After being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual world-champion Anaheim Angels the previous year, the New York Yankees established a new American League record by winning their sixth consecutive division title in 2003. New York finished first in the A.L. East with a record of 101-61, six games ahead of the runner-up Boston Red Sox, who advanced to the postseason as the league’s wild-card entry.
An extremely well-balanced ball club, the Yankees finished third in the American League with 877 runs scored, 230 home runs, and a 4.02 team ERA. Andy Pettitte headed New York’s starting rotation, compiling a record of 21-8, to finish second in the league in wins. Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina each won 17 games, while David Wells added another 15 victories. Mariano Rivera continued to anchor New York’s bullpen, saving 40 games, winning five others, and posting an ERA of 1.66.
Former Japanese star Hideki Matsui added another powerful bat to New York’s already potent lineup, driving in 106 runs and batting .287. After missing the first month of the season with a shoulder injury, Derek Jeter batted .324 and scored 87 runs. Jason Giambi led the team with 41 home runs and 107 runs batted in. Alfonso Soriano hit 38 homers, drove in 91 runs, scored another 114, batted .290, and stole 35 bases. Jorge Posada earned a third-place finish in the A.L. MVP voting by hitting 30 home runs, knocking in 101 runs, batting .281, and compiling a .405 on-base percentage.
As many offensive weapons as the Yankees possessed, the second-place Red Sox featured an even deeper lineup. With nary an easy out in their batting order, the Red Sox topped the circuit with 961 runs scored, a .289 team batting average, a .360 team on-base percentage, and a .491 team slugging average, and they also finished second with 238 home runs. Kevin Millar hit 25 home runs and drove in 96 runs. Catcher Jason Veritek hit 25 long balls and knocked in 85 runs. Right-fielder Trot Nixon went deep 28 times, drove in 87 runs, and batted .306. Centerfielder Johnny Damon brought the team much-needed speed at the top of the batting order, scoring 103 times and stealing 30 bases. Third baseman Bill Mueller had the finest season of his career, hitting 19 home runs, driving in 85 runs, and leading the league with a .326 batting average. Manny Ramirez led the team with 37 home runs, knocked in 104 runs, scored 117 others, and batted .325. Nomar Garciaparra homered 28 times, led the Sox with 105 runs batted in and 120 runs scored, and batted .301. David Ortiz hit 31 home runs, knocked in 101 runs, and batted .288.
Although the Red Sox lacked New York’s depth on the mound, their starting rotation included a couple of pretty fair pitchers in Derek Lowe and Pedro Martinez. Lowe compiled a record of 17-7, while Martinez finished 14-4 with a league-leading 2.22 earned run average.
While the Yankees and Red Sox separated themselves from the rest of the A.L. East over the course of the season, the third-place Toronto Blue Jays, who finished 15 games behind New York in the standings, featured three of the league’s best players. Roy Halladay earned Cy Young honors by leading all A.L. hurlers with a record of 22-7, 266 innings pitched, and nine complete games. He also placed among the leaders with a 3.25 ERA and 204 strikeouts. Centerfielder Vernon Wells hit 33 homers, drove in 117 runs, scored 118 others, batted .317, and led the league with 215 hits, 49 doubles, and 373 total bases. First baseman Carlos Delgado earned a second-place finish in the A.L. MVP balloting by batting .302, placing among the league leaders with 42 home runs, 117 runs scored, a .426 on-base percentage, and a .593 slugging average, and topping the circuit with 145 runs batted in.
The Minnesota Twins captured their second consecutive A.L. Central title by finishing the season with a record of 90-72, four games ahead of the runner-up Chicago White Sox, and seven games in front of third-place Kansas City. Outfielders Jacque Jones and Torii Hunter paced the Twins on offense. Jones batted .304 and scored 76 runs. Hunter hit 26 home runs and knocked in 102 runs. Brad Radke and Johan Santana gave the Twins a pair of solid starters at the top of their rotation. Radke led the staff with 14 wins, while Santana compiled an outstanding 12-3 record after being converted into a starter at midseason.
The Oakland Athletics also repeated as champions in the West, edging out the second-place Seattle Mariners by three games, with a record of 96-66. Ranking just ninth in the junior circuit in runs scored, the A’s captured the division title primarily on the strength of their pitching staff, which led the league with a 3.63 team ERA. Oakland’s “Big Three” of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito again performed extremely well, posting a combined record of 45-28. Hudson also finished second in the league with a 2.70 ERA. Meanwhile, Miguel Tejada and Eric Chavez shouldered much of the offensive burden. Tejada hit 27 home runs, knocked in 106 runs, scored 98 others, and batted .278. Chavez homered 29 times, drove in 101 runs, scored 94 others, and batted .282.
While Oakland and Seattle battled it out for supremacy in the West, Alex Rodriguez compiled the most impressive numbers of anyone in the league for the Texas Rangers, who finished last in the division, 25 games behind the first-place A’s. Rodriguez concluded the campaign with 118 runs batted in, a .298 batting average, and a league-leading 47 home runs, 124 runs scored, and .600 slugging average. The members of the BBWAA named A-Rod A.L. MVP in spite of his team’s last-place finish.
After dropping Game One of the Division Series to the Twins, the Yankees advanced to the ALCS by sweeping the next three contests. The A’s appeared to be on the verge of facing the Yankees in the postseason for the third time in four years when they grabbed a 2-0 lead in their first-round playoff matchup with the Red Sox. However, Boston rallied to win the next three games, setting up a “dream” ALCS matchup between the two bitter A.L. East rivals.
New York and Boston split the first two contests, before the long-simmering feelings of animosity that existed between the two clubs surfaced in Game Three. Red Sox hurler Pedro Martinez precipitated two bench-clearing brawls by hitting Yankee outfielder Karim Garcia with a pitch in the middle of his back. The Yankees ended up winning the game 4-3, but the Red Sox came back to take two out of the next three contests, to even the Series at three games apiece. The Red Sox grabbed an early 4-0 lead in Game Seven, and they appeared to be in pretty good shape when they entered the bottom of the eighth inning still holding onto a 5-2 lead with Martinez on the mound. But Boston manager Grady Little continued to stick with his weary right-hander as the Yankees mounted a three-run rally that tied the score at 5-5. The score remained deadlocked until the bottom of the 11th inning, when Aaron Boone led off the frame by hitting Tim Wakefield’s first pitch into the lower left field stands, giving the Yankees the victory and their 39th American League pennant.
The Yankees had little time to savor their victory, entering the World Series against the Florida Marlins less than 48 hours later. Showing signs of a hangover, New York lost the first game by a score of 3-2. However, the Yankees seemingly took control of the Series by winning each of the next two contests. A struggling Alfonso Soriano, injuries to Jason Giambi and David Wells, and the stellar pitching of Florida’s young hurlers eventually doomed the Yankees, though. The Marlins won Games Four through Six, ending New York’s quest for their 27th world championship.
Other notable events from around the league and players who distinguished themselves over the course of the season included:
• May 11 - Rafael Palmeiro hit his 500th career home run off Cleveland Indians pitcher David Elder, becoming only the 19th player in major league history to reach the 500 mark.
• June 13 - Roger Clemens became the 21st pitcher in major league history to win 300 games, and only the third pitcher to record 4,000 career strikeouts, as the Yankees defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 5-2.
• August 23 – The New York Yankees retired Ron Guidry’s number 49.
• September 25 - Toronto's Carlos Delgado homered in four consecutive at-bats in one game against Tampa Bay.
• November 28 – The Boston Red Sox acquired Curt Schilling from the Arizona Diamondbacks for four players.
• Seattle’s Jamie Moyer finished 21-7 with a 3.27 ERA.
• Mariner teammate Ichiro Suzuki batted .312, scored 111 runs, and placed among the league leaders with 212 hits and 34 stolen bases.
• Fellow Mariner Bret Boone hit 35 home runs, knocked in 117 runs, and scored 111 others.
• Texas third baseman Hank Blalock gave the American League a 7-6 victory in the All-Star Game by hitting a home run off Eric Gagne of the Dodgers.
• Toronto’s Roy Halladay won 15 straight games en route to posting 22 victories and earning A.L. Cy Young honors.
• Kansas City’s Carlos Beltran hit 26 home runs, knocked in 100 runs, scored 102 others, batted .307, and stole 41 bases in 45 attempts.
• Kansas City infielder Angel Berroa earned A.L. Rookie of the Year honors.
• The Detroit Tigers established a new American League record by losing 119 games.
• In May, The Walt Disney Company sold the Anaheim Angels to West Coast businessman Arturo Moreno for approximately $182 million.
• Baltimore pitcher Steve Bechler died after a spring training workout on February 17. His death was subsequently linked to the performance-enhancing supplement ephedra.
• The Hall of Fame inducted Gary Carter and Eddie Murray.
• Boston fired manager Grady Little two days after the conclusion of the World Series.
- Aaron Boone, Alex Rodriguez, Alfonso Soriano, Andy Pettitte, Angel Berroa, Barry Zito, Bill Mueller, Boston Red Sox, Brad Radke, Bret Boone, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, David Ortiz, David Wells, Derek Jeter, Derek Lowe, Detroit Tigers, Eric Chavez, Grady Little, Hank Blalock, Hideki Matsui, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack McKeon, Jacque Jones, Jamie Moyer, Jason Giambi, Jason Varitek, Jeremy Bonderman, Johan Santana, Johnny Damon, Jorge Posada, Josh Beckett, Karim Garcia, Kevin Millar, Manny Ramirez, Mariano Rivera, Mark Mulder, Miguel Tejada, Mike Lowell, Mike Mussina, New York Yankees, Nomar Garciaparra, Pedro Martinez, Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens, Roy Halladay, Steve Bechler, Texas Rangers, Tim Hudson, Tim Wakefield, Torii Hunter, Toronto Blue Jays, Trot Nixon, Vernon Wells