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11/05/09 2:40 AM EST

Start spreadin' the clues: Why Yanks won

Free-agent prizes, Girardi's choices offer glimpse of title

NEW YORK -- Years from now, New York will still be talking about how great Godzilla was on Nov. 4, 2009. Yankees fans will recall each of Hideki Matsui's hits with impeccable clarity. That's what happens when you almost single-handedly seal a championship, when the sport's Commissioner hands you the World Series Most Valuable Player trophy.

The last memories remain the most vivid.

But before there was Matsui's classic Game 6 performance, there were five other games played under the lights at two hitter-friendly parks, the world watching each pitch, each swing.

Each game had its moments, its momentum, its own mojo. Each led its way to No. 27. Each took the Yankees closer to earning another championship for The Boss until at 11:51 p.m. ET, George Steinbrenner had it.

This Series was much more than Matsui, much more intriguing than the 7-3 score of Game 6 might indicate. So when exactly was this series won, and how? What were the early clues that suggested it would be another ring for New York and not a repeat for Philadelphia? To those questions, it's critical to revisit the steps this Yankees club took along the way.

You could surely argue that this championship, in some ways, was won before the 2009 season even began. In a span of 22 days last winter, New York added three pieces and $50.5 million to its '09 payroll. (That alone was more than the Padres, Marlins and Pirates spent on their season payrolls).

CC Sabathia went on to win a Major League-high 19 games and another three in the postseason. Mark Teixeira may have hit just .136 in the World Series, but his mere presence in New York's lineup changed its dynamic. And A.J. Burnett capped off a 13-win season with a stellar start in Game 2 of the World Series before struggling in Game 5.

There's no question the money factor was one of the Series' deciding factors.

"We've got a bunch of talent in here and a bunch of guys who get along and play well together," Sabathia said, with son, CC III, sitting on dad's shoulders. "This is what happened."

Once a division title and then league championship were in the books, the Yankees entered the Fall Classic with the X-Factor: Mo. And as expected, Mariano Rivera played a critical role in this series tipping New York's way.

Rivera's two-inning save nailed down Game 2. He made a scoreless appearance two days later and notched another save in Game 4. In Game 6, manager Joe Girardi wouldn't have had it any other way than to have Rivera on the mound. In response, the postseason's all-time best closer induced a championship-sealing groundout to second baseman Robinson Cano.

Superb in Game 6
With Wednesday's 7-3 victory, the Yankees improved to 8-6 in Game 6 when leading 3-2 in the World Series.
Year Opp. Gm 6 res. Series res.
2009 PHI W at home W in 6
2001 ARI L on road L in 7
1996 ATL W at home W in 6
1978 LA W on road W in 6
1977 LA W at home W in 6
1962 SF L on road W in 7
1956 BRO L on road W in 7
1953 BRO W at home W in 6
1951 NYG W at home W in 6
1947 BRO L at home W in 7
1936 NYG W on road W in 6
1926 STL L at home L in 7
1923 NYG W on road W in 6
1921 NYG L at home L in 8

Rivera's two saves in the World Series upped his career total to 39, which represents just the latest feather in his Hall of Fame cap.

"You hate to say it, but [when he comes out], you feel like the game is over," Game 6 starter Andy Pettitte said. "It's unfortunate that we put that kind of pressure on him, but he's just been so automatic and so great, you can't say enough about him."

In search of a series-turning play, your hunt will send you to Johnny Damon's decision to alertly steal two bases on one pitch in the ninth inning of Game 4. Almost as soon as Damon exploited the Phillies' shift and went first-to-third in a matter of seconds, a rapid and stunning shift in series momentum was felt.

Minutes later, a 4-4 tie had morphed into an 7-4 Yankees lead. The score would end as such, giving New York a 3-1 series advantage that would prove impenetrable for a Philadelphia team desperately trying to defend its title.

"Great play," Rivera said of Damon's instinctual move. "When you play aggressive like that and you know what you're doing out there, something's going to happen."

Credit is due Girardi's way, too. The New York media prepared to pounce on the second-year Yankees skipper if his decision to utilize a three-man rotation through the entirety of the Series backfired. So much so that a New York Post headline on Wednesday sent Girardi this threat: "YOU BETTER BE RIGHT."

He was. Rather than go with Chad Gaudin, who had pitched just one inning this postseason, Girardi leaned heavily on his core three who got him here. Burnett's Game 5 performance brought more questions. Pettitte's Game 6 outing on three days' rest wiped them all away.

In the end, the manager knew his team best.

"There were a lot of guys who were saying a lot of things about throwing guys on three days' rest," outfielder Nick Swisher said. "Tell all those guys that we've got the trophy now."

Only three National League teams have won back-to-back World Series. The Yankees have played a big part in that, preventing a repeat winner six times.
Year Opponent
2009 Phillies
1996 Braves
1958 Braves
1956 Dodgers
1943 Cardinals
1923 Giants

The Yankees got a hint early that their pitchers were going to be able to neutralize Phillies slugger and 2006 National League MVP Ryan Howard. The first baseman left Yankee Stadium after Game 2 just 2-for-9 to start the series and towing six strikeouts.

Howard, who hit cleanup for the Phillies all series, would never get going. He went just 3-for-19 in the first five games, and he didn't wake up until the Phillies' Game 6 deficit was too deep. It was quite the contrast to Howard's 11-for-31, 14-RBI stamp in the first two rounds of the postseason.

"The bottom line is, I think we've made good pitches on him," Girardi said before Game 6. "He's an extremely dangerous hitter, and if you don't make pitches, you're not going to get him out, and he proved that in the first two rounds. But our guys have done a good job of just moving the ball around on him."

There were all sorts of additional early signs that this Yankees team was playing with destiny on its side.

The team played 11 games over .500 on the road, a harbinger for how the Bombers would fare in Philadelphia, where they ended up taking two of three and stole the momentum for good.

There was Burnett's performance in an almost must-win Game 2. There was Alex Rodriguez coming through to give his club an early lead in Game 3 and then knocking in the game-winner the following night.

There was the return of Damaso Marte, who made four scoreless relief appearances and struck out five of the eight hitters he faced. And there was Pettitte, who gutted through 5 2/3 innings on Wednesday in his first start on three days' rest since 2006. He was 34 then, 37 now.

"My command wasn't real good again," Pettitte said afterward. "I was able just to make some pitches when I had to. I'm just very thankful for that."

Even historical trends seemed to be working in New York's favor. This marked the eighth time in the franchise's storied postseason history that the Yankees have matched up in the Fall Classic against the previous year's World Series champion. Of those seven previous times, the Yankees thwarted a repeat attempt in five. Now, you can mark down a sixth.

The pieces all fit so perfectly for New York to regain a title it hasn't held since 2000. And maybe, if we had just followed the clues from the start, we would have known how this was all going to end even before the Yankees' new stadium was christened with its first championship.

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