O'Neill is nailed at third:
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|Paul O'Neill will be remembered for his intensity as well as his accomplishments.
PHOENIX -- Paul O'Neill's incredible career came to an end on Sunday night, but not in the fashion he had hoped for. With his team just two outs from its fourth straight title, O'Neill watched from the bench as the Arizona Diamondbacks did the unthinkable -- they beat Mariano Rivera to win the World Series.
"I think everybody is stunned right now, just shocked," said O'Neill, minutes after the game ended. "Those are the things we usually do -- we got beat as our own game. Everything went as planned tonight. We got Mariano the ball with a lead, but they showed a lot of heart. It was an unbelievable series, but the disappointment in here speaks for itself."
O'Neill confirmed that this was in fact his final game, ending a 16-year career in which he won five World Series rings -- four with the Yankees and one with the Cincinnati Reds. As he reflected on the classic series his team had just completed, O'Neill said that his retirement won't really sink in for a couple of months.
"It's everyone's last game for a while. When the World Series is over, you go home anyway," O'Neill said. "I won't know how it feels until it's time for Spring Training or it's time to pick up a bat in January to get a few swings in. It's a great game, it's been great to me and I can't say how much appreciation I have for this organization, the people in this room, the press that put up with me. It's been a great nine years here."
In those nine years, O'Neill batted .303 with 185 home runs and 858 RBIs, playing right field for the last four championship teams. He said that the 1996-2001 Yankees deserve to go down as one of the greatest teams in history, given the number of games they had to win to claim their titles.
"I still feel like we're one of the better teams that ever played this game. Look around at the guys in this room, because we made a mark on this game," O'Neill said. "We have to be proud of that. Over the course of the huge history of baseball, we left our mark on this game. I'm proud to say that."
In this six-year span, four of which ended with world championships, the Yankees compiled a 56-22 postseason record, winning 14 of the 16 series in which they played. They also won 114 regular-season games in 1998, bringing that total to 125 with an 11-2 playoff record en route to the World Series title.
"The numbers speak for themselves, the rings we put on our fingers," O'Neill said. "To do it with the same people, it's hard to do what we've done. But the past doesn't take away the disappointment of tonight. One, five, maybe 10 years down the road, we'll be able to look back and know we played in what was probably one of the better World Series ever played."
O'Neill made four All-Star teams in his nine seasons in pinstripes, but it was his intensity that he will be remembered most for. He was known to kick a water cooler here and throw a batting helmet there, but his teammates insist that it was that part of his personality that made him the competitor that he was.
"He's been a consummate professional, a great ballplayer and a great friend," said Mike Stanton. "We're going to miss him. He's taken slack over the years about his emotions, but that's how he played. You got everything he had every single day."
"He has been what this whole team typifies," said Scott Brosius. "He's a hard worker, a professional, he's a team player and doesn't do anything to bring the spotlight on himself. He will be missed on this team."
O'Neill said that the final game of his career was certainly one to remember, though falling short of another title makes it a bittersweet ending.
"I'm finished, but that has nothing to do with tonight," O'Neill said. "I'm just as disappointed because we didn't win this World Series as everybody is. We're all finished tonight for the season, I'm just finished for years to come. There are some people in this room that I need to sit down and talk to on the plane tonight. I have all of the respect in the world for a lot of people here."
General Manager Brian Cashman said that O'Neill will go down with the all-time Yankee greats.
"He's been one of our foundation blocks," Cashman said. "When we acquired Paul O'Neill, it will rank as one of the best additions this organization has ever made. He's been a big presence here and he's a very special individual. The special players that have played for the Yankees get recognized as pinstripes. He's now one of the pinstripes."
O'Neill said that watching Mariano Rivera blow his first postseason save in four years was tough, but mostly because he hates seeing his teammates blame themselves for a loss.
"We were a couple of outs from another world championship, but I don't feel sorry for myself. I do feel sorry for Mo, because I know the way he's going to take this, but we may not have any rings if it weren't for him," O'Neill said. "It just wasn't meant to be tonight. I'm sure we broke a lot of people's hearts tonight in New York, a lot of our fans. You just can't fight hits like that. He made his pitches, what can you do?
"Games like this, you don't have the opportunity to play them very often," added O'Neill. "I had my fun, I feel that I can't be more blessed than I was. I came here and have had a riot. Looking back at it a couple of years from now, this will probably stand out as one of the biggest disappointments."
"Paul O'Neill was the first guy I hugged in there," said Manager Joe Torre. "I'm going to miss Paul O'Neill. We certainly wish we could have sent him out on a winning note, but we understand that there are two good teams on that field and they both can't win."
As for the future, O'Neill said he plans on staying away from baseball -- other than coaching his children that is.
"I'm looking forward to my first July 4 picnic at home, Memorial Day, Labor Day, coaching my kids and so on," O'Neill said. "I have three kids at home that deserve that. I hope they enjoyed what I did. I surely did."
Mark Feinsand is the site reporter for Yankees.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.