Yankees find balance with youngsters and vets

Six years after their last World Series appearance, hundreds of millions of dollars later, the Yankees finally put together the right mix.

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Their expensive new additions thrived in New York. Their core players continued producing at elite levels. And Alex Rodriguez rebounded from the low point of his career to reclaim his place among the best players in the game.

The pieces never quite seemed to fit in previous postseasons, mostly because the Yankees’ starting pitching wasn’t good enough. But all of the proper elements, even quality young players, are in place now.

Doesn’t mean that the Yankees will roll over the Phillies in the World Series. Doesn’t mean that they will form another mini-dynasty similar to what they had from 1996 to 2000, because all of their huge contracts might suffocate them in the coming years.

But at the moment?

The Yankees are pretty darned impressive all around.

“I think the biggest difference is we had players play big in the series,” manager Joe Girardi said after the Yankees eliminated the Angels with a 5-2 victory in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.

“CC (Sabathia) was huge for us. Alex was huge for us. Mariano Rivera was huge for us. Our starting pitching has been outstanding throughout. Our bullpen has been pretty good throughout. Guys have gotten big hits.

“It all started with Alex with the home runs, the game-tying home runs. The home runs that he hit in the seventh, the ninth or the 11th. We’ve had big players do big things. And that’s why we got a chance to go to the World Series.”

You saw it Sunday night, when everyone’s favorite $201 million machine applied the final dagger to an Angels team that was afflicted by stage fright in all three games in New York during the American League Championship Series.

Was this 1996 or 2009?

Left-hander Andy Pettitte, 37, set an all-time record with his 16th career postseason win, allowing only one run in 6 1/3 innings

Closer Mariano Rivera, 39, pitched two innings for his 37th postseason save, despite allowing his first earned run in the postseason at home since — ahem — Oct. 22, 2000.

Jorge Posada, 38, caught the entire game. Shortstop Derek Jeter, 35, drew three walks and scored a run. The Core Four, they’re called. Against the Phillies, they will be going for their fifth championship ring.

The Yankees will never develop another group like this one, but second baseman Robinson Cano and center fielder Melky Cabrera are homegrown, as are right-handers Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, two relievers whose futures are as starters.

“We’ve got that core of guys that have been around for over 10 years,” said Hal Steinbrenner said, the Yankees’ managing general partner. “I know they’re thrilled, obviously, to be back. We couldn’t have done it without them. It’s got to be that mix of young kids and veterans, and we’ve got the best veterans in the game.”

Difficult to argue.

Left-hander CC Sabathia, named ALCS MVP for his two brilliant performances against the Angels, will start Game 1 of the World Series against his former Indians teammate, Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee.

The Yankees’ other major offseason additions — right-hander A.J. Burnett, first baseman Mark Teixeira and right fielder Nick Swisher — have had mixed results in the postseason. But each is too good to go three straight series without making some type of impact.

Then there is Rodriguez.

Think back to his news conference in Tampa during spring training, his much-ridiculed account of how he was young and stupid when he took performance-enhancing drugs. Remember, too, that he was coming off major hip surgery, a physical blow to go with the crushing blow to his image.

At that point, the Yankees feared the worst, knowing that they had A-Rod signed for nine more years. It seemed unimaginable that Rodriguez would rebound as strongly or as quickly as he did, particularly in the postseason, his personal torture chamber with the Yankees.

C’mon, Brian Cashman, what did you think?

“The way life can be, I know anything is possible,” the Yankees general manager said. “In tough, difficult times, if given a chance, things can turn around for you. There is always hope that tomorrow might bring a better day. As tough a time as that was for Alex and the organization, it makes everyone appreciate how far he has come and what he has fought through, in life and his career.”

Rodriguez’s postseason numbers — 14-for-32, five home runs and a batting average/on-base/slugging line of .438-.548-.969. A small sample, I know, a mere nine games. But all of Rodriguez’s previous postseason failures were small samples, too.

So there you have ’em, the 2009 American League champion New York Yankees. Good old guys. Good young guys. Good new guys. And a good A-Rod, too.

Pretty good mix.