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Yankees' gallant quest ends

Yankees' gallant quest ends

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ANAHEIM -- They wouldn't go quietly. They didn't want to go at all, giving the Angels such a noble fight right down to the 27th out, and it came as a sobering shock when they finally did run out of lives.

The battered heavyweight analogy can be beaten to death, but that is what the Yankees again were Monday night in the 45th inning of the American League Division Series.

With the Angels clinging with bloody fingernails to a 5-3 lead in Game 5, the Yankees repeatedly peeled themselves off the canvas to deliver body blows.

Derek Jeter, whose physical gifts are matched only by his heart, singles. Alex Rodriguez erases him on a double play.

Jason Giambi singles. Gary Sheffield singles. Hideki Matsui rips an 0-2 pitch from Francisco Rodriguez into the hole, but there is no hole in the glove of first baseman Darin Erstad, who dives to his right for the ball and feeds it to the pitcher.

And it's over, this gallant quest.

"Just terribly disappointed," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "I don't think I've ever been more disappointed in the final score.

"I'm so proud of the way our ballclub came together and put all egos aside and just played their [tails] off and never quit right to the end."

The effort won't get its proper due in New York, where seasons that end short of a World Series title are disappointing and those that end short of the World Series are catastrophic.

Many other places, the Yankees' 2005 season would be hailed as a testament to perseverance. The pinstriped embodiment of "Refuse to Lose." At a minimum, something worthy of appreciation.

San Diego comes to mind. The Padres received a PETCO Park standing ovation at the end of the Cardinals' very convincing Division Series broom.

New York being unlike any other place, "nice try" will never cut it. Yet these 2005 Bombers overcame so many unforeseen obstacles, their season turned into the 162-game high hurdles.

You remember the springtime anticipation. An All-Star -- nay, Hall of Fame -- lineup fronted by a legend-in-the-making starting rotation: Four Veteran Horsemen and the Apocalypse (Randy Johnson).

As for how that design fared, all you really have to know is that the Yankees went down with Johnson pitching relief (quite heroically, in fact) and Bubba Crosby in center.

No wonder this team, more than any of the nine prior ones he similarly motivated to fulfill the Yankees' heritage, reduced Torre to proud tears.

"I don't judge on the bottom line, which is where we'll all be judged," Torre said. "Because you understand there are certain things that you control, and that doesn't always include the final score.

"We have a lot of high-profile players, and this club took a little time to develop a personality and get together. Over the last month of the season, these guys were not going to be denied."

In the one week of their postseason, neither were they going to be delivered. In the view of some, this was a very flawed team -- lacking speed, an erratic defense, a patchwork rotation and bullpen -- that willed out 97 wins despite the holes.

All season, the Yankees overcame obstacles, and that is how they went down. The finale was a microcosm of the summer: a costly miscommunication in the outfield, a vapid effort by a starting pitcher, a critical umpire's call against a baserunner.

Despite all that, the game ends with the tying runs on base and Mariano Rivera warming up in the bullpen.

"It's very disappointing ... we played so well down the stretch, and to reach the end in this fashion is disappointing," Rodriguez said.

"We battle in the second half of the year and find a way to get into the fifth game, then we get the lead ... and it just turned. We couldn't stop it," said Mike Mussina, whose self-examination overlooked the fact his only lead was meager (2-0) and early (second inning).

"The fly ball on the track, two guys run into each other and it turns the whole game," Mussina went on. "We couldn't get anything going. It's frustrating, tough.

"As far as we've come this year, as low as we were, to get to this point. ... You like your chances. It just didn't happen."

Despite the accomplishment of a foray into the postseason, this close call could have been a last call. This time, the end may really be that -- at least for a spell.

This Yankees team is beyond mere tweaking. Although injuries and slow beginnings forced somewhat of an in-season youth movement, it still gets tucked into the offseason as a very veteran team.

Robinson Cano is 22, but the "baby" of the rest of the starting lineup is Rodriguez, 30, and the other nine regulars (including DH Ruben Sierra) average 33 years.

Similarly, 25-year-old Chien-Ming Wang and 27-year-old Shawn Chacon lit a fire under the rotation, but the staff also includes Johnson (42), Al Leiter (39), Mussina (36), Tanyon Sturtze (35) and the still-remarkable Mr. Rivera (35).

Sports are driven by personalities, and sports shortfalls are pinned on personalities. Rodriguez and Johnson expect winters of criticism. They are the cream of a $203 million payroll that receives continuous scrutiny, and they contributed little in this lost series.

Johnson's 4 1/3 shutout innings Monday -- in relief, with the Yankees already down -- struck some as bordering on satire. Those people won't get past his start in Game 3 when, with a chance to put the Yankees up, he was rocked for five runs in three innings.

And Rodriguez turned out to be a key for the Angels. He went 2-for-15 and didn't drive in a run.

"We handled him well all series," said the Angels' Orlando Cabrera. "That's a big reason we were able to beat them."

Rodriguez will probably pick up an AL Most Valuable Award in a few weeks. His body of regular-season work (.321, 48 homers, 130 RBIs) can't be ignored.

But A-Rod wouldn't argue Cabrera's assessment.

"I played great baseball all year," he said, "and played like a dog in these five games."

Tom Singer 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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