After 177 games, countless ups and downs and much hair-raising tension, it turned out that the Yankees only needed one man to bring them their 27th World Series title.
Hideki Matsui may never play another game for the Yankees, but he made sure he left on a high note. The man known as Godzilla drove in six runs to tie a single-game World Series record and paved the way for the first season-ending celebration for baseball's winningest franchise since 2000.
It wasn't actually just one guy, of course, because Matsui didn't throw a single pitch in the 7-3 victory. Andy Pettitte validated Joe Girardi's decision to go with only three starters during October by pitching into the sixth inning and allowing three runs, even though he walked five and clearly was battling for every out he got. Damaso Marte struck out Chase Utley on three pitches with two on and two out to close out the seventh inning, then struck out Ryan Howard on three more to start the eighth and finished the most startling career redemption this side of Alex Rodriguez in the process.
All of which led to the peerless Mariano Rivera. He nailed down the final five outs to close out a World Series for the fourth time. The last out came when Rivera got Shane Victorino to bounce out to second base. But his best moment came after the game when he told the happy crowd that he'd play five more years. We've got little doubt he'll be just as good at that point.
But Matsui was the true star of the evening's proceedings. His home run off Pedro Martinez in the second inning let some tension out of the game for the Yankees, if not a crowd that remained awfully quiet for most of the night. His single with the bases loaded in the third provided a quick answer to the first Philly run and assured that the Yankees wouldn't waste a golden opportunity to put a crooked number on the scoreboard. Finally, his two-run double in the fifth made it okay for the Yankees to start thinking about the path to victory, a.k.a. Rivera.
There are worse ways to make a pitch for a new salary, especially when you cap it all off with the World Series MVP award. It's crazy to think that a guy who only started three games could win such a prize, but his performance tonight and clutch homers in Games 2 and 3 makes it hard to argue with the choice. It remains to be seen if all of that is enough to earn him another contract from the Yankees, but Matsui's place in the franchise's history books is secure forever.
Pettitte, Rivera, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada have now all won five rings as members of the Yankees, but this one didn't feel at all like the last three. Once the Yankees got over the hump in 1996, the other championships came so quickly and easily that the team and the fans started to take for granted just how hard it is to win a World Series. The intervening nine seasons and this postseason were a reminder that those rings don't just come with the uniform.
And if all that wasn't enough, one glance at Joe Girardi's braces and Hal Steinbrenner's non-blazer and turtleneck look during their jubilant postgame interviews was all it took to know that things have changed a lot since the last time the Yankees hoisted a trophy. So enjoy it and celebrate this one like it's the first time because, in a lot of ways, it is.