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Yankees' playoff run one for the ages

Yankees' playoff run one for the ages

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TORONTO -- The 2008 season marks the first time October has been dark for the Yankees since the strike-shortened '94 campaign, ending a string of 13 consecutive playoff appearances -- topped only by the Atlanta Braves' 14-season streak that ended in '05. No team owns a current string of more than two consecutive seasons in the playoffs, with the Red Sox, Angels and Cubs set for in their second straight appearances.

While New York's six-game victory over the Braves in the 1996 Fall Classic may be one of the most replayed moments, kicking off a dynasty of four championship titles in five seasons and culminating with the 2000 "Subway Series" win over the Mets, the championship run actually began to show its form in '95.

It was that season in which Don Mattingly -- long the captain of the club, and long an observer in the season's final month -- finally got a chance to taste the postseason, as Major League Baseball expanded to the Wild Card format and allowed the Yankees to enjoy the playoffs for the first time since 1981.

New York matched up with the Seattle Mariners in the American League Division Series, and the outcome was a disappointment, as the club's dreams were crushed at the Kingdome in five games. But Donnie Baseball was at his best, batting .417 with a home run and six RBIs in his final at-bats.

"I just remember how hungry they were for a postseason game in 1995," David Cone said. "It had been almost 18 years, and Don Mattingly had never been to the playoffs. To see him walk out before the game and get a standing ovation running his wind sprints in the outfield, to me, was remarkable."

Recounting the next chapters of the Yankees' history could fill a book -- numerous, as it turns out. The underlying storylines all revolve around the managerial tenure of Joe Torre, dubbed "Clueless Joe" upon his entrance to New York and lauded as an icon at his exit.

Torre guided the Yankees through the six-game Fall Classic to defeat the Braves in 1996 and, after a crushing Division Series exit to the Indians in 1997 marked by Sandy Alomar, Jr.'s home run off a budding Mariano Rivera, brought the Yankees to three straight World Series titles from '98 through '00.

Longest postseason streaks
The Yankees fell one season shy of the record for reaching the most consecutive postseasons.
Team
Years
Streak
Braves1991-200514
Yankees1995-200713
Indians1995-19995
Yankees1949-19535
Yankees1960-19645
Athletics1971-19755

Best in their fields (and courts and rinks)
The teams with the longest consecutive postseason appearances in the four major North American sports leagues:
League
Team
Streak
Seasons
MLBAtlanta Braves
14
1991-2005
NFLDallas Cowboys
9
1975-83
NBASyracuse Nationals/ Philadelphia 76ers
22
1949-71
NHLBoston Bruins
29
1967-96

"I'm proud of it," Torre said. "I had a different situation than [Joe] Girardi. When I got there, they were on the brink when I took over. They would have won in 1994 when there was a work stoppage. I didn't have to break anybody in. We had special guys like Bernie Williams and Paul O'Neill.

"I think it was a remarkable run, when you consider how players are changing teams. So many things have to take place, and you can never get bored with winning. To take it for granted, that's a cardinal sin for me."

The Yankees never seemed to. Of those clubs, the most dominant was arguably the 1998 team, which secured 114 victories in the regular season to set a since-broken AL mark. Sweeping the San Diego Padres in the 1998 World Series, the Yankees' 125 total victories remain the highest single-season total in baseball history.

"It was just the people," said Williams, who debuted with New York in 1991. "When we came in to play, we knew that we meant business. It was a whole team attitude. Everybody could check their ego at the door, and we were going to do whatever it took to win that particular game on that particular day."

Reflecting recently, Jorge Posada called the 1998 team "just ridiculous" and said, accurately, "I think it will be tough to have a team do that again."

Many believe that the Yankees' success was due to the club's ability to keep homegrown players from their farm system, using the talents of players like Williams, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Posada and Rivera to spark the championship clubs.

"There were a number of factors, including the fact that we were able to stay as a team for a long period of time," Williams said. "I think the organization figured out that it was going to be best for the team to keep the core group out there -- Mariano, Jorge, Derek and Andy -- guys that are still from that core of people that started in the 1990s. It was just a great thing."

Those players indeed enjoyed a relationship of growth and victory, but the Yankees were also marked by shrewd additions of highly talented veterans. The addition of Paul O'Neill in a November 1992, trade with the Reds gave the Yankees their "warrior," and in the years to follow, All-Stars like Wade Boggs, Scott Brosius, Cone, Roger Clemens and Tino Martinez would continue to set the tone.

Experience counts
Players who played five or more seasons for the Yankees during their 13-year playoff run (1995-2007).
Player
Years
Seasons
Derek Jeter1995-200713
Jorge Posada1995-200713
Mariano Rivera1995-200713
Bernie Williams1995-200612
Andy Pettitte1995-2003, 200710
Ramiro Mendoza1996-2002, 20058
Tino Martinez1996-2001, 20057
Mike Mussina2001-20077
Paul O'Neill1995-20017
Luis Sojo1996-2001, 20037
Mike Stanton1997-2002, 20057
Roger Clemens1999-2003, 20076
David Cone1995-20006
Orlando Hernandez1998-2002, 20046
Jeff Nelson1996-2000, 20036
Hideki Matsui2003-075
Ruben Sierra1995-96, 2003-055
Alfonso Soriano1999-20035
Shane Spencer1998-20025
Darryl Strawberry1995-19995

"We had a group of guys that really came together and really believed in what Joe Torre was all about as a manager," Darryl Strawberry said. "We were able to play the game the way it was supposed to be played. We were never concerned about who was the starter or who did it, as long as we got it done."

Though they did not win a title, the experiences of the 2001 World Series have taken on more importance as years pass. In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, the Yankees played the first November World Series and applauded as president George W. Bush threw out a memorable first pitch at Yankee Stadium.

Rallying to win all three games at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees were victorious in Games 4 and 5 behind dramatic ninth-inning comebacks, as Martinez and Brosius erased two-run deficits with home runs on consecutive nights. Their efforts created a sense of disbelief in a stadium that those in attendance will swear shook, literally.

"Being in Yankee Stadium as a home player was the greatest feeling in the world, knowing that I had an opportunity to build on here what they'd done in the past," Martinez said. "Fortunately for us, we were able to win four World Series titles and put our names down with all of those great teams that played there over the years."

Falling to the D-backs in seven games, it would be the Yankees' closest attempt at attaining a 27th World Series title, though they did appear in a 2003 World Series before losing to the Marlins in six games. The Yankees' emotions may have been spent after a thrilling American League Championship Series against the Red Sox marked by Aaron Boone's walk-off homer off Tim Wakefield in Game 7.

Continuing to make the playoffs each season, the Yankees were considered the favorites in 2004 after acquiring Alex Rodriguez -- now a two-time MVP in pinstripes -- in a blockbuster trade from the Texas Rangers and pushed as far as they possibly could without making the World Series.

Owning a 3-0 lead against the Red Sox in the ALCS, this time it would be Boston's turn to celebrate, as New York lost the next four games and was on the wrong end of one of baseball's most unbelievable comebacks.

New York qualified for postseason play in 2005 before running into the Angels -- to be perpetually a thorn in their side -- in the Division Series, then lost three straight in a four-game ALDS to the Detroit Tigers in 2006.

With pressure mounting to win another title from the Yankees' always-expectant ownership group, the 2007 season marked one of their most difficult charges. Torre's club was a season-low eight games under .500 (21-29) on May 29, but went 73-39 in the final 112 games of the season to make the playoffs against long odds.

"I think you create that atmosphere by winning," Girardi said. "When teams come in, they had that feeling that if they were ahead of you, you were going to come back. You have to do that by the way you play. Hopefully that feeling will be there right away next year."

The roster, like many before it, showed a certain strong resilience in the face of adversity and a calm, confident demeanor that helped Torre to a Major League-record 76 postseason wins. The Yankees were buoyed by not only a 968-run offense, which led the Majors, but also the emergence of fireballing reliever Joba Chamberlain.

Thirteen stellar summers
The Yankees' year-by-year records and postseason results from their 13-season run as playoff participants:
Season
W-L
Postseason result
200886-71Missed playoffs
200794-68Lost to Indians in ALDS
200697-65Lost to Tigers in ALDS
200595-67Lost to Angels in ALDS
2004101-61Lost to Red Sox in ALCS
2003101-61Lost to Marlins in World Series
2002103-58Lost to Angels in ALDS
200195-65Lost to D-backs in World Series
200087-74Beat Mets in World Series
199998-64Beat Braves in World Series
1998114-48Beat Padres in World Series
199796-66Lost to Indians in ALDS
199692-70Beat Braves in World Series
199579-65Lost to Mariners in ALDS

Chamberlain joined the team in August and seemed unstoppable until confronted by a swarm of Lake Erie midges in Game 2 of the ALDS at Cleveland's Progressive Field. The Yankees lost the game and eventually the series, as 19-game winner Chien-Ming Wang suffered losses in Games 1 and 4.

"The 12 years just felt like they were 10 minutes long, to be honest with you," Torre said then.

It was to be the final playoff game before the Yankees move into their state-of-the-art Yankee Stadium on the north side of 161st Street for the 2009 season.

"Obviously it's been good. You look at it and we have a new stadium opening up next year and attendance has pretty much been on the rise every year," Jeter said. "I didn't see any other teams that have done it during that time. It's not like it's something that it's easy to do. We all came up together in the Minor Leagues -- me, Mo, Jorge and Pett. We played together with the exception of Andy for a few years. We all had the opportunity to play together for a lot of years. There's a lot of memories there."

Added Pettitte: "Obviously, we put together an unbelievable run here for the last 13 years. It's a great tribute to the organization and the group of guys we put together here to be able to do that. You almost look back on it and wish you could have enjoyed it a little bit more, the years that we didn't get to the World Series.

"We put so much of an emphasis on that it was a [bad] year if you don't get to the World Series -- like it was a piece of cake, you snap your fingers and you're going to get to the World Series. The atmosphere we made here, I guess that's what drove us so hard, to be able to get to the playoffs all those years. It's been a great run, that's for sure."

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

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