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Yanks came oh-so-close to Series
10/21/2004 3:18 AM ET
NEW YORK -- At 12:01 a.m. ET, the Boston (Bleepin') Red Sox erupted in celebration in full view of Yankee Stadium's stone-cold and stone-silent grandstands. This didn't quite qualify as dancing on Babe Ruth's grave -- we'll have to wait for the World Series for that tune -- but they did trample on the Yankees' pride.

The Yankees, who had last lost four straight games April 22-25, had done it again. They picked a particularly bad time to do so.

"Really, I never thought this would happen," Derek Jeter said at the end of a long season that still ended short. "We had so much confidence going in, but were never overconfident. We never took things for granted. It just got away from us. I can't explain it."

That first four-game spiral, which also involved the Boston Red Sox, fueled panic in the Bronx. This one threw the boroughs into grief. But in-between the two low points, from concern to classic fall, the Yankees packaged another classic summer.

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It did not lead into another crack at World Series championship No. 27, and the reasons the trail left off are, with the clarity of hindsight, pretty simple.

A little of it was Mariano Rivera, who was caught in the glare of consecutive blown saves. A little of it was the start-and-stop offense. A little more of it were those wild-and-crazy Red Sox and their reckless attitude.

But most of it was the back end of the rotation. Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez shared the same game twice and in 9 2/3 innings allowed 15 earned runs, an ERA of 13.96. The nominal replacements for old October warriors Roger Clemens and David Wells provided no support behind Mike Mussina and Jon Lieber.

"You know," said manager Joe Torre, "we just didn't pitch well enough."

You want irony, further proof that October writes its own perverse plots? A Yankees campaign dedicated to comebacks ended on the ultimate comeback -- which Boston began with two late-game comebacks.

Facts machine
The Yankees had just one four-game losing streak all season, way back in April when they lost the final game of a series in Chicago before returning to Yankee Stadium to be swept by the Red Sox:
Date Opp. Result Winner Loser
April 22at CWSL, 4-3SchoeneweisMussina
April 23BOSL, 11-2LoweContreras
April 24BOSL, 3-2FoulkeQuantrill
April 25BOSL, 2-0MartinezVazquez

"It's difficult, obviously," Jeter said. "We didn't play well enough. We had opportunities, and let them slip away.

"We had four games to win one, and we didn't do it. They were better than us, that's the bottom line. Those guys didn't give up."

"Coming this close leaves a bitter taste," said Gary Sheffield, who otherwise wore a blank expression while holding court in front of his locker. "I haven't yet come to grips with it. That'll take a while.

"But they did play better, that's the bottom line. We had some great games in Boston, but still they beat us in those. That's the way it goes."

In an ALCS that was torrid or frigid, never mild, only Bernie Williams was consistent. Others like Hideki Matsui, Sheffield and Alex Rodriguez raged through three games (24-for-42 with 22 runs and 19 RBIs) and withered through four (8-for-53 with one run and two RBIs), but Bernie was a record-a-day guy.

In Game 3, Williams set LCS career records for hits, RBIs and total bases. Before and after, he set other LCS marks for home runs, doubles, walks and extra-base hits. The summary of his daily heroics was a .306 average, with two homers, 10 RBIs --and one long face.

"We came close," said Jorge Posada. "Those guys kept coming. They never gave up. They were tough for four games in a row."

Rodriguez was reduced to shaking his head over having been so near that World Series he craves.

"We had a couple of opportunities (to close it out) in Boston, but we came up a little short. No excuses. They just beat our [rear ends]," said A-Rod.

Delaying the paddles the whole season may have amounted to Torre's finest managerial effort, only to have it end in his first defeat in seven Championship Series.

Torre steered the Yankees over an array of hurdles that was amazing for a team that wound up leading the American League in victories.

Jason Giambi's body and numbers both atrophied. Rodriguez became a third baseman on-the-fly, while being initiated into Pinstripes Ltd. by Jeter. An appendectomy consumed Williams' April, elbow pains claimed Mussina's July, Sheffield was a one-armed bruiser all season, and then Brown roundhoused a wall.

With pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre next to him in the laboratory, Torre concocted the Yankees' perceived flaw, starting pitching, into another championship rotation. It still isn't clear how he did this.

Facts machine
Since being named manager of the Yankees in 1996, Joe Torre has taken his club to the American League Championship series seven times -- and he had won them all until Boston ended his streak this year. The Yanks didn't advance to the ALCS in 1997 and 2002, losing in the Division Series to Cleveland and Anaheim, respectively. Torre's ALCS record:
Year Opponent Outcome
2004BostonLost, 4-3
2003BostonWon, 4-3
2001SeattleWon, 4-1
2000SeattleWon, 4-2
1999BostonWon, 4-1
1998ClevelandWon, 4-2
1996BaltimoreWon, 4-1

Vazquez and Lieber tied for the staff lead with 14 wins, an all-time low for Yankees title teams, which now number 43. The previous record in this regard was the 15 wins by Art Ditmar to lead the 1960 pennant-winners. By the same token, no team before had ever won 100-plus games without a single 15-game winner.

The Yankees hit more homers (242) and engineered more comeback wins (61) than ever before, and completed the first 100-plus win three-peat in franchise history.

Rivera saved his 300th game, and both Mussina and Brown picked up their 200th wins.

But the fanfare of those highlights fades in The Bronx when The Stadium is shut down while baseball is still being played elsewhere.

"I don't know of anything that happened," said Torre, unable to single out the pivot from 3-0 to beaten. "Nothing consciously happened. We certainly never took anybody for granted."

Unless all the post-Game 3 talk was mere lip service, the men in the clubhouse certainly did not.

"The played better than us, that's all I can say," Jeter said. "We had our opportunities and didn't come through. They kept battling. We had 'em on the ropes, but didn't knock them out."

"That's why we wanted to close the deal -- we knew they can put winning streaks together in the blink of an eye," Torre said. "They are a thunder."

"That's why you play all the games. It's never over with. What can you say?" Jeter wanted to know.

Within minutes of a defeat that will be talked about forever -- or until comebacks from 3-0 become more routine than once every 104 years -- Jeter could only talk about the pain.

"It's never fun to lose, I don't care who we play. And I'm not going to sit here and rate each loss. But, yeah," he said, "the fact it's Boston without question makes it worse.

"It's not fun, this being our rival team. It's tough, but you can't take anything away from them. They played better."

Bottom-line. And the Yankees flat-lined.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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