Yanks carried weight, hopes of many post-9/11
World Series run capped emotional autumn in NYC, America
NEW YORK -- There are only three players remaining from the 2001 Yankees team who took part in one of the most epic World Series in memory; even the stadium they call home has since switched sides of 161st Street.
But the scars from the unforgettable events of Sept. 11 remain, almost feeling fresh as the 10th anniversary of the worst terrorist attacks on American soil approaches.
"You can't help but think back," Derek Jeter said. "Whether you're in this clubhouse, on this team, in New York City, I think everyone in the country looks back and gets a chance to reflect on Sept. 11. We were here in New York when it happened."
The Yankees and Red Sox had been rained out on Sept. 10, a series that didn't figure to hold much drama, considering New York already held a 13-game advantage in the American League East.
Mariano Rivera was at home on the morning on Sept. 11 when he heard his mother-in-law scream, watching the news on television and saying that something had happened at the World Trade Center.
"I looked out the window and it was a beautiful day," Rivera said. "I went up and washed my face and when I came back down, I actually saw the second plane hit the second tower. Definitely, I knew that wasn't just an accident. That was something else."
America was under attack, and Jeter heard the news from teammate Jorge Posada, who left a message to find out if the scheduled game against the White Sox had been canceled. Glued to TV coverage, both towers of the World Trade Center were leveled by the time Jeter left his Upper East Side apartment.
"It felt like I was on a movie set," he said. "There were no cars on the streets of Manhattan. It was weird."
Posada was calling from a New York hospital, where his son, Jorge Jr., was scheduled to have surgery. While rewinding a VHS tape, Posada saw footage of the plane strike and thought he was watching a movie before quickly realizing otherwise.
"I started hearing noises in the hospital hallways, and I went outside to the nurse, [asking], 'How do I take my son off the IVs?' All that stuff. I thought the worst was coming," Posada said.
Five days after the attacks, the Yankees returned to the Stadium for a workout, with manager Joe Torre saying at the time that he hoped baseball's return would help people get back to normalcy. But what existed on Sept. 10 had been shattered.
"We were in a baseball clubhouse and I don't think we talked about baseball at all," Torre said.
After the workout, members of the Yankees visited the rescue staging area at the Javits Center, the Armory and St. Vincent's Hospital, though they were unsure of the roles they were supposed to play.
"I didn't know what to say," Rivera said. "I put my arm around people and some started saying, 'Thank you for being here.' At that time, I was telling myself, 'What can I say to these people to make them feel comfortable?' But I guess our presence was enough."
The Yankees resumed their season in Chicago on Sept. 18. American flags lined the ballpark and fans chanted, "USA! USA!" throughout the game.
"2001 was pretty tough then," Posada said. "The only thing I remember is the people's faces. I will never forget that."
Firefighters and police lined the infield before the game, prompting a standing ovation from the fans -- and the players.
"I told them, 'The NY on our hats represents the people of New York, not just the Yankees,'" Torre said, recalling his pregame speech. "We needed to help people get distracted from what they've gone through. We weren't asking them to forget it; we just tried to give them a few hours of enjoyment."
The Yankees played three games in Chicago and three in Baltimore before returning home on Sept. 25, two weeks after the attacks.
During pregame ceremonies, players joined members of the NYPD, FDNY and rescue teams on the diamond as a giant flag covered the outfield. One fan hung a banner that said, "No fear!" Another said, "Torre for Mayor."
"We met a lot of the families that lost; we also met a lot of policemen and firemen," Posada said. "All they wanted was to shake our hands and tell us thank you for playing the game that we love watching. That put everything in perspective."
Despite a loss to Tampa Bay that night, the Yankees clinched the AL East title after Boston lost. The clubhouse celebration was subdued; no champagne was spilled, though each player was given a bottle by the team in honor of the title.
The Division Series opened against the Athletics less than a month after the attacks, and after losing the first two games, the Yankees won three straight to topple Oakland -- highlighted by Jeter's now-famous "flip play" in the seventh inning of Game 3, cutting down Jeremy Giambi at home plate.
Moving on to the AL Championship Series, the Yankees toppled a Mariners club that won an American League-record 116 games during the regular season. Alfonso Soriano belted a two-run, walk-off homer to end Game 4, Bernie Williams homered in three consecutive games, but it was Andy Pettitte who was named series MVP after he went 2-0 with a 2.51 ERA.
"The whole playoff, all the way to the World Series, was tremendous," Rivera said. "I don't call it magical, I call it a blessing. The way we won the games, we were able to give the city of New York time to forget about what happened for a little bit."
With the Yankees facing the Arizona Diamondbacks in the World Series, that Fall Classic keeps its snapshots embedded in our memories.
A tattered flag rescued from the World Trade Center site flapped in the pitch-black sky above Yankee Stadium, Challenger the Eagle soaring over the field and Irish tenor Ronan Tynan stirring emotions with renditions of "God Bless America," a seventh-inning staple that has endured at each Yankees home game over the past decade.
All of the games were won by the home team in the World Series, which featured President George W. Bush throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 3 at Yankee Stadium, heeding advice from Jeter underneath the Stadium's tunnels: "Don't bounce it. They'll boo you."
Clad in an FDNY fleece over a Secret Service-mandated bulletproof vest, Bush threw a strike down the heart of the plate to Yankees backup catcher Todd Greene.
"He threw about 10 [warmup] pitches, then he went on the mound and threw a perfect strike," former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said. "You could feel the whole crowd lift up, seeing the president out there throwing a strike."
The Yankees rallied from two-run deficits with two outs in the ninth against D-backs closer Byung-Hyun Kim in both Games 4 and 5, with Tino Martinez tying Game 4 with a two-run homer and Jeter earning the nickname, "Mr. November" with a 10th-inning game-winning homer.
"It was an exciting time," Jeter said. "We'd been a part of a lot of big games over the years but that was probably the loudest I heard Yankee Stadium."
A night later, Scott Brosius belted a two-run homer to tie Game 5 before Soriano won the game with a 12th-inning RBI single.
"I think the country was confused, because usually people want to hate the Yankees -- I was one of them," said Alex Rodriguez, then a member of the Rangers. "And in that World Series, you found yourself cheering for the Yankees. It was a great Series."
The Yankees could have clinched in six games, but Pettitte was spanked in a blowout loss, yet the Yankees still grabbed a 2-1 lead in the eighth inning of Game 7 after a Soriano solo homer.
As Jeter remarked at the time, some teams would give up facing Rivera at that point. But Rivera fired a key bunt into center field and then served up a game-winning bloop single to Luis Gonzalez, as for the first time ever, the D-backs were World Series champions.
There were long faces in the clubhouse, but as several players remarked after the defeat, all they had lost was a game. For that, they counted themselves among the fortunate ones.
It was a time in which the Yankees represented more than a baseball team; the responsibility of wearing 'NEW YORK' was in serving as a distraction when the city desperately needed one.
"Even though we lost the World Series, we did our best," Rivera said. "I believe, to me, that was the best World Series ever played.
"We fell short, but at the same time, we did everything in our power to win the World Series and give New York what they deserved. It was satisfaction, even though we lost, knowing that we fought like champions."