As a whole, the players that made up the New York Yankees overachieved this year. Hamstrung by the worst offseason in franchise history and besieged by injuries to their pitching staff, the Yankees dug themselves out of a 11-19 hole, building momentum as the season went on, finally breaking free of .500 as July began, posting a 56-28 (.667) record from July 2 through the end of the regular season. As the season drew to a close, they played their best baseball, winning 15 of 18 at one point in September and clinching their eighth-straight AL East title by defeating the Red Sox in the penultimate game of the season.
Ever since the Yankees won four of five World Series from 1996 to 2000, it has become common for those around the organization, both in and out of uniform, to say that any season that does not end in a World Championship is a failure. I disagree. That the Yankees were unable to win the American League Division Series, while certainly a tremendous disappointment to fans, players and front office alike, should not be seen as a failure, but as the inevitable outcome of a season that extended beyond it's rightful endpoint.
The Yankees got to Bartolo Colon in the first inning of Game One in Anaheim, giving Mike Mussina a three-run lead before he took the mound in the bottom of the first. Last night they looked to do the same after Derek Jeter lead off the game with a groundball single through the shortstop hole. Colon clearly wasn't himself. His location was way off and his first few fastballs topped out at 91 miles per hour.
Following Jeter, Alex Rodriguez swung at the first pitch he saw and hit a pop up to shallow center that Adam Kennedy pulled in with a nifty over-the-head catch. Jason Giambi then worked a full count, but flew out the warning track in left. Gary Sheffield followed by poking an 0-2 pitch off the outside corner into right field for a single that looked a lot like the one he picked up in the first-inning rally in Game One. Jeter took third on the hit, just beating a characteristically strong throw from Vladimir Guerrero, but Hideki Matsui struck out to strand both runners.
That was how it went all night for the Yankees. After Mussina, looking sharp, set down Figgins, Cabrera and Guerrero on seven pitches in the bottom of the first, the Yankees caught what appeared to be a huge break. Although Colon had struck Matsui out on a 93 mile-per-hour heater to end the top of the first, he was clearly struggling. After seemingly every pitch he would stretch his pitching arm above his head and grimace. After Colon's third pitch to Robinson Cano to start the second, Mike Scioscia, pitching coach Bud Black and Angels' trainer Ned Bergert paid a visit to the mound to see if Colon was alright. Colon at first walked off the back of the mound, seemingly refusing to talk to his manager. He then threw a couple of practice pitches and convinced them to leave him in the game. Colon then went to a full count on Cano, gritting his teath after ball three. Scioscia had seen enough and came out to get his clearly injured ace.
It was later revealed that Colon had an inflamed right shoulder. It was a surprising diagnosis, as it was known that Colon had been having back pain and most thought that was what drove him from the game. That the Angels' Game Five starter was out of the game after retiring just three Yankees was even more surprising.
Scioscia brought in rookie starter Ervin Santana to replace Colon. Santana threw a series of mid-90s fastballs to Cano, which the Yankee rookie fouled off, before completing Colon's lead-off walk to the Yankee second baseman. He then fell behind 3-1 on Bernie Williams, when the Yankee manager decided to put on a hit-and-run. A poor decision to begin with--forcing Bernie, who's last remaining skill is his ability to work a walk, to swing the bat--the hit and run blew up in Joe Torre's face when Bernie missed the sign, hanging Cano out to dry when the pitch he took was called strike two.
As luck would have it, Santana's next pitch was a ball, which Bernie, who never did swing in that at-bat, took for a one-out walk. Santana then walked Jorge Posada on four pitches and Bubba Crosby singled through the second base hole, scoring Bernie, who went from second to home on Guerrero's arm while Posada moved to third (Guerrero's throw was wild toward the Yankee dugout, though Bengie Molina made a strong effort to make it a close play at the plate).
Jeter then lifted a sac fly to right to plate Posada and, with a 1-2 count on Alex Rodriguez, Bubba Crosby swiped second, despite Scioscia calling a pitch out (poor Molina was again foiled by a pitch that was a little to far outside, though Bubba did get a fantastic jump). Still, despite the two runs and Crosby's steal, the rookie Santana did not rattle. He struck out Rodriguez on a full count with a 96 mile-per-hour heater up in the zone, the settled down to shutout the Yankees over the next four innings.
Meawhile, Mike Mussina, who had looked so sharp in the first, lost his grip on the game. After falling behind Garret Anderson 2-0 then 3-1 to start the bottom of the second, he threw a pitch low and in to the lefty, who launched it into the right field bleachers for a solo homer to cut the Yankee lead in half. Begnie Molina then cracked Mussina's next pitch in to center for a hard single. After striking out Darin Erstad and getting Juan Rivera to pop out, Mussina issued a full-count walk to Steve Finely, putting runners on first and second and setting up the key play in the game.
Adam Kennedy ripped the first pitch he saw from Mussina to the warning track in the gap in right center. As the runners rounded the bases, the Yankee center fielder, Bubba Crosby, and right fielder, Gary Sheffield, converged on the fly. Crosby was approaching the ball head-on, slowing up his pace as he set up beneath it to catch the ball with two hands at the wall. Sheffield was chasing the ball while watching it over his shoulder, eventually making a leaping backhanded stab. As Sheffield lept into the air, he cut in front of Crosby and the ball, as it approached Crosby's glove deflected off of the wrist of Sheffield's glove hand.
As the ball rolled away, the two outfielders collided. Fortunately the ball didn't roll that far away and Crosby, the first to his feet, was able to get the ball back in to hold Kennedy to what was generously ruled a triple, but the two runners had scored, giving the Angels a 3-2 lead they would never relinquish.
In the third, Cabrera and Guerrero lead-off with singles off Mussina, the later putting runners the corners with no outs. A Garret Anderson sac fly scored Cabrera and Bengie Molina's second single in as many at-bats moved Guerrero to third. Darin Erstad then hit a weak grounder to Jason Giambi that the Yankee first baseman charged. Rather than wheeling to start a double play with the volcanically slow Molina running from first, or taking the sure out at first, where Robinson Cano was covering, Giambi elected to throw home despite there not being a force in effect on Guerrero, who got a great jump off of third. All hands were safe and the Angels led 5-2.
After Mussina retired Juan Rivera on a hard-hit foul on which Hideki Matsui made a tremendous play, leaping to catch the ball two rows deep amid a sea of Angels' fans, Joe Torre decided to count his blessings and remove Mussina from the game. Showing the astute managerial acumen that he finally allowed to rise to the surface in the postseason (aside from the two unnecessary hit-and-runs he called for this game, that is), Torre called on his ace, Randy Johnson.
Johnson retired the first seven Angels he faced, then worked out of a no-outs, first-and-third (later one-out, second-and-third, and two-outs bases loaded) jam in the sixth. Meanwhile, the Yankees stranded lone singles in the third and fourth.
In the fifth, Alex Rodriguez was hit by a pitch and followed by a Jason Giambi single, bringing Gary Sheffield to the plate as the tying run. Sheffield took two called strikes and ball one then hit a weak pop-up to shallow left, holding the runners. That brought Hideki Mastui up, also representing the tying run. In his previous at-bat, Matsui came up with one out and Sheffield on first (via his second single of the night). With Matsui up 3-1 in the count, Torre put on the hit-and-run. Forced to swing, Matsui hit a weak pop-up to shallow left. This time he fouled himself into a 0-2 hole, then hit another pop up, this one to Erstad at first.
Robinson Cano followed by striking out on a pitch that dove in toward his shoetops. The ball rolled away from Molina and Cano took off for first. Molina collected the ball and fired to Erstad at first, but his throw was wild to the inside of the bag, where Kennedy backed it up. The Yankees appeared to have the bases loaded, but home plate umpire Joe West called Cano out for running inside the line instead of in the designated box in foul territory. On the replay Cano appeared to run directly down the foul line itself, but more significantly, Erstad was set up to catch the throw in foul territory and by shifting into fair territory as he touched the bag, Cano was actually attempting to avoid interfering with the play. West is the same umpire who failed to give Cano the out at second base when his foot came off the bag a split second before he received the ball on a force out in Game Three, a neighborhood play that goes to the fielder in the vast majority of cases.
The Yankees finally cut into the Angel lead in the seventh when Derek Jeter led off with his second solo homer of the series to make it 5-3. After retiring Alex Rodriguez on a groundout, Santana was relieved by Kelvim Escobar, who was greeted by a Jason Giambi double off the center field wall. That again brought Sheffield to the plate as the tying run and again Sheffield flied out, failing to even advance the runner. Hideki Matsui followed with his third consecutive pop out, this one to Molina half way up the third base line.
Escobar issued a two-out walk to Jorge Posada in the eighth, but Francisco Rodriguez came on to get pinch-hitter Ruben Sierra to groundout. After Tom Gordon worked a perfect eighth (with Sierra in left and Matsui in center) the Yankees sent the top of the order to the plate against the Angel closer, needing two runs to keep their season alive.
Capping off an excellent performance, Derek Jeter singled on a 1-1 pitch to start the Yankee ninth. Capping off an awful performance, Alex Rodriguez followed by swinging at a 1-0 pitch to erase Jeter via an around-the-horn double play. Francisco Rodriguez then got ahead of Jason Giambi 1-2, but with the Yankees down to their last strike, Giambi pulled a single through the shift and was followed by an infield single by Sheffield on a hopper to third base. With Mark Bellhorn and Tony Womack in to run for Giambi and Sheffield, respectively, it came down to Hideki Matsui, this time representing the go-ahead run. Matsui took strike one from Rodriguez, then fouled off strike two. After another foul, he pulled Rodriguez's third pitch hard down the first base line, but Darin Erstad, playing to prevent a game-tying double, snagged the ball and flipped to Rodriguez, beating Matsui to the bag by a single step for the final out.
HEROES AND GOATS:
Ervin Santana With his team's ace out of the game after a single inning due to injury, the rookie Santana made the first relief appearance of his professional career, pitching 5 1/3 innings, four of which were scoreless frames.
Garret Anderson A his solo homer started the Angel scoring. He later added a sac fly.
Adam Kennedy His "triple" should have been the final out of the second inning, but it turned out to be the game-winning hit.
Derek Jeter 3 for 4 with a solo homer and a sac fly, facing one of the toughest closers in the majors with the season on the line, he lead-off the ninth with a single. He also made a nice play in the first on a hard bouncer in on the grass by Cabrera.
Randy Johnson pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings in relief on two-days rest, working well with Jorge Posada, and giving his offense ample opportunity to come back from an early deficit.
Jason Giambi 3 for 5 with a double, down to his team's final strike, he singled to keep the season alive.
Mike Mussina did what I expected him to do in Game One, allowing all five Angels runs in 2 2/3 innings, though in all fairness his defense was responsible for three of those runs, even though the official scorer didn't see fit to issue any errors in the game.
Bubba Crosby and Gary Sheffield Bubba didn't call Sheffield off on Kennedy's "triple," but it was Sheffield that screwed up what would have been an easy out for Crosby. Either way, the resulting two runs were the difference in the game. Crosby went 2 for 3 at the plate with a bunt base hit and an RBI single that drove in the Yankee run. Sheffield went 3 for 5 with an infield single when representing the tying run with the Yankees down to their last out, but neither performance at the plate (and Sheffield's also included some key outs with runners on base) outweighed the harm caused by that one play.
Hideki Matsui Matsui went 0 for 5, left a whopping eight runners on base, and grounded into the final out of the season. That might have knocked a million or two off of his next contract.
Alex Rodriguez went 0 for 4, his ninth-inning double play being the crippling blow. Had Rodriguez merely struck out in that position, the Yankees would have had scored once and had the tying run on second base with one out when Matsui came to the plate (not that it would have ended differently necessarily).
Bartolo Colon Pulled a David Wells, except that he did it in an elimination game.
HEROES AND GOATS: ALDS
Bengie Molina hit .444 with three homers, five RBIs and five runs scored, played the final two games despite being hit on the elbow by a Tom Gordon fastball in Game Three
Garret Anderson hit just .263 but hit a pair of homers and drove in seven runs
Juan Rivera hit .353 with a solo homer and three runs scored.
Vladimir Guerrero hit .333 and, despite not driving in a single run, scored five
Darin Erstad Al Leiter had his number, but he still hit .300 on the series and made numerous key plays at first base, including snagging the final out.
Chone Figgins was a dud at the plate (.143, 8 Ks) and on the bases (no steals in four times on base), but made game-saving catches in Games Two and Three at two different positions.
Kelvim Escobar allowed just one run in seven innings (a meaningless Jeter solo homer in Game One) and just two hits (though he walked five), appearing in four games.
Ervin Santana ignore the 5.06 series ERA, he saved the Angels' season by replacing Colon in Game Five and working 5 1/3 innings while his team took the lead.
Derek Jeter hit .333 with two of the four Yankee homers, five RBIs and four runs scored, plus some fantastic defense.
Jason Giambi presented the Comeback Player of the Year award (by Pfizer, curiously enough) before Game Four, he hit .421 on the series with three doubles.
Robinson Cano hit just .263 but matched Jeter with five RBIs, including the game-winning double in Game One, tied Giambi with three doubles, also scored three runs. Yes, he made some poor plays on defense, but he made some fantastic ones as well.
Jorge Posada .474 on-base percentage, six walks, a homer, a double and three runs scored.
Shawn Chacon 6 1/3 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 5 K at Yankee Stadium in his first postseason start
Mariano Rivera retired six straight batters to nail down the Game Four win and keep the Yankee season alive. Saved both Yankee wins.
Scott Proctor pitched two scoreless innings, was the only pitcher on either team not to allow a run
Randy Johnson he tried to make up for it in relief in Game Five, but if he had done what he was expected to do in Game Three the Yankees would have won it in four
Alex Rodriguez .435 OBP due to six walks and a pair of HBPs, but just two hits and no RBIs wasn't enough, and his double play in the ninth inning of Game Five was the final nail in the Yankee coffin.
Hideki Matsui hit just .200 and his only RBI came on a solo homer.
Bernie Williams hit .211 with just one RBI and one walk. A sad end to a great career.
Tino Martinez 0 for 8 with a walk. An equally sad end for another beloved Yankee.
Bartolo Colon lost Game One, then left Game Five in the second inning due to injury.
Paul Byrd given a five-run lead against an ineffective Randy Johnson, he couldn't make it out of the fourth inning in his only start
Brendan Donnelly coughed up the Game Three lead in his only appearance in the series.