NEW YORK — The Yankees took longer than they had hoped to eliminate the Angels, six games over 10 days before Sunday night's 5-2 pennant-clinching victory.
But it was nothing compared to the six years they had been waiting to get back to the World Series.
Since the Yankees were last there — losing in 2003 to the upstart Marlins — they've had to watch five times as other teams represented the American League: the archenemy Red Sox (who won twice), the Tigers, the White Sox and even the Rays.
But now the Yankees are back on the grand stage they consider their own, making their major-league-most 40th Series appearance starting Wednesday at home against the Phillies, and seeking to further restore order with their first championship since 2000 and record-extending 27th overall.
"It's been a lot of years, a lot of years," managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said. "It's been six. We're all proud. The whole organization is proud."
They got there Sunday with a stellar six-plus-inning start by Andy Pettitte, who won his record 16th postseason game, and a six-out finish by closer Mariano Rivera, two of the four players, along with Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, remaining from the late-1990s dynasty days. Plus some help from former Ray Scott Kazmir, whose eighth-inning throwing error led to two key insurance runs.
"I don't care how many times you've been there, it always feels good," Jeter said in the clubhouse celebration. "It was never easy. We made it look easy, but it was difficult."
"And we're not done yet," manager Joe Girardi said. "Mr. Steinbrenner deserves another championship."
When Rivera struck out Gary Matthews for the final out at 12:01 a.m., the players jumped, screamed and rushed to form a bobbing mob on the infield, and the new Yankee Stadium record crowd of 50,173 roared.
Players sprayed fans with champagne, then went back into the clubhouse to spray each other in a celebration that went into the night. "You dream of having this locker room packed like this," outfielder Nick Swisher said. "This is Yankee baseball right here."
Left-hander CC Sabathia was named series MVP, while Alex Rodriguez, who hit .429 in the series with six RBIs, had to settle for his first Series appearance.
"We had big players do big things, and that's why we have a chance to go to the World Series," Girardi said. "It's been a real team effort."
"It really takes a lot to be in this position,'' Posada said.
The Angels took a 1-0 lead in the third, but the Yankees responded with three the next inning against struggling starter Joe Saunders. Johnny Damon had the key hit with a two-run bases-loaded single, and Rodriguez walked to force in the other.
They took that 3-1 lead into the eighth when Girardi went straight to Rivera. The Angels scratched out one run when Brandon's Chone Figgins singled and eventually scored on Vladimir Guerrero's single.
But the Yankees got the run back in the eighth as the Angels continued to self destruct. First a leadoff walk by Ervin Santana. Then two errors on bunts, by Howie Kendrick covering first, then by Kazmir overthrowing first. That scored one, and Mark Teixeira's sac fly the other.
"During the middle of the throw I kind of wanted to ease up a little bit,'' Kazmir said, "and I ended up airmailing it.''
The third-inning rally started with a leadoff walk by Robinson Cano and a single by Swisher, who had the power of a new Mohawk haircut to break out of a 3-for-30 postseason skid.
A bunt moved up the runners, then Saunders loaded the bases by walking Jeter, allowed the single to Damon, an infield single to Mark Teixeira and walked Rodriguez on his 83rd and final pitch. Saunders just wasn't sharp, as 12 of the 21 batters he faced reached base, five on walks, and 41 of his 83 pitches were balls.
The Angels grabbed the early lead when red-hot Jeff Mathis led off the third with a double, went to third on Figgins' ground out and scored on Bobby Abreu's single to right.
New Yankee Stadium seemed primed for a party from the start, when former Yankees star Bernie Williams got a raucous welcome for throwing out the first pitch.
The fans weren't the only ones getting excited. For much of Sunday, an MLB.com Web page, prematurely headlined "CONGRATS NEW YORK YANKEES! AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPS," was offering championship merchandise. By the time it ended just after midnight, they were.
"The bottom line is they played better baseball and they beat us," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "And they deserved to win."
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.