A 2001 baseball season that featured several record-setting performances found itself temporarily driven from the nation’s consciousness by the September 11 terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. The sport observed a one-week moratorium as the nation mourned its losses. When the players and fans returned, they were greeted with patriotic touches, including flags on players’ caps and jerseys, and the singing of “God Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch. Fans at Chicago’s Comiskey Park honored America and the visiting Yankees on September 18. For the rest of the season, the Yankees, who typically found themselves scorned by fans around the league, seemed to hold a special place in everyone’s heart.
Feeling a particularly strong obligation to favorably represent the city of New York, the Yankees resumed their quest to become just the third team in major league history to win as many as four straight world championships. They accomplished the first part of their ultimate goal by capturing their fourth consecutive A.L. East title, finishing the campaign with a record of 95-65 that left them 13 ½ games ahead of the runner-up Boston Red Sox.
Though not nearly as strong as the 1998 club that dominated the baseball world, the Yankees still had a considerable amount of talent at their disposal. Roger Clemens won his record sixth Cy Young Award by compiling a brilliant 20-3 record and striking out 213 batters. Free-agent acquisition Mike Mussina won 17 games and finished second in the league with a 3.15 ERA and 214 strikeouts. Andy Pettitte chipped in with 15 victories. Mariano Rivera led the league with 50 saves.
On offense, rookie second baseman Alfonso Soriano hit 18 home runs and stole 43 bases. Paul O’Neill hit 21 homers and drove in 70 runs in his final season. Tino Martinez led the club with 34 home runs and 113 runs batted in. Jorge Posada hit 22 homers and drove in 95 runs. Bernie Williams homered 26 times, knocked in 94 runs, scored 102 others, and batted .307. Derek Jeter hit 21 homers, scored 110 runs, batted .311, and stole 27 bases in 30 attempts.
The Yankees knew that they likely would have to get past the Seattle Mariners at some point during the playoffs if they hoped to represent the American League in the World Series. Baseball’s dominant team over the course of the regular season, the Mariners posted an all-time record 116 victories en route to finishing 14 games ahead of the second-place Oakland Athletics in the A.L. West.
The A’s actually had an outstanding season themselves, concluding the campaign with a record of 102-60 that enabled them to make the playoffs as the junior circuit’s wild-card representative. Oakland’s starting rotation featured the formidable threesome of Mark Mulder, Barry Zito, and Tim Hudson. Mulder finished 21-8, to lead all A.L. hurlers in wins. He also topped the circuit with four shutouts and compiled a 3.45 ERA. Zito went 17-8, with a 3.49 ERA and 205 strikeouts. Hudson compiled a record of 18-9 and an ERA of 3.37.
Oakland also had a solid lineup that included slugging infielders Miguel Tejada, Eric Chavez, and Jason Giambi. Tejada hit 31 homers, drove in 113 runs, and scored 107 others. Chavez homered 32 times, knocked in 114 runs, and batted .288. Giambi earned a second-place finish in the A.L. MVP voting by placing among the league leaders with 38 home runs, 120 runs batted in, 109 runs scored, and a .342 batting average, and topping the circuit with 47 doubles, 129 bases on balls, a .477 on-base percentage, and a .660 slugging average.
In the end, though, Seattle’s extraordinary team balance proved to be too much for Oakland to overcome. The Mariners led the American League with 927 runs scored, 174 stolen bases, a .288 team batting average, a .360 team on-base percentage, and a 3.54 team ERA. Employing a different philosophy than the one used by the Mariner teams of the late-1990s that depended heavily on the left arm of Randy Johnson and the powerful bats of Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, and Edgar Martinez, this Seattle club relied more on solid defense, timely-hitting, outstanding team speed, and a deep pitching staff to defeat the opposition.
Seattle’s starting rotation included four pitchers who won at least 15 games. Jamie Moyer led the staff with a record of 20-6, and he also compiled a 3.43 ERA. Freddy Garcia finished 18-6, with a league-leading 3.05 ERA and 239 innings pitched. Paul Abbott went 17-4 and Aaron Sele compiled a record of 15-5. Meanwhile, Kazuhiro Sasaki placed among the league leaders with 45 saves.
On offense, centerfielder Mike Cameron hit 25 home runs, drove in 110 runs, scored 99 others, and stole 34 bases. John Olerud hit 21 homers, knocked in 95 runs, and batted .302. Edgar Martinez homered 23 times, drove in 116 runs, and batted .306. Second baseman Bret Boone had his greatest season, earning a third-place finish in the MVP balloting by hitting 37 homers, batting .331, scoring 118 runs, collecting 206 hits, and leading the league with 141 runs batted in. Japanese import Ichiro Suzuki captured A.L. MVP and Rookie of the Year honors by scoring 127 runs and topping the circuit with a .350 batting average, 242 hits, and 56 stolen bases.
Still, Ichiro may not have been the division’s best player. Alex Rodriguez had a fabulous year for his new team, the Texas Rangers, leading the league with 52 home runs, 133 runs scored, and 393 total bases, driving in 135 runs, batting .318, and collecting 201 hits. Unfortunately for Rodriguez, the Rangers finished last in the A.L. West, 43 games behind the first-place Mariners.
The team Seattle ultimately faced in the first round of the playoffs ended up being the Cleveland Indians, who returned to the top of the A.L. Central standings after a one-year hiatus. The Indians finished the regular season with a record of 91-71, six games ahead of the runner-up Minnesota Twins, and eight games in front of the third-place Chicago White Sox.
Since the Indians placed just ninth in the league rankings with a team ERA of 4.64, they depended heavily on their powerful offense to capture their sixth division title in seven years. Rookie left-hander C.C. Sabathia was Cleveland’s most effective starter, leading the staff with a record of 17-5.
Cleveland’s potent lineup finished near the top of the league rankings in most statistical categories, including runs scored (897), home runs (212), and team batting average (.278). Roberto Alomar, Jim Thome, and the newly-acquired Juan Gonzalez paced the Indians’ attack. Alomar hit 20 homers, drove in 100 runs, scored 113 others, stole 30 bases, and batted .336. Thome hit 49 home runs, knocked in 124 runs, scored 101 times, and batted .291. Gonzalez hit 35 round-trippers, drove in 140 runs, and batted .325.
The Indians gave the Mariners all they could handle in their Division Series matchup, taking their heavily-favored opponents to the full five games and outscoring them in the process by a combined margin of 26-16. A fine pitching effort by Jamie Moyer and the Seattle bullpen gave the Mariners a series-clinching 3-1 victory in the decisive fifth contest.
Meanwhile, the Yankees’ quest for a fourth straight world championship appeared to be in serious jeopardy when they dropped the first two games of their Division Series matchup with Oakland at home. However, aided by Derek Jeter’s famous “flip” to catcher Jorge Posada at home plate, the Yankees somehow managed to pick themselves up off the ground, win Game Three out in Oakland, and go on to win the Series in five games. They then made surprisingly quick work of the Mariners, needing only five games to dispose of them.
The Yankees’ hopes for a fourth straight title ended in the World Series when they lost a memorable Fall Classic to the Arizona Diamondbacks in seven games. Although the Diamondbacks badly outplayed them for most of the Series, the Yankees found themselves holding onto a 3-2 lead after the first five games.
Arizona’s top two starters, Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, completely handcuffed New York’s lineup in the first two contests, as the Diamondbacks posted 9-1 and 4-0 victories at home. However, the Yankees got back into the Series after the clubs traveled to the East Coast for the next three contests. Roger Clemens pitched the Yankees to a 2-1 victory in Game Three, before New York posted miraculous come-from-behind wins in Games Four and Five.
Arizona closer Byung-Hyun Kim replaced Curt Schilling in the bottom of the eighth inning of Game Four with the Diamondbacks in front by a score of 3-1. But Tino Martinez tied the game with a two-out, two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning. Derek Jeter gave the Yankees a 4-3 win with a solo homer off Kim one inning later.
Lightning struck again the following night, when Scott Brosius tied the score at 2-2 with another two-out, two-run homer off Kim in the bottom of the ninth. New York subsequently pushed across the winning run in the 12th inning, to take a 3-2 lead in the Fall Classic.
New York’s bubble burst, though, when the clubs returned to Arizona for the final two contests. After being routed by the Diamondbacks 15-2 in Game Six, the Yankees surrendered a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game Seven, losing to the Diamondbacks in seven games. Slugger Luis Gonzalez won the Series for Arizona by delivering a bloop hit against Mariano Rivera over a drawn-in infield.
Other notable events from around the league and players who distinguished themselves over the course of the season included:
• January 16 - Outfielders Dave Winfield and Kirby Puckett were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in their first year on the ballot.
• March 6 – The Veterans Committee elected second baseman Bill Mazeroski and Negro League pitcher Hilton Smith to the Hall of Fame.
• March 8 - The Baltimore Orioles announced that Albert Belle was "totally disabled and unable to perform as a major league baseball player" due to a severe case of degenerative arthritis of the right hip.
• September 11 - Due to terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania, baseball postponed all future games until further notice.
• September 14 - Commissioner Bud Selig announced that baseball would resume playing on September 17, six days after the 9/11 attacks.
• September 28 - Alex Rodriguez hit his 50th home run during an 11–2 Texas victory over the Anaheim Angels, becoming in the process the 20th player in major league history to hit 50 homers in a season.
• October 6 - The Seattle Mariners beat the Texas Rangers 1-0, winning their American League-record 116th game and tying the major league mark set by the Chicago Cubs in 1906.
• December 20 - The limited partners of the Boston Red Sox voted unanimously to sell the team to a group led by Florida Marlins owner John Henry and former San Diego Padres owner Tom Werner.
• Boston’s Hideo Nomo threw a no-hitter against the Orioles on April 4.
• Cal Ripken Jr. announced his retirement. He left the game with 3,184 career hits, placing him 14th on the all-time list.
• Boston’s Manny Ramirez hit 41 home runs, knocked in 125 runs, and batted .306.
• Baltimore's Tim Raines Sr. and Tim Raines Jr. appeared in the same game on October 3, joining Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr. as the only father-son duos ever to do so.
• Two days after the World Series concluded, Commissioner Bud Selig announced plans to eliminate at least two small-market teams.
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