NEW YORK -- The waves of applause were cascading from Yankee Stadium's three quivering decks, and Derek Jeter hoisted the championship trophy high over his head, his wide grin flush with satisfaction.
At his sides, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera looked on with knowing acknowledgement. They recognized that look from the captain -- they knew what he was feeling. And it had been far, far too long since they had seen it.
"This is right back where it belongs," Jeter said, the metal of a 27th World Series trophy glinting in the stadium lights.
Only four players remained of the group from the previous dynasty seasons, those who could now claim one ring for the thumb, owning five World Series titles in a Yankees uniform.
They are the group that knows each other so well, they can tell at times what each other is thinking during game action -- don't bother trying to steal signs, because as Posada revealed this week, the "Core Four" can sometimes communicate even with the most imperceptible glance or head nod.
"It's priceless. Priceless," Rivera said. "It's wonderful. To be able to play with those bunch of guys -- it's like working for a company with four people for your whole career. God bless those guys. Wonderful."
They know exactly what it will feel like on Friday as they roll down the Canyon of Heroes, a city within the palms of their hands, because they have felt it before.
"I can't be happier than I am right now with this special team that we have," Rivera said. "We worked hard for this one. It's a beautiful thing."
When this all began, it was the autumn of 1996 and Jeter was the rookie shortstop, Pettitte was a 21-game winner earning his stripes in the postseason, Posada had only played eight games and was left off the roster and Rivera was making management think it might not need to re-sign closer John Wetteland.
"The first one, obviously, is always sweet because that's your first one," Pettitte said. "You say, 'I'm a world champion.' It's something you dreamed of as a child and you can say you've done it.
"Obviously there's a lot of time in nine years and that makes it sweet to come full circle. I'm toward the end of my career and to be able to do this, it's been special, that's for sure."
Pettitte left town for a few years and returned, and while the other three stayed, the scenes have changed. A revolving door of teammates have passed through the clubhouse since Rivera induced a Mike Piazza fly ball to clinch championship No. 26 on Oct. 26, 2000, across town at Shea Stadium.
These bodies creak a little more, demanding some more time on the trainers' table to get through a grueling 162-game schedule. A few gray hairs have cropped up on Pettitte's scalp, and some patches have been shed from Rivera's. Time changes a lot, but the sensations remain the same.
"It's amazing. I never forgot, but when you're in there, you know how much you missed it," Rivera said. "You find out, definitely, how moving it is to be in this position. To be the last team standing on the mound and win the whole thing. It's priceless."
Over the seasons that have passed, the trust has only grown between these four, which may be why Jeter had a pretty good sense that the Yankees were going to be done playing ball with Pettitte making the start.
What a core four!
Career regular-season and postseason games with the Yankees
Andy Pettitte *
* -- played 84 more regular-season games and four more postseason games during his three seasons with the Astros
"There isn't a guy you'd want on the mound more than him," Jeter said. "He's been in every situation and we have a lot of confidence in him."
And of course, as soon as Pettitte saw that Rivera had been summoned with a four-run lead, it became a whole lot easier to envision accepting another key to the city.
"You feel like the game is over," Pettitte said. "It's unfortunate that we put that kind of pressure on him, but he's just been so automatic and so great, you can't say enough about him."
If they have learned one thing, it is that the Bombers took their success for granted back when the championship champagne flowed like water, bathing in victory in '96, '98, '99 and 2000.
"It takes a lot to be here," Posada said. "We were spoiled in the '90s and 2000, so to be back and win it is really special."
To be able to celebrate one more time together in pinstripes could be the most special gift that any of them could have asked for.
"You don't see that too often with free agency nowadays, that many guys staying together," Jeter said. "We're like brothers. To get the opportunity to spend all these years together and win another championship feels good."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.