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WORLD SERIES

Four Yankees teammates go back a long ways

Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera first played together in the minor leagues and have been together for much of the last 15 years.

November 04, 2009|Kevin Baxter

PHILADELPHIA — They first took the field together in Columbus, Ohio, playing for a minor league team that finished a distant third in the standings.

Tonight, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada will take the field together again in New York, this time playing for the New York Yankees, the most storied franchise in U.S. professional sports. And Mariano Rivera will be waiting in the bullpen, hoping to win a fifth World Series ring alongside Jeter, Pettitte and Posada.

They've been together for much of the last 15 years, nearly twice as long as the original Fab Four, and if they win one more game this week they will have won more titles together than any four teammates in more than half a century.

"I've been playing with those guys since I was 18 years old," Jeter said. "You spend more time with your teammates, pretty much, than you do your family. Because you're together for so long.

"So yeah, we've gotten close."

Said teammate Nick Swisher, finishing his first season in New York: "Those guys define the Yankees at this point. Those guys are just tremendous leaders. And they're great role models. Not even the fact that they're great players, because their numbers speak for themselves. But just the way the guys are in the clubhouse. The way they carry themselves on and off the field. Very commendable."

In addition to the four -- going on five? -- World Series titles, Jeter, Pettitte, Posada and Rivera have played on seven American League championship teams, won 11 division titles and have never played together on a losing team.

In the minors, one of the teams they played featured a speedy outfielder named Ruben Amaro Jr., now the general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, the team the Yankees will be trying to beat tonight.

"They were in Columbus then?" a surprised Amaro said.

Yes, but not for long. They were in Columbus in 1994. The next season, in a three-day span in late May, Pettitte earned his first big league decision -- a loss -- in a game at Oakland, Rivera started and earned his first major league win by beating the Athletics and Jeter made his Yankees debut and was hitless in five at-bats in Seattle.

By the end of the season, they had been joined by Posada and, save for a Posada stint in the minors in 1996 and Pettitte's three-year sojourn to Houston, they've been together since.

"It's kind of hard to believe we've been together this long," Jeter said.

Longer than Google or Yahoo. Longer than Barack Obama has been in politics. So long that when Rivera threw his first World Series pitch, Yankees Manager Joe Girardi was the catcher.

It has been 13 seasons between the first and last World Series games for Rivera, Pettitte and Jeter, the longest span for a trio of teammates in baseball history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"It's unbelievable," said Pettitte, who pitched in a World Series for Houston. "Really, to be able to say that I'm [in] my eighth World Series? A lot of the guys are asking me, 'How many this is?' and stuff like that. It's kind of just like, wow!

"I don't even know what to say about it. Just that I feel very fortunate and I think we all feel very blessed to be able to have the opportunity."

Possibly a last opportunity.

Pettitte, 37, returned to New York this season under some duress, taking a one-year deal and an $11.5-million pay cut. He rewarded the Yankees with 14 wins and, counting the playoffs, more than 200 innings.

Posada, 38, sat out most of last season because of shoulder problems that required surgery, then lost three weeks this summer to a hamstring strain. He has two years and $26.2 million left on his contract.

Rivera will turn 40 this month and these days is getting by as much on guile as physical ability. He's under contract for one more season and will almost certainly be back after a 2009 in which he saved 44 games, his highest total in five years.

Jeter, 34, is arguably the only one of the four still at the top of his game. He's coming off one of the best seasons of his Hall of Fame-bound career, one in which he hit .334 with 212 hits, 107 runs, 30 stolen bases and was selected the best hitter in the American League in a vote of fans.

Still, should this Fab Four break up, Pettitte says he'll cherish the past while looking toward a future he's confident will remain bright for the Yankees.

"There is no doubt it makes it special; it makes it a little more sweet," he said of sharing so many titles with the same teammates.

"But I will tell you what, it's just as sweet for me to see CC [Sabathia], A.J. [Burnett], Joba [Chamberlain]. Sitting on the bench with them and talking about this, and just to be able to accomplish this and get it done."

Earlier in the postseason, Pettitte said, "You know, we want to win a World Series. We've got a lot of young guys that hadn't had an opportunity to see this and to do this. And they have had a lot of growing experience this season, and you can see the confidence building in them as we continue to move on."

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kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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