The 2004 baseball season ended up having huge historical implications. In the American League, the Boston Red Sox staged arguably the greatest comeback in postseason history by overcoming a three-games-to-none deficit against the New York Yankees in the ALCS. The Red Sox subsequently ended 86 years of frustration by winning their first World Series since 1918. Meanwhile, Ichiro Suzuki broke George Sisler’s long-standing major-league record by amassing 262 hits for the Seattle Mariners.
Ichiro’s Mariners finished last in the A.L. West, 29 games behind the first-place Anaheim Angels. Nevertheless, the former Japanese star performed magnificently for Seattle. In addition to establishing a new single-season record for base hits, Ichiro led the league with a .372 batting average, scored 101 runs, and stole 36 bases. Unfortunately, he didn’t receive much support from his teammates, leading to Seattle’s poor 63-99 record.
The American League West turned out to be baseball’s most competitive division, with three teams remaining in contention until the season’s final days. The Angels mounted a late surge to conclude the campaign with a record of 92-70 that placed them one game ahead of the runner-up Oakland Athletics, and just three games in front of the third-place Texas Rangers in the final standings.
The Angels possessed rather mediocre starting pitching, with all but one member of their rotation compiling an earned run average well in excess of 4.00. Even Bartolo Colon, who led the staff with 18 victories, struggled much of the time, finishing the year with an unimpressive mark of 5.01. However, Anaheim had a deep bullpen that featured two of the circuit’s top relievers. Setup man Francisco Rodriguez finished 4-1, with 12 saves, an outstanding 1.82 ERA, and an amazing 123 strikeouts in 84 innings of work. Closer Troy Percival saved 33 games and posted a 2.90 earned run average.
Although the Angels topped the circuit with a .282 team batting average and 143 stolen bases, they finished near the middle of the league rankings in most other offensive categories. They placed seventh in runs scored (836), tenth in home runs (162), and sixth in team on-base percentage (.341). Chone Figgins, Jose Guillen, and Vladimir Guerrero were the club’s most significant contributors on offense. In addition to playing numerous positions in the field, the versatile Figgins batted .296, scored 83 runs, and stole 34 bases. Guillen provided much needed power in the middle of the lineup, hitting 27 home runs and driving in 104 runs. Guerrero earned A.L. MVP honors by leading the league with 124 runs scored and 366 total bases, and also placing among the leaders with 39 home runs, 126 runs batted in, 206 hits, a .337 batting average, and a .598 slugging average. He clearly established himself as the league’s Most Valuable Player by having a torrid month of September during which he led Anaheim to the division title almost singlehandedly. Guerrero hit 11 home runs, knocked in 25 runs, scored 25 others, and batted .363 during the season's final month, to help the Angels edge out both Oakland and Texas for the division title.
While the Angels had to wait until the season’s final day to lay claim to the Western Division crown, the Minnesota Twins coasted to their third straight A.L. Central title by compiling a record of 92-70 that left them nine games ahead of second-place Chicago in the final standings. The White Sox featured the division's most dynamic offensive player in Paul Konerko, who finished among the league leaders with 41 home runs and 117 runs batted in. However, the Twins’ superior team balance and outstanding pitching enabled them to pull away from Chicago in the end.
The Twins hardly scared their opponents on offense, finishing just 10th in the American League with 780 runs scored. No one on the club hit more than 25 home runs, knocked in more than 81 runs, scored more than 89 times, or reached the .300-mark in batting. But the Twins led the league with a team ERA of 4.03, and their staff featured the circuit’s most dominant starting pitcher and one of its best closers. Joe Nathan placed among the league leaders with 44 saves, and he also compiled an outstanding 1.62 ERA and struck out 89 batters in only 72 innings of work. Meanwhile, left-hander Johan Santana established himself as the league's best pitcher in just his second full season. Santana finished 20-6, with a league-leading 2.61 ERA and 265 strikeouts, en route to capturing A.L. Cy Young honors.
The Yankees won their seventh consecutive A.L. East title, with the Red Sox finishing right behind them in the standings for the seventh straight time. The Yankees compiled an American League-best 101-61 record that enabled them to edge out second-place Boston by three games in the final standings. However, by posting 98 victories, the Red Sox finished with the circuit’s second-best record, earning themselves a spot in the playoffs as the league’s wild-card representative.
Although the Yankees again captured the division crown, they lacked the overall team balance that characterized their six previous division championship ball clubs. This team possessed only mediocre pitching, forcing it to depend heavily on its potent offense. New York ranked just sixth in the league with a team ERA of 4.69, with no one on the staff winning more than 14 games. Setup man Tom Gordon and closer Mariano Rivera were easily the team’s two most reliable hurlers. Gordon finished 9-4, with four saves, a 2.21 ERA, and 96 strikeouts in 90 innings of work. Rivera led the league with 53 saves and compiled an outstanding 1.94 ERA.
With the Yankees’ pitching staff displaying a considerable amount of mediocrity over the course of the season, their offense ended up carrying them to the division title. Buoyed by the off-season acquisitions of Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield, the Yankees led the league with 242 home runs. They also placed second in the circuit with 897 runs scored, a .353 team on-base percentage, and a .458 team slugging average. Rodriguez hit 36 homers, drove in 106 runs, scored 112 others, and batted .286 in his first year in pinstripes. Sheffield compiled even better numbers, also hitting 36 home runs, while batting .290 and placing among the league leaders with 121 runs batted in and 117 runs scored. For his efforts, Sheffield earned a second-place finish in the A.L. MVP voting. Holdovers Derek Jeter and Hideki Matsui also made significant contributions to New York’s offense. Jeter went deep 23 times, scored 111 runs, and batted .292. Matsui hit 31 homers, knocked in 108 runs, scored another 109, and batted .298.
Although the Red Sox finished three games behind New York in the standings, they were arguably a more well-balanced team. The Sox led the American League with 949 runs scored, tied for the league-lead with a .282 team batting average, finished fourth in the circuit with 222 home runs, and compiled a team ERA of 4.18 that placed them third in the league rankings. Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez anchored Boston’s starting rotation. Schilling finished 21-6, with a 3.26 ERA and 203 strikeouts. Martinez went 16-9, with an ERA of 3.90 and 227 strikeouts. Meanwhile, closer Keith Foulke saved 32 games.
On offense, the trio of Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez, and David Ortiz paced the Boston attack. Centerfielder Damon hit 20 homers, knocked in 94 runs, batted .304, and finished second in the league with 123 runs scored. Ramirez led the A.L. with 43 home runs and a .613 slugging percentage, drove in 130 runs, scored 108 others, and batted .308. Ortiz batted .301, scored 94 runs, and placed among the league leaders with 41 homers, 139 runs batted in, and a .603 slugging average. Ramirez finished third in the MVP balloting, while Ortiz came in fourth.
While New York and Boston clearly established themselves as the class of the A.L. East over the course of the regular season, two of the league’s top offensive performers played for the Baltimore Orioles, who finished third in the division, 23 games behind the first-place Yankees. Third baseman Melvin Mora had the greatest season of his career, hitting 27 home runs, driving in 104 runs, scoring another 111, placing second in the league with a .340 batting average, and topping the circuit with a .419 on-base percentage. Shortstop Miguel Tejada also had a huge year for the Birds after joining them during the off-season as a free agent. Tejada hit 34 homers, knocked in a league-leading 150 runs, scored 107 times, and batted .311.
The stars subsequently aligned for a second consecutive New York vs. Boston ALCS matchup when the Yankees defeated Minnesota in the Division Series in four games, while the Red Sox swept Anaheim in three straight games in the other first-round playoff series.
The Yankees appeared to be well on their way towards moving on to the World Series after they dominated the Red Sox in the first three contests. The Yankees took Games One and Two at home by scores of 10-7 and 3-1, before thoroughly embarrassing their rivals in Game Three in Boston by a score of 19-8. The Red Sox seemed dead when they entered the bottom of the ninth inning of Game Four trailing New York 4-3, with Mariano Rivera on the mound for the Yankees. However, Boston tied the score against Rivera and emerged victorious three innings later when David Ortiz delivered a game-winning two-run homer against Paul Quantrill in the bottom of the 12th. The Boston DH provided more heroics in Game Five, hitting a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning to tie the score, before delivering a game-winning single in the 14th inning. After an injured Curt Schilling stymied New York’s lineup when the two teams returned to Yankee Stadium for Game Six, the Red Sox became the first team in baseball history to come back from a 3-0 series deficit by eliminating the Yankees by a score of 10-3 in Game Seven.
Still on an emotional high from their ALCS comeback, Boston took Game One of the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, breaking a 9-9 tie on Mark Bellhorn's eighth-inning homer. After winning Game Two 6-2 at Fenway Park, the Red Sox shut down the Redbirds 4-1 and 3-0 in St. Louis for a convincing four-game sweep. Manny Ramirez earned Series MVP honors by batting .412 and knocking in four runs. Meanwhile, Boston pitching held St. Louis sluggers Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen to a combined 1-for-30.
Other notable events from around the league and players who distinguished themselves over the course of the season included:
• January 6 – The members of the BBWAA elected Dennis Eckersley and Paul Molitor to the Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility.
• February 15 – The Yankees acquired Alex Rodriguez from the Texas Rangers for Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named later.
• July 24 – During an 11-10 Boston victory over New York at Fenway Park, Alex Rodriguez and Jason Varitek began a bench-clearing brawl after Bronson Arroyo hit the Yankee slugger with a pitch.
• Boston’s Curt Schilling started and won Game Two of the World Series despite pitching with a torn tendon in his right ankle.
• David Ortiz knocked in 19 runs for Boston during the postseason.
• Johan Santana's league-leading 2.61 ERA bettered the American League’s average mark by more than two runs.
• The 262 hits amassed by Ichiro Suzuki enabled him to break the record previously held by Hall of Fame first baseman George Sisler, who collected 257 safeties for the St. Louis Browns in 1920.
• Boston traded superstar shortstop Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs on July 31.
• Oakland shortstop Bobby Crosby (22 homers) earned A.L. Rookie of the Year honors.
• The American League defeated the National League in the All-Star Game, played in Houston on July 13, by a score of 9-4.
• A long-suppressed steroids scandal reared its head throughout the season and after the World Series, implicating several star players, including Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds.
• Hank Blalock hit 32 home runs, drove in 110 runs, and scored 107 others for the Texas Rangers.
• Texas teammate Mark Teixeira hit 38 homers, knocked in 112 runs, scored 101 times, and batted .281.
• Rangers shortstop Michael Young homered 22 times, drove in 99 runs, scored 114 others, batted .313, and placed second in the league with 216 hits.
- David Ortiz won the ALCS MVP
- Keith Foulke won the Babe Ruth Award
- Johan Santana won the Cy Young
- Manny Ramirez won the Hank Aaron Award
- Buck Showalter won the Mgr of the year
- Vladimir Guerrero won the MVP
- Mariano Rivera won the Rolaids Relief
- Bobby Crosby won the Rookie of the Year
- Johan Santana won the TSN Pitcher of the Year
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