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10/26/09 3:00 PM EST

Yankees revel in return to Fall Classic

AL champs reflect after ending six-year pennant drought

NEW YORK -- The final pitch of the American League Championship Series whizzed past home plate, and Mariano Rivera pumped his right fist before joining catcher Jorge Posada in a long embrace.

There were equal parts joy and relief in Rivera's wide grin as he pumped his right fist several times, thumping the back strap of Posada's chest protector. The Yankees are finally heading back to the World Series, and they would savor the moment.

Bedlam ensued in a much wilder celebration on the infield grass between second and third base. Andy Pettitte and A.J. Burnett came by to congratulate the final battery, then departed to pound on the back of Yankees captain Derek Jeter.

For Posada and Rivera, these two old teammates, the wait had been far too long. They had missed this too much.

"It was me thanking him, him thanking me, and us thanking God that we got in the situation to win again," Posada said.

The morning after the Yankees made it rain champagne from the ceiling of their posh clubhouse, they enjoyed the kind of blissful feeling that they have not had the chance to experience since their last World Series appearance in 2003.

The Yankees now have a chance to end the decade the way they started it -- with a World Series title.

"I haven't felt that kind of love and hug for six years," Rivera said. "We're back again and I thank God for that."

Monday marked the ninth anniversary of the Bombers' Subway Series victory over the Mets, when Rivera got Mike Piazza to fly out to Bernie Williams on a parcel of Queens land that has since been replaced by asphalt and parking cones.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi gave his club the day off -- not to honor that old accomplishment, but to continue relishing the latest one, with the final goal now just four victories away.

"It's a great feeling, with what these guys did and how hard they worked," Girardi said. "They never gave up, even when we went through some tough times, they were there. They kept fighting back. Our team has showed a lot of character."

A workout is scheduled for Tuesday at Yankee Stadium, and then the Phillies will be on the field Wednesday, the defending World Series champions representing the final obstacle in the way of the Yankees' 27th title.

In the midst of the champagne barrage, Girardi clutched the American League championship trophy tightly, digging his fingernails into the lettering of the William Harridge Award, as though he would not dare let anyone steal it away from him.

"It's very special," Girardi said. "I'm extremely blessed to have this opportunity. I feel my life has been one big blessing. The things that I've gotten to do, God has really blessed me.

"But being here as a player and going through that, and the excitement and the anticipation, and then getting a chance to do it as a manager, I'm extremely happy for the guys in that room, for the Boss, his children, all the people that put all this hard work in to put this team together."

2009 World Series
Gm. 1 PHI 6, NYY 1 Wrap Video
Gm. 2 NYY 3, PHI 1 Wrap Video
Gm. 3 NYY 8, PHI 5 Wrap Video
Gm. 4 NYY 7, PHI 4 Wrap Video
Gm. 5 PHI 8, NYY 6 Wrap Video
Gm. 6 NYY 7, PHI 3 Wrap Video

In a missive penciled by George M. Steinbrenner's spokesman, the owner said, "The Yankees' enormous will to win, tremendous professionalism and great team spirit, backed by the best, most vocal and supportive fans have propelled us into the World Series. We're looking forward to our 27th ring."

During the drenched aftermath of the celebration, Steinbrenner's son Hal popped open a beer and reflected on the amazing ride that it has been -- from Girardi's unity-building billiards tournament this spring, 17 walk-off victories and pies in the face, Rivera presiding over kangaroo courts and now a trip to the World Series.

"I'm very proud," Hal Steinbrenner said. "They're just a family. They're an unbelievable team. They play together as a team, they pick each other up when somebody's down, they've got all the talent on top of that and they never feel like they're out of a game. It shows."

For the so-called "Core Four" of Posada, Rivera, Pettitte and Jeter, this will be the seventh World Series appearance and a chance at their fifth ultimate bash.

It is an unfathomable thought to some on this roster flush with first-time participants fulfilling their life-long dreams, including ALCS MVP CC Sabathia and 500-homer club member Alex Rodriguez.

"It's amazing, for us to be able to have the longevity to stay around through it together," Pettitte said. "That's so special, but it's also special for the new guys that are here to see them and how happy they are." 

Jeter acknowledged once again in the drippy celebration on Sunday that the Yankees had spoiled everybody with their late '90s dynasty, securing four titles in five years.

"I'm real proud," Jeter said. "This is one of our goals when we get into the season, to get to the World Series. We've still got to win four games, but it's awful hard to get here."

Jeter himself was spoiled by that taste of success as well, his thirst for a World Series title now unquenchable and desert-dry. He is so close to drinking from the biggest cup that he can taste it.

"We may have made it look easy," Jeter said. "But it was hard then. It feels sweet to be back."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.