivera, it was no surprise that Rodriquez was the first Yankee on the field that got hugged by Jeter and the rest of his team.
“I felt really happy and really blessed and all I cared about this year was winning games,” said Rodriquez who had a tense spring training with a steroid controversy and then missing time until May with hip surgery. But all along the goal was to get where he is now, a World Series with the Yankees.
And for the manager Joe Girardi every thing now has gone to plan. Like his predecessor, Joe Torre, management provided the players and opportunity to get the elusive 27th championship. The moves made out of the bullpen that may have cost a game three win last week are now in the past.
His mission from the spring was to get where the Yankees are, beginning Wednesday evening in the Bronx. “We’ve had big players do big things,” he said. “That’s why we are going to the World Series.” Sabathia is one of those big players with two wins, one on three days rest against the Angels, Rodriguez the other, and of course Pettitte who got a baseball record 16th career postseason win getting the clinching win against the Twins also in the ALDS.
Perhaps this will be the last time Pettitte and the core are together for this special moment in late October. Pettitte signed a one-year contract to get there again. Jeter, Posada and Rivera still have some time together. But for now, the agenda for them and these Yankees are the Phillies, a team that picked up momentum in September and will provide a bigger test than the Angels.
“They outplayed us, that’s’ the bottom line,” said Angels manager Mike Scoscia. His team made errors, and the Yankees like the good team they are will capitalize on that. And the Angels only stole two bases in the six games, so the Yankees had a way of stopping their running game.
With Sabathia pitching Game 1 Wednesday evening, the Yankees quickly have an advantage. “That’s’ what you play for,” said Rodriguez. “In order to win a World Series you have to get there first.”
Mission accomplished for now. Bring on the Phillies.
e-mail Rich Mancuso: [email protected]