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World Series 2001
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11/05/2001 08:22 PM ET
Yankees return home to say goodbye
By Spencer Fordin
MLB.com

Mike Mussina leaves Yankee Stadium on Monday.

NEW YORK -- One day later, the pain remains the same. The dull, aching sensation hasn't subsided for the Yankees. They know how close they came to winning it all. More to the point, they know how much work it took to get there.

On Monday, only hours after their plane landed in New York, a few team members officially started their offseason. That's because they went up to Yankee Stadium to clean out their lockers and bid the Bronx farewell -- for a few months at least.

Randy Choate and Jay Witasick were there before any reporters were allowed into the clubhouse, leaving boxes in front of their cubicles as evidence. Mike Mussina, Todd Greene and Sterling Hitchcock were there during the appointed hours, and they all took the time to speak to the media.

"All I've heard from people that have called is that this was an unbelievable series, probably the best one in who knows how long," Hitchcock said. "It's good to be a part of something like that. Somebody had to lose. This time it had to be us."

As if losing Game 7 by one run weren't bad enough, the Yankees had to board their flight home almost immediately after the game. They flew throughout the night, landing in New York in the early morning hours of Monday.

Sterling Hitchcock carries some belongings as he leaves Yankee Stadium on Monday.

Greene said he didn't get back to his apartment until 7 a.m. -- but there he was, back in the Bronx at 4 p.m., packing away his catching gear. As he sat in front of his locker, Greene told a few reporters what the flight home was like.

He said it was quiet, that there wasn't much discussion about the World Series.

"I can't speak for everyone else, but there's not a whole lot you can say," Greene said. "Everyone understood what had just happened."

Mussina, who was in the clubhouse hours earlier, provided a similar account.

"It was quiet. Guys were tired," Mussina said. "I know people were disappointed. I could tell people were disappointed. The people here aren't used to losing. There are people here who have never lost. These guys are professionals, win or lose."

That may be the case, but the Yankees haven't had to deal with losing -- not since 1997, at least. As they endure this new experience, Hitchcock provided some simple wisdom.

"I could've been home a month and a half ago. Losing in the World Series is a whole lot better than not being able to participate in it," said Hitchcock, who also lost the World Series in 1998. "From that aspect of it, it's not as disappointing."

For Greene and Mussina, neither of whom had ever played in the Fall Classic before, there was some satisfaction in making it that far.

"That's what I came here for," Greene said. "This is not the only option I had when I got released by Toronto. What can you say?"

Mussina voiced a similar sentiment, with one major caveat. Mussina is under contract for next season, so he is still a Yankee.

By contrast, Greene will have to go to arbitration to remain with his current team. With that in mind, Mussina's comment is a little more team-oriented.

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"I had no expectations. I came here to play baseball and to win a lot of games," Mussina said. "We beat teams people didn't think we were going to beat. We got in situations people didn't think we were going to come back from and we came back.

"We came close but we didn't do it," he continued. "We've got to regroup, reload and try again next year."

Greene said he wants to be a part of that effort, but that he is by no means sure of what will happen next.

"I don't want to go anywhere. I want to stay here," Greene said. "There's nothing like being a Yankee."

Hitchcock felt the same way, and he said he really fell in love with New York in his half-season back in pinstripes. Like Greene, he said his situation would not be decided for quite some time. After all, he's barely had enough time to reflect on the last 10 days.

Even so, when he was asked what he would like to say to the local fans, Hitchcock answered immediately.

"Thank you. Sorry we came up a little short," he said. "We did everything we could. We just ran into somebody that was better than us. There's nothing to hang our heads about, other than the disappointment."

And that, Yankee fans, will fade. Eventually.

Spencer Fordin is the site manager of Yankees.com. He can be reached at sfordin@yankees.com.