Yankees 4, Braves 1

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The Independent Online

The Rocket can rest now. The ring is his.

The Rocket can rest now. The ring is his.

Roger Clemens pitched the New York Yankees to their second straight World Series sweep, shutting down the Atlanta Braves 4-1 Wednesday night and ending his quest for the one and only prize that eluded him.

With raucous fans waving yellow, plastic brooms all over the ballpark and Clemens bouncing around on the mound, the Yankees won their record 25th championship and third in four seasons.

"This must be what it's like to be a Yankee," said Clemens, who before the game gave a little pat to the monument honoring the most famous Yankee of them all, Babe Ruth. "This is what everybody said it was all about."

Game 4 marked New York's 12th Series victory in a row, matching the mark set by its Murderers' Row teams with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in 1927, 1928 and 1932.

All his life, Clemens had hoped for this chance and, at last, he commanded the October stage. Showing the form that earned him five Cy Young Awards and 247 wins in 16 seasons, he shut out Atlanta into the eighth to outduel John Smoltz.

Brought to the Bronx this spring from Toronto in a trade for David Wells that many Yankees fans disliked, Clemens walked off the mound to rousing cheers, tipping his cap and holding both hands high to acknowledge the ovation.

"It seemed like a perfect setup," Torre said. "I couldn't see it not happening tonight, not with the way his career had talked about last year, but this is unbelievable, back-to-back," Rivera said.

The Yankees finished off a week in which they simply overwhelmed the club that had best record in the U.S. major leagues, and accomplished a lot more along the way they:

- Became baseball's first repeat champion since Toronto in 1992-93.

- Posted the first set of consecutive Series sweeps since the Yankees in 1938-39. New York beat San Diego four straight last year.

- Completed an incredible run in which they won 18 of 19 postseason games. The only loss came when Clemens was beaten by Pedro Martinez at Fenway Park in Boston 11 days earlier.

- Overcame a year of adversity, from manager Joe Torre's prostate cancer in spring training to the death of outfielder Paul O'Neill's father early Wednesday. Scott Brosius and Luis Sojo also lost their fathers, Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio and Catfish Hunter died, and Darryl Strawberry was beset by health and legal problems.

- And, in the last game of the 20th century, their all-century team pitcher ended all debate about which club was most dominant this decade.

"We are a good team and we don't rest on our laurels," Torre said. "From 1996 to the end of the century - wow."

For Atlanta, the loss was its record-tying eighth straight in the Series, a string that began in 1996 against the Yankees. It surely was a bitter disappointment for the Braves and manager Bobby Cox.

"I think they think in their minds that they had a tremendous year with all the ballclub went through," Cox said. "They're disappointed just like I am."

After winning the title in 1995, the Braves had "Team of the 90s" engraved on their rings. Instead, they joined the New York Giants of 1910-19 as the only teams ever to lose four World Series in a decade.

Clemens and the sellout crowd of 56,752 fans, meanwhile, basked in pinstriped glory after taking an early 3-0 lead. At 37, he won his first championship - John Elway was the same age when he won his first Super Bowl.

Featuring a fastball in the mid-90s mph (low-150s kph), Clemens struck out four and walked two in his first World Series victory - he got two no-decisions in 1986 when his Boston Red Sox blew it against the New York Mets.

Smoltz struck out three to avoid trouble in the second inning, but could not escape in the third. Chuck Knoblauch and Derek Jeter opened with singles and a one-out intentional walk to Bernie Williams loaded the bases.

Tino Martinez followed with a hard grounder and, perhaps screened by Williams, first baseman Ryan Klesko let the ball skip off his forearm for a two-run single. With two outs, Jorge Posada hit an RBI single.

That was plenty for Clemens, who took a two-hit shutout into the eighth. The Braves then nicked him with singles by Walt Weiss and Gerald Williams, and Jeff Nelson relieved.

After Bret Boone hit an RBI single, Rivera took over and kept the Braves from doing any more damage. He got Chipper Jones on a grounder with runners at the corners to end the inning, and pitched a scoreless ninth.

Rivera ended this season with 43 scoreless innings, and extended his postseason shutout streak to 25 2-3 innings.

As if for good measure, pinch-hitter Jim Leyritz launched a solo home run in the New York eighth off Terry Mulholland. Remember, it was Leyritz's homer off Atlanta relief ace Mark Wohlers in Game 4 in 1996 that turned the momentum in the Yankees' favor.

Never has a team overcame an 0-3 deficit in the postseason, and the Yankees made sure it did not happen this time.

Clemens, often a victim of his high emotions in big games, jogged to the mound a full minute after his teammates took the field to start the night. Brosius and Jeter came in to offer words of encouragement before the first pitch.

The fans were with Clemens the whole way, standing up after he got two strikes on leadoff man Williams. Clemens finished the job, fanning Williams, and pumped his fist after retiring Jones on a grounder to end the first.

Clemens spent the rest of the game shouting to his fielders and offering congratulations. In the eighth, he was on the receiving end.

"I just wanted to fit in with these guys," Clemens said. "I just knew we could do it with this team."

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