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Sori, Jeter and Mo: just like old times

Bob Sheppard’s voice boomed over the PA system. Derek Jeter homered. Alfonso Soriano homered. Hideki Matsui was given a standing ovation. Mariano Rivera pitched a spotless ninth, and the Yankees won by a score of 6-5 against Tampa Bay.

No, this isn’t a summary of a game from 2003. It’s what happened yesterday afternoon at Yankee Stadium – the newer version. The Yankees turned back the clock on Sunday, resorting to an old recipe that seems to work. Pretty amazing 10 years later.

Soriano hits the go-ahead home run in Game 7 of the ’01 World Series as Jeter cheers in the background.

Jeter and Soriano were viewed as the double-play combo of the future back in 2003. Soriano was 27 (he claimed to be 25) and had a whole Yankee career ahead of him, it seemed. He just missed out on joining the exclusive 40/40 club in 2002, falling one homer short. His propensity for big hits and big moments was beginning to establish. He connected on a walk-offย  homer for his first major league hit in 1999; he delivered a walk-off home run in the 2001 ALCS and of course, hit that mammoth shot in Game 7 of the ’01 World Series that gave the Yankees a lead in the 8th inning.

He was ultimately traded in February of 2004, for of course, Alex Rodriguez. After stops in Texas, Washington and Chicago, Soriano finds himself back in the Bronx due to the Yankees’ lack of any right-handed pop. He began his second tour of duty with New York going 0-for-8, as the Yankees lost the first two games of the series against Tampa. Yesterday, he hit his first home run (scoring Jeter)ย  in pinstripes since the 2003 World Series. He finished the day with a walk-off single up the middle, capping a 4-for-5 day with 3 RBI and 2 runs scored.

Jeter was 29 in 2003, and was sidelined for almost 40 games to start the year with a separated shoulder he suffered on Opening Day in Toronto. He entered that season having made the World Series in five of his first seven years in the big leagues, winning four titles. Jeter wound up hitting .324 in ’03 with 10 homers and 52 RBI, .393 OBP is just 119 games – leading the Yankees to another World Series appearance. Yesterday, Jeter returned from a quad strain and promptly sent the first pitch he saw from Matt Moore out to right-center field for a home run, the Yankees’ first dinger after the All-Star break and first from a right-handed bat since Jayson Nix hit one on June 25. Jeter seemed to spark the offense, as the Yankees jumped out to a 3-0 lead. He finished the day going 2-for-4 with 2 R, RBI, BB.

Rivera was 33 back in ’03, and had a typical Rivera year. He went 5-2 with a 1.66 ERA, collecting 40 saves along the way. Entering that season, Rivera had only accumulated 243 career saves. He eventually was named the ’03 ALCS MVP, after tossing 3 innings of scoreless relief in that memorable Game 7 against the Red Sox. Now in his final year, Rivera is on his farewell tour across Major League Baseball. He was named the MVP of the All-Star game at Citi Field, and has been given a hero’s welcome in every visiting ballpark. Yesterday, he was called upon to pitch in a tie game in the ninth inning. He threw 12 pitches, in normal Rivera fashion, retiring all three batters he faced and gave the Yankees a chance to win the game; he eventually came away with the W.

Since 2003 up until the recent trade, Soriano, now 37 and a well respected veteran, has hit 291 home runs while driving in 816. He finally joined the 40/40 club in 2006 with Nationals, smashing 46 homers and swiping 41 bags. He’s been named to the All-Star team five times, and won three Silver Slugger awards. Instead of playing at second base as most Yankee fans were used to, he’s now an outfielder.

Rivera tips his cap after becoming the all-time saves leader in 2011. Photo credit: Yahoo!

Jeter has accomplished a lot since he and Soriano were last teammates. The Captain has amassed 1,915 hits since, eclipsing the 3,000 hit mark. He’s been named to the All-Star team eight times, winning the Gold Glove Award five times and winning a championship in ’09. Now 39 and entering the final stage of his career, Jeter is still manning shortstop. A broken ankle in last year’s playoffs and recurring setbacks cost him most of this season, but the Yankees and their fans hope he can find the fountain of youth again.

Rivera is now an old man at 43-years-old but still pitches like he’s 33. Since 2003 Rivera has accumulated 358 saves, while averaging an ERA of 1.88. He is now the all-time saves leader with 641, as he enters his final couple of months in baseball. Remarkably, he’s having one of the best season’s of his career. He has 33 saves in 35 chances with a 1.64 ERA.

10 years is a long time to be separated. A lot has changed; a new stadium, new manager, new teammates, new owners. Now old men in the latter stages of their careers, these original Yankees have come together one last time to try and save this Yankee season. In a year that has seen so many unfamiliar faces, it’s nice to see the Yankees go back to the future, so to speak. The nostalgia of seeing Alfonso Soriano back in pinstripes with his old teammates is almost as gratifying as his presence in a weak Yankee lineup; he never wanted to leave in the first place.

There’s a saying: “The strongest thing baseball has going for it today are its yesterdays.” Seeing these three guys all contribute in a game together again – 10 years apart –ย  was pretty cool to see, and pretty rare to see these days in professional sports.

Yesterday, it was just like old times.