"Who said we're too old? We're just old enough!" he yelled as the Yankees celebrated a 7-5 win Sunday night that clinched their AL division series against the Oakland Athletics.
The Yankees, tired of being eulogized as over-the-hill champions, broke out of their offensive malaise for a half-inning and then barely held on to defeat the sleepy Oakland Athletics in a decisive Game 5.
Chuck Knoblauch's return to the lineup sparked a six-run first inning, leading the Yankees to victory and completing a Big Apple playoff sweep of the Bay Area.
The Yankees, trying to become the first team to win three straight World Series titles since the 1972-74 A's, wrapped up the division series less than five hours after the New York Mets completed their ouster of the San Francisco Giants.
After Mariano Rivera got Eric Chavez t loop a foul pop to first baseman Tino Martinez for the final out, the emotionally drained Yankees congratulated each other on the field and then headed quickly into their clubhouse for champagne showers.
There was a huge sense of relief for New York, especially after two weeks of being written off as too old or too weak offensively to defend their titles.
"That's just playing in New York," Martinez said. "Obituaries are written every day if you have a bad day, so you just learn to not pay attention to it."
The Yankees, forced to fly across the country early Sunday morning to finish the series with the A's, headed back to New York late Sunday night to prepare for Tuesday night's AL championship series opener against the Seattle Mariners.
The wild card Mariners were 6-4 against the Yankees this year.
Yankees starter Andy Pettitte was pulled after 3 2-3 innings, but the New York bullpen picked him up. Playing for keeps, manager Joe Torre even brought in Orlando Hernandez for his first pro relief appearance.
Rivera got the final five outs for his 16th postseason save, breaking the record he had shared with Dennis Eckersley since Friday night.
"We let them get a running start on us tonight, that's the difference in the ballgame," A's manager Art Howe said. "We battled back, got within two."
After ending the regular season with seven straight defeats, the Yankees were written off as fallen champions when they started this series with a loss at Oakland. An embarrassing 11-1 loss at home in Game 4 led to more condolences.
It took a half-inning, lasting 26 minutes, to lift the gloom.
Knoblauch, back in his accustomed leadoff spot after being benched for three games, lined the night's first pitch to right for a single. Jeter walked and Paul O'Neill's high-chop single loaded the bases.
Bernie Williams drove in a run with a sacrifice fly, David Justice walked and Martinez doubled in three runs with a drive off the center-field wall that Terrence Long broke in on. Jorge Posada's infield single chased losing pitcher Gil Heredia.
Luis Sojo greeted reliever Jeff Tam with a sacrifice fly on which Long again broke the wrong way, and singles by Scott Brosius and Knoblauch made it 6-0. A routine toss from catcher Ramon Hernandez forced Tam to dive for the ball for the flustered A's.
"The sun was bad, but I dropped the ball," Long said of Martinez's bases-clearing drive. "I tried to get a bead on the ball and it carried. I pulled up at the end, I couldn't get to it. I just ran out of room."
Both teams had gotten to bed about 4 a.m. 13 hours before gametime but the aging Yankees were buoyant and the youthful A's were wiping sleep from their eyes.
Oakland finally woke up an inning later, getting Randy Velarde's two-run single. An RBI double by Chavez in the third pulled the A's within three runs.
Justice homered in the fourth to give New York a 7-3 lead, but Oakland got two more in the fourth on sacrifice flies by Jason Giambi and Olmedo Saenz knocking out Pettitte, the winner in New York's 4-0 victory in Game 2 but ineffective Sunday on three days' rest.
The A's had the tying runs on base in the fourth and the tying run at the plate in the sixth, eighth and ninth innings, but failed to score off a New York bullpen that struggled the second half of the season.
After Pettitte allowed five runs and 10 hits in 3 2-3 innings, Stanton shut down the A's on one hit in two scoreless innings and struck out three. He was credited with the win.
Jeff Nelson got the next four outs and Hernandez - who threw 130 pitches while winning Friday's Game 3 - got one out in the eighth. After pinch-hitter Matt Stairs doubled, Rivera was summoned.
Rivera now has thrown 30 2-3 consecutive scoreless innings over 21 postseason appearances, the longest such streak since the Yankees' Whitey Ford set the major league record with 33 straight scoreless innings from 1960-62. The last run off Rivera came on Sandy Alomar's solo homer for Cleveland in Game 5 of the 1997 AL division series.
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