Their true greatness is as a team. Maybe

By Ben Walker Associated Press Published:

Their true greatness is as a team. Maybe the best in baseball history.

The New York Yankees ended their season Wednesday night the only way that seemed proper _ a 3-0 victory over the San Diego Padres for a World Series sweep and their record 24th championship.

Andy Pettitte recorded the Yankees' 125th victory of the year, a win that caused owner George Steinbrenner to weep with joy. Scott Brosius won the MVP award and that was appropriate _ batting ninth for most of the season, hardly a superstar.

So now, after the Game 4 win, let the debate begin. Better than the '27 Yankees, better than the '61 Yankees, better than the Big Red Machine?

"I think that will probably be talked about forever," Brosius said. "The comparisons will go on and on, and maybe nobody will have a definite answer. But you can look at this year and say we had the single best season of any other team."

At 125-50, the most victories ever and the best winning percentage since that Murderers' Row club in 1927.

"'27 Yankees, they may have a better club, but we had the best record," manager Joe Torre said. "To me, that was the standard that I was looking to pass because the Yankees _ more important to have a Yankee record than anything else.

"You look at the Oakland A's clubs that won a few world championships in a row and the Cincinnati club in '76 that was always a standard for me, I think we have better pitching than they have," he said. "We have to take a back seat to no one in my lifetime."

And in a season that brought baseball some truly huge numbers, from Mark McGwire's 70 home runs to Cal Ripken's 2,632 consecutive games to Kerry Wood's 20 strikeouts, the Yankees posted one that may remain for a long time.

"This is truly, you can say it now, one of the greatest teams in baseball," a champagne-soaked Steinbrenner said.

"We really worked for this," he said, too overcome to go on.

It was New York's second title in three years and its seventh sweep, its first since 1950. The Series sweep was the first since Cincinnati upset Oakland in 1990, and was the Yankees' seventh.

Also, New York won its eighth straight Series game while the Padres lost their seventh in a row.

San Diego was not embarrassed, especially with ace Kevin Brown on the mound for the last game. Instead, they were just overmatched, leading for a total of four innings.

"Sure, we would have liked it to have worked out better, but the Yankees have a great club _ probably the best team we've faced all year," said Tony Gwynn, who went 8-for-16 for the Padres. "They did everything they needed to do to win."

While the Yankees celebrated in the clubhouse, the Padres had their own party. Several San Diego players came out of the locker room to speak to the record crowd of 65,427.

But this was New York's night.

Steinbrenner and Torre met in the clubhouse, both wearing hats emblazoned with "World Champions." They embraced.

"You're the best manager I ever had. You deserve it," Steinbrenner said.

"Thanks, Boss," Torre said.

Brosius carried on the Yankees' tradition of unlikely infielders coming up big in huge games _ remember Bucky Dent and Brian Doyle? The third baseman went 8-for-17 in the Series with six RBI.

Fittingly, Brosius handled the last ball of the year, a grounder by pinch-hitter Mark Sweeney.

Bernie Williams, playing perhaps his last game for New York, broke a scoreless tie with an RBI chopper in the sixth. In the seventh, Brosius singled home a run, and surprising rookie Ricky Ledee hit a sacrifice fly.

The Padres tried to rally in the eighth, when Gwynn's single finished Pettitte. A single by Ken Caminiti off Mariano Rivera loaded the bases with two outs, but Jim Leyritz, a postseason hero in the past for the Yankees and San Diego, flied out to Williams in centerfield.

Pettitte won just six days after his father underwent heart bypass surgery, allowing five hits in 7 1/3 innings. It was reminiscent of his performance in Game 5 of the 1996 World Series, when he beat Atlanta 1-0.

"This is more gratifying than the Game 5 victory," Pettitte said. "It has been an up-and-down year, especially with the situation with my dad. He's home watching. I know he's at home with a big smile on his face."

Rivera closed out his spectacular postseason, getting the last four outs

for his third save of the Series. Including the playoff wins over Texas

and Cleveland, he pitched 13 1/3 scoreless innings and recorded six

saves.

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