Updated: November 7, 1:39 PM ET
By Jayson Stark
PHOENIX -- To see it was still not to believe it.
So this was what the end of a dynasty looked like:
"I was very, very depressed as I walked off that field," Posada said later, in a locker room full of men who relinquished their throne with dignity and class. "It's tough to see it taken away from you like that. The hardest part was, we were up 2-1 with Mariano on the mound. Then they tied it. And then they won it. They did it to us like we did it to them."
Yes, the Arizona Diamondbacks did it to the New York Yankees like the Yankees did it to everybody -- for three straight Octobers, for four World Series out of five, for 11 consecutive postseason series, for all but two outs of another. Until a Luis Gonzalez clunker dropped where no Yankees could catch it. Until it was time to watch someone else celebrate the good times.
"I watched them," Posada admitted. "I watched them because you want to get back there. That's why you watch. We've got to feel proud of what we've done here. It's tough to take. But I'm still proud. And in my mind, we're still the world champs."
Well, they're not the world champs. Not anymore. But they are the owners of a championship legacy that is going to rank right up there with any in the history of their sport -- in just about any sport, for that matter.
Had they just gotten those two more outs, had they just won the World Series for the fourth year in a row, we would be declaring right now that this was the greatest baseball dynasty of all time. And we'd have been ready for any and all howls from the '49-53 Yankees Fan Club. Operators were fully prepared to be standing by to take your calls.
But the Yankees didn't get those two outs. They didn't join the '49-53 Yankees and the '36-39 Yankees as the only four-peaters in baseball history. But if we're going to start debating the best championship runs of all time, these '98-2000 Yankees -- or is it these '96-2001 Yankees? -- are still in the argument. You bet they are.
"To me," said Arizona's Curt Schilling, after toppling this empire with his right arm and the left arm of co-conspirator Randy Johnson, "we just beat the greatest dynasty in sports. They're the heart of baseball. To go through that team to win it all is fitting. That's the way it ought to be."
It's the way it ought to be. It's the way it was. And it left us pondering where to fit these Yankees into baseball's Mount Rushmore.
Far as we're concerned, put them up there next to any Yankees team in any Yankees era. Put them up there with Charlie Finley's green-and-gold Oakland A's of 1972-74. Put them up there next to the Big Red Machine and the 1929-31 Athletics. Put them up there ahead of the '69-71 Orioles and the '91-2001 Braves and Brooklyn's Boys of Summer.
This group is right up there with the best that ever played the sport. And here's why:
1. The Marathon
For sheer luster of names on their marquees, those '27-41 Yankees were clearly better. But they went right from beating up on the American League all season to beating up on the designated National League World Series victim for another week. They didn't have to do what these Yankees teams had to do -- win three rounds a year, every year.
"I fully believe it's tougher today than it was then," said Yankees GM Brian Cashman. "With these layers on the postseason now, the pressure is amazing. I know by the end, everybody is running on adrenaline. A lot has happened in the last month. And you prepared for 11 months just to get here.
"I don't know how these guys do it. These pitchers have had to grind it out, and not just for this year. We've gone the distance five out of the last six years. Our guys' arms should be dangling down to their knees. We've added an extra month to their season all those years. It's mentally draining. And physically, it's amazing what they've gone through."
2. The Opposition
They singlehandedly prevented the Braves of the late '90s from being known as The Dynasty -- spotting them two games in '96, then winning eight straight from a 96-win team in '96 and a 103-win team in '99.
They survived the challenges of all those Indians thumpers, of Pedro and his Red Sox, of a 98-win Padres team with Kevin Brown at the front of the rotation and Tony Gwynn hitting .500 against them in the No. 2 hole in the order.
They survived the Subway Series Mets, winning one nervous-breakdown game after another. They survived an Orioles team -- which had just broken the '61 Yankees all-time single-season home run record -- with the help of a kid named Jeffrey Maier.
And to get to the seventh game of the 2001 World Series, they had to come from down 0-2 to mug an Oakland team that had just gone 41 games over .500 since the All-Star break. And then they had to put away the 116-win Seattle Mariners, pretenders to the '98 Yankees' throne.
Then they came within two outs of winning a World Series in which they scored fewer runs in six games (14) than they gave up in four innings of one game (15).
And had the greatest postseason closer of them all just gotten two more outs, these Yankees even would have overcome an Arizona team that was the first club to pitch the major leagues' two leading strikeout collectors in the same World Series since the '29-31 A's ran Lefty Grove and George Earnshaw out there.
So don't say these Yankees were never tested. They were tested every October. They were tested every day that led up to those Octobers.
"With the Yankees, we do Game 7 every day," Cashman said. "We play the Devil Rays in spring training. We play the Mets in the regular season. We play the Red Sox 19 times. If any organization was prepared to play a Game 7 of the World Series, it's us, because we play a Game 7 every day. We've got to win every day. There's that urgency. That's what we're about. That's what New York is about -- that urgency."
3. The Opposing Pitchers
Of the 26 World Series games the Yankees played from '96 through 2001, they faced 20-game winners in 16 of them, Cy Young award-winners in eight of them and starting pitchers who once made an All-Star team in 22 of them.
Most teams, facing that kind of pitching, would be lucky to have won half those games. The Yankees handed the Braves a two-game head start in 1996, then went 19-5. In the World Series. Against a Who's Who of Modern American Pitchers. That's the equivalent of going 128-34 in a 162-game season. Sure sounds like the definition of a great, great team to us.
4. The Yankees Pitchers
Because for this team, those rings have never been about the bats. They've been about the men who threw the baseball, night after night.
Of those 19 World Series games the Yankees won from 1996 to 2001, 12 different pitchers won at least one of them. It was a time line of postseason brilliance that ran from Jimmy Key to Roger Clemens, with a stunning array of pitching heroics by David Wells and Andy Pettitte and David Cone and Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez in between.
And after all those draining evenings, after all those pitches were thrown in all those World Series, their team ERA was 3.36. Take away that 15-2 aberration in Game 6 of this Series, and it was 2.93. You'd win a few ERA titles with those numbers, huh?
But as great as all those Yankees starters were, the pitcher who almost singlehandedly put the rings on so many fingers was the great Mariano. Until one final inning of one final World Series game, he was as unbeatable as Secretariat.
We'll repeat these numbers one more time, even though you must know them by heart by now: This man saved 23 postseason games in a row. He went more than one inning in 19 of them. In 51 postseason appearances before this Game 7, he'd been scored on in only six. He once threw 34 1/3 consecutive shutout innings -- in the postseason.
So it's fitting that if this was the end of the dynasty, it ended with the baseball in his right hand. The team that beat him Sunday knew that. The team that employed him knew it better.
"There is nobody in the history of baseball I would rather have had out there in that situation than him," said his bullpen cohort, Mike Stanton. "Regardless of what happened out there, that's still true. He's the best. There might be an argument for some other guys. But to me, he's the best ever. So there's something right about the fact that for them to win, they had to beat the best."
5. The Comebacks
We still find it hard to comprehend that in these last six postseasons, the Yankees won 17 games in which they trailed in the seventh, eighth or ninth innings. And until the ninth inning of Game 7 of this World Series, their opponents won exactly one game like that.
In those 17 games, the Yankees' bullpen went 11-0, with seven saves, no blown saves and a 0.90 ERA. The bullpens of the teams they played went 0-13, with 13 blown saves and a 7.27 ERA.
"We left a lot of great closers out on the field," Stanton said.
Over innings one through six over those six postseasons, the Yankees outscored their opponents by the minuscule margin of 212-208. But after that, it was Yankees 119, other guys 67.
"Sometimes," Stanton said, "it seemed like we were as good as we wanted to be. There were so many times we didn't look like a championship club. But good teams find a way. And that's exactly what we were able to do."
6. The Staying Power
The '49-53 Yankees were the Yankees of Berra and Rizzuto and Whitey Ford, the Yankees that transitioned from the DiMaggio era to the Mantle era.
The '96-2001 Yankees -- or the '98-2000 Yankees, whichever you prefer -- may not have that array of names that make you shiver, may not line up the same number of men bound for a plaque in Cooperstown. But they play in a different time, yet were an anomaly in that time.
"I think it's tougher to do what we've done," Cashman said, "because of free agency and the high turnover of the times. It's so much tougher to keep a team together now than it used to be."
But amazingly, with the help of George Steinbrenner's checking account and fervor to win, this team has kept more of its team together than either of those previous Yankees dynasties.
The New York Post's Joel Sherman counted 13 Yankees who were part of the '36-39 Yankees in all four seasons. The '49-53 Yankees had 12 who were a part of all their championship seasons. But these '98-2001 Yankees were able to keep 14 pieces of that puzzle together through four turbulent years -- a number of whom, Cashman says, stayed for less money than they could have gotten elsewhere.
Yet these Yankees had to keep turning over significant parts of their roster -- particularly their pitching staff. Only five different pitchers won a World Series game for the '36-39 Yankees. Only eight won a World Series game for the '49-53 Yankees. But the '98-2001 Yankees called on 10 different pitchers to win 15 World Series games.
Which says they had the brains to match their bucks, and that this team's run changed this franchise from one that many free agents used to run from in terror to the most appealing free-agent address on the map.
Add a manager, in Joe Torre, who had lost only one other postseason series in pinstripes -- and Jeter, who can make the same claim -- and this became a team with a culture of winning to rival any team we've seen in our lifetime.
You can decide for yourself where to place this group in the pantheon of baseball. Had they won this World Series, we'd have placed them No. 1. Because they didn't, they're No. 3 in a photo finish.
Many of them won't be back, as this team retools and reshapes. But let's not wave goodbye to this dynasty too fast, because they still have an owner so driven that only one thing could keep him happy.
"I think only going 162-0 would do that," Cashman joked.
"I'm not a good loser," said George Steinbrenner late Sunday night. "I believe in what Ernest Hemingway said: 'The way you get to be a good loser is practice.' And I ain't gonna be practicing."
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.