Mystique of Core Four still looms large in the Bronx

by Steve Simineri
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Everything comes full circle for the legendary group

 

Thirty one years after the Beatles first landed in the United States, another famous quartet touched down for the first time in the summer of 1995. That year, under manager Buck Showalter, the Yankees won the inaugural American League wild card, and the core four all first put on their pinstripes.

In the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 1981, Showalter carried youngsters Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Jorge Posada on the roster, but left off a 21-year old Derek Jeter. He did however make sure that the top prospect watched from the dugout as an inactive.

Led for the final time by Don Mattingly, the team won the first two games in the Bronx, but went on to lose the next three in Seattle. Consequently the tenth Captain in team history retired, Showalter was fired, and the rest is history.

Since then the Yankees have won 13 division titles and made the postseason every single season except for 2008. Along the way, the longtime teammates won five World Championships together, and established a winning culture second to none. However, this October both Rivera and Posada are absent from the lineup card.

This is unchartered territory for the Yankees, and it’s especially strange for Jeter, who is without his top two lieutenants for the first time. "It is awkward, just because you are so used to seeing someone," he said shortly after Posada’s retirement in January. "With Andy, he was the dumb one of the group who left and went to Houston for a few years. We sort of got used to him not being here. “

Last season as Pettitte watched from his ranch in Texas, the ‘Key Three’ chased a sixth Championship together, but they were ousted in five games by the Detroit Tigers. The three longtime teammates played in a North American record 17 consecutive seasons together. But nothing lasts forever and Posada walked away after hitting .429 that series, leaving Jeter and Rivera as the remaining remnants of the dynastic years of so long ago.

In March, Pettitte helped ease the loss of ‘Georgey’ after he ended his one year hiatus. When he was working his way back to the bigs, the greatest closer of all-time crumpled on the warning track of Kauffman stadium while shagging fly balls, tearing his ACL and leaving his career in doubt.

The injury left Jeter as the lone member of the group playing until the southpaw made his return to the mound in May. But after just nine starts his foot was shattered by a line-drive off the bat of Casey Kotchman, and The Captain once again carried the burden himself.

Nearly three months later, Pettitte returned just in time to help steer the Yankees back to the playoffs, and avoid the biggest collapse in the team’s storied history. Ironically this October he and Jeter had to get past their first skipper en route to the clubs tenth Championship series since 1996.

In game 2 on Monday night, a 40-year old Pettitte took the mound for the Yankees 6,214 days after Showalter sent him out for the first of his playoff record 16 game two starts; a game in which Rivera got the win, and Posada scored the tying run as a pinch-runner.

The game was so long ago that President Bill Clinton was in his first term as President, gas was $1.15 a gallon, and the most popular show on television was Seinfeld. Despite being a bit grayer these days, the warhorse delivered 7 solid innings, but was outdueled by Taiwanese rookie Wei-Yin Chen.

The series shifted to the Bronx Wednesday night for Game 3 where an injured Rivera threw out the ceremonial first pitch, and watched from the dugout alongside his longtime teammates. The remaining trio has been part of many Yankee moments over the years, and as they helplessly watched from the dugout, another classic unfolded in the Bronx.

With the team trailing 2-1 in the 9th Raul Ibanez stirred up memories of the golden days, with his pinch hit tying homer in the 9th and game-winning shot in the 12th. After the game manager Joe Girardi compared Ibanez’s clutch hitting to the rampage Shane Spencer went on during the 1998 pennant race.

While Girardi was a catcher on that team, he is now the man in charge, and his decision to send in Ibanez for an ice-cold Alex Rodriquez was the boldest move he has made in his time since succeeding the legendary Torre, and one that will go down in Yankee lore.

The 37-year old Rodriquez who is currently the third longest tenured Yankee cheered on from the top step alongside future Hall of Famers Jeter and Rivera, as the greatest closer of all-time whispered to him that Ibanez was going to tie things up. He predicted right, and the ghosts of the old stadium returned, even if just for a night.

After showing no such magic in an extra inning loss on Thursday, the Yankees handed the ball to their ace C.C. Sabathia with their season on the line. But he delivered a complete game gem, earning the Bombers another October date with the Tigers.

Once again in the postgame celebration there was Jeter, Pettitte and Rivera, who continue to carry on the mystique of the dynasty years, even though the Yankees have only brought home one World Series banner in the last eleven seasons.

The opening round marked the 33rd playoff series for the Yankees since the run began eighteen years ago, but it was the first with only two members of the legendary core on the active roster.

Rivera was there for all the previous wars, Jeter was only left out in 1995, Posada was excluded in 1996, and Pettitte missed out during his three years in Houston, and season in retirement.

It’s definitely different with Posada watching from home, and one has to wonder how many October nights there will be with the remaining three stalwarts in the dugout. Sooner rather than later the only chance for fans to see them will be at Old Timer’s Day, and by 2014 Jeter will most likely be the last member of the group standing.

Even though they have already cemented their legacy in Yankee history, the competitive juices are still flowing, and the three plan on having their final rodeo together next season. But before talking about next spring, they head into another war, needing just 8 victories for a sixth Championship and parade down the Canyon on Heroes together.