It was pretty fitting that Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera played outsize roles in Sunday night's series-clinching victory against the Twins. The quartet of holdovers from the glory years each did their part to put the finishing touches on a series win that seemed to come right out of those glory years.
From Pettitte, the Yankees got their third straight strong start. It goes without saying that you need strong starting pitching to win in the postseason, but the Yankees haven't had it in far too long. CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Pettitte made life much easier over the last three games, and provided an odd change of nitpick for Yankee fans. Joe Girardi deserves some criticism for pulling his pitchers too soon, a big change from watching Joe Torre stroll to the mound to rescue a pitcher three batters too late.
Rivera's seven strikeouts in three and two-thirds innings were a reminder that precious little about him has changed from the pitcher who was dominating postseasons a decade ago. The power of Rivera's right arm was duplicated by that of Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson and, even if he struggled, Phil Hughes to make Girardi's early hooks nitpicks rather than full-on complaints.
Posada brought the timely hitting, with a home run in the seventh and a run-scoring single in the ninth to make up for an offense that once again sputtered more than it caught fire. The Twins led in each of the three games, but the Yankees found the hits when they needed them which could also be nitpicked. One of the many lessons of the 1996-2001 (or 2003 or 2004, depending on where you want to draw the line) Yankees is that the quality of the hits usually trumps the quantity of hits.
Alex Rodriguez wasn't there in those days, but he's certainly learned that lesson throughout his career with the Yankees. In this series he played the role that was once filled by Bernie Williams or Paul O'Neill or Tino Martinez. He tied each of the last two games with one swing of a bat, answering good pitching with better hitting and crushing the spirit of the opposition at the crucial moment of the contest. It may have taken six years, but A-Rod looked like he's finally absorbed that Yankee mystique.
And, finally, there's Jeter making the kind of play that is equal parts intelligence and luck. In 2001, Jeter's flip play was a result of his baseball savvy mixed with Jeremy Giambi's boneheaded decision not to slide into home plate. On Sunday night, Jeter was smart to look at third when he knew he wouldn't make a throw to first, but it would have been ignored if Nick Punto hadn't been so dumb.
Those old Yankee nines knew how to punish another team's mistakes, and, as much as anything else, punishing the Twins' mistakes is the reason why the Yankees avoided a fourth game in this series.
There was other help, but it also came with a vintage veneer. Jeffrey Maier wasn't the umpire who called Joe Mauer's double foul on Friday, but it would be a surprise if his name didn't flash into the minds of everyone watching the Yankees benefit from another outfield umpire making his very existence a reason for mockery.
The whole series had a throwback vibe, although that's not really fair to this group of Yankees. What it really had was the feel of a good team doing what it needed to do to survive a short series fraught with landmines. It's just been a while since one of those teams was wearing pinstripes, which makes it feel like a blast from the past.