NEW YORK -- Maybe this historic turnaround started in Joe Torre's suitcase, when the Yankees' manager casually tossed a cap -- an ugly one, as he'd admit, but one with a message that said it all -- while packing for the trip west to Oakland for Game 3 of the American League Division Series.
|Joe Torre acknowledges the crowd after the Yankees won Game 5.
The inscription is an old saying from an old Yankee, Yogi Berra: "It Ain't Over Till It's Over."
Torre had his clubhouse manager sew on another special message: A Port Authority patch, honoring the rescue workers who have been laboring since the tragic events on Sept. 11 changed New York and our country as a whole forever.
The two messages -- one of hope on the sporting field, one of inspiration in the face of real-life adversity -- certainly carried special meaning for this team in this city at this time.
And from the point Torre tossed that cap in his bag and began wearing it before and after games, the Yankees couldn't lose, or at least they didn't.
Turning the series around with two victories in Oakland and then, pardon the expression, capping it off with a 5-3 victory before a thrill-hungry crowd of New Yorkers on Monday night in Game 5, the Yankees pushed aside the A's for a second straight season and will move on to the American League Championship Series -- again.
If ever Torre were going to wear a lucky cap, an inspirational cap, this was the time and this was the cap. With his team down 2-0 after two home losses, he was ready to reach for anything Thursday night.
"I saw it on my shelf and I thought, 'This is appropriate,' " Torre recalled before Monday's Game 5. "It's not over yet. So I just threw it in the bag."
No, it wasn't over. The Yankees had proven that by Monday night.
After all the pitches and hits and dives in a tremendous series, maybe it all came down to the flip -- and we're not talking about the amazing play Derek Jeter made in Game 3. We're talking about the little flip of Torre's wrist that tossed that cap in his bag.
It's all about the lucky cap.
OK, let's get real. Joe Torre's cap, while perhaps inspirational and fitting of the time and place, had nothing to do with what the Yankees just pulled off over the last three days.
This isn't about a lucky cap, or Yankees mystique, or mojo, or the latest word for that thing you can't put your finger on that makes a team do extraordinary things.
This is about greatness, in the little sense we use for events in which men play games with a ball. This is about greatness in the face of America's greatest tragedy right in their own city, and about greatness in the smaller sense of a two-game deficit in a playoff series.
By now, you have to recognize the greatness in the Yankees.
They're a great baseball team with great baseball players. Whether you've spent your whole life loving them or loathing them, you have to admit that now, if you didn't already -- for instance, after they won their third World Championship and fourth in five years last year.
They just did something that's never been done before -- they came back to win a five-game series after losing the first two games at home.
"The fact that nobody had ever done this doesn't mean that it can't be done," Torre said.
And because they accomplished that improbable feat, doing it against an A's team that was nothing short of the best team in baseball the second half of the season, they're in position to do something that will put them among the greatest teams of the greatest franchise in baseball -- win a fourth consecutive World Series.
"We seem to raise the bar higher and higher," Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams said. "The odds always seem to get more difficult against us, and we're always able to overcome that adversity."
In doing so, perhaps in their own small way they're showing their fair city that comebacks are always possible. They're certainly out there representing New York with a passion they never could have imagined before.
"To me, this is about so much more than playing for a World Series," said Williams. "Taking into consideration all that has happened in this city, and we see it everywhere we go, I think the city is just counting on us to win it all. We're taking that attitude.
"We're playing to the best of our abilities, but this is about more than winning a World Series."
Said Torre: "After winning and actually being in a position to win after (Sunday's Game 4), there's no question we knew there was a great deal of responsibility on our shoulders."
No doubt, the City of New York needed it all to come together on a warm October night with the completion of an improbable comeback. For a city that's coming back itself from something much worse and much more profound than a two-game deficit in a playoff series, it was another step in the healing process.
"There's no question what the city has gone through, what the country has gone through, is in our hearts," Torre said. "What has happened, just the fact of going to Oakland down two games to none and getting back here for tonight's game, speaks volumes for the toughness of this team."
When the final out was recorded Monday night, we saw at least several thousand representatives of the toughest town in the world -- the 56,642 fans on their feet at Yankee Stadium for the final out -- let loose in a celebration that they so desperately needed.
"With everything the city has gone through and our fans have gone through, just to give them the opportunity to have something to cheer about was just a joy," said Game 5 starter Roger Clemens.
All the Yankees had to do was be themselves -- the greatest team of our generation.
Hey, they didn't need a lucky cap to do it. They didn't need a reminder of the rescue workers, not in this city still so very shaken yet determined to come back stronger than ever.
When it comes to getting it done in the postseason, all the Yankees need is a baseball season to reach October, and they'll take it from there.
John Schlegel is a columnnist for MLB.com. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.