After capturing their fourth straight A.L. East title in 2001 by finishing the regular season 13 ½ games ahead of the second-place Boston Red Sox, with a record of 97-65, the New York Yankees entered the playoffs hopeful of becoming just the third team in major league history to win as many as four consecutive World Series (the 1936-1939 Yankees and the 1949-1953 Yankees previously accomplished the feat). However, awaiting the Yankees in the first round of the postseason tournament was a young and aggressive Oakland Athletics squad that almost ended New York’s quest for a third straight championship in the American League Divisional Series one year earlier.
The Athletics earned the right to face the Yankees in the ALDS by posting the American League’s second-best record over the course of the regular season, even though they failed to win their own division. The Seattle Mariners established a new major league record by winning 116 games during the campaign. The Mariners’ record-setting performance enabled them to finish first in the A.L. West, a full 14 games ahead of the second-place A’s, who compiled an impressive 102-60 mark that earned them a spot in the playoffs as the junior circuit’s wild-card representative.
Hardly a typical second-place team, Oakland finished fourth in the American League with 884 runs scored, fifth with 199 home runs, third with a .345 team on-base percentage, and second with a team ERA of 3.59. Mark Mulder headed Oakland’s deep starting rotation, leading the league with a record of 21-8 and four shutouts, compiling a 3.45 ERA, and throwing 229 innings, en route to earning a second-place finish in the Cy Young voting. Tim Hudson finished second on the staff with 18 victories, and he led the club with a 3.37 ERA and 235 innings pitched. Barry Zito completed Oakland’s “Big Three” at the top of the rotation, going 17-8, with a 3.49 ERA and a team-leading 205 strikeouts. Meanwhile, Jason Isringhausen saved 34 games coming out of the bullpen.
Only slightly less formidable on offense, the Athletics featured three of the league’s top players in Eric Chavez, Miguel Tejada, and Jason Giambi. Chavez batted .288, hit 32 home runs, knocked in 114 runs, and scored 91 others. Tejada hit 31 homers, drove in 113 runs, and scored 107 others. Giambi placed among the league leaders with 38 home runs, 120 runs batted in, 109 runs scored, and a .342 batting average, and he topped the circuit with 47 doubles, 129 walks, a .477 on-base percentage, and a .660 slugging percentage. The slugging first baseman finished second in the league MVP balloting.
As A.L. East champions, the Yankees entered their first round matchup with the A’s holding the home-field advantage, even though they won five fewer games than Oakland over the course of the regular season. New York also scored fewer runs (804 to 884), posted a lower team on-base percentage (.334 to .345), and compiled a significantly higher team ERA (4.02 to 3.59). However, the Yankees had a slight edge in home runs (203 to 199) and team batting average (.267 to .264), and they had a huge advantage in stolen bases (161 to 68).
New York’s starting lineup remained as deep as ever. Rookie second baseman Alfonso Soriano added speed to the top of the batting order, placing third in the league with 43 stolen bases. He also hit 18 homers and drove in 73 runs. Paul O’Neill hit 21 home runs, knocked in 70 runs, and stole a career-high 22 bases in his final year in pinstripes. Jorge Posada hit 22 homers and drove in 95 runs. Tino Martinez batted .280, scored 89 runs, and led the team with 34 homers and 113 runs batted in. Bernie Williams hit 26 home runs, knocked in 94 runs, scored 102 others, and batted .307. Derek Jeter hit 21 homers, drove in 74 runs, stole 27 bases, and led the team with 110 runs scored, 191 hits, and a .311 batting average, en route to earning a 10th place finish in the league MVP voting.
Buoyed by the off-season acquisition of free-agent right-hander Mike Mussina, New York finished third in the American League with a 4.02 team ERA. Mussina compiled a record of 17-11, and he placed second in the league with a 3.15 ERA, 214 strikeouts, and three shutouts. New York’s top starter, though, was Roger Clemens, who finished 20-3, for a league-leading .870 winning percentage, en route to earning league Cy Young honors and an eighth-place finish in the MVP balloting. Andy Pettitte, who won 15 games, joined Mussina and Clemens in giving the Yankees a “Big Three” to rival that of the Athletics. Closer Mariano Rivera posted a 2.34 ERA and led the league with 50 saves.
The Yankees entered their series with the Athletics representing the city of New York more than ever before after terrorist attacks destroyed the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on September 11th. However, Oakland further dampened the spirits of the New York fans by winning each of the first two contests played at Yankee Stadium. Mark Mulder worked 6 2/3 strong innings in Game One, holding the Yankees to just one run on seven hits, before turning the ball over to the Oakland bullpen. Meanwhile, Roger Clemens surrendered two runs on four hits in only four innings of work, before giving way to Sterling Hitchcock, who allowed the A’s to cross the plate another two times over the next three innings. Two home runs by Terrence Long, and another by Jason Giambi, helped lead the Athletics to a 5-3 victory in the opening contest.
Game Two featured a pitcher’s duel between Tim Hudson and Andy Pettitte, with the two hurlers limiting the opposing lineups to a total of just one earned run in a combined 14 1/3 innings of work. The A’s scored their only run against Pettitte on a leadoff home run by Ron Gant in the top of the fourth inning. They also pushed across an unearned run against the Yankee bullpen in the top of the ninth. Those two runs proved to be more than enough for Hudson, who shut out New York over the first eight innings, before handing the ball off to Jason Isringhausen, who worked a scoreless ninth. The 2-0 loss left the Yankees in the unenviable position of having to win the next three games, with Games Three and Four scheduled to be played in Oakland.
Game Three evolved into another pitcher’s duel, this time between Mike Mussina and Barry Zito. The Oakland left-hander allowed the Yankees just two hits over eight innings. But one of those safeties was a fifth-inning home run by Jorge Posada that Mussina and Mariano Rivera made stand up for a 1-0 Yankee victory. Mussina worked seven shutout innings, surrendering just four hits to the A’s. Rivera worked the final two frames, allowing Oakland another two hits.
Yet, in spite of Mussina’s outstanding performance, the third contest is remembered more for an extraordinary defensive play by Derek Jeter. With the Yankees nursing a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the seventh inning, Terrence Long stepped to the plate with two men out and Jeremy Giambi on first base. Long subsequently hit a line drive into the right field corner that outfielder Shane Spencer fielded as Giambi approached third base. With Giambi rounding the bag, Spencer's throw missed both cut-off men. It appeared that Giambi would score easily, tying the game, when Derek Jeter instinctively ran across the diamond, reached out, cradled the ball, and shovel passed it to catcher Jorge Posada. Posada tagged Giambi, who attempted to jump over the tag as opposed to sliding around it.
Jeter’s now famous “flip” helped shift the momentum of the series. After being limited by Oakland pitching to just four runs in the first three contests, the Yankee bats exploded for nine runs on 11 hits in Game Four, enabling New York to even the Series at two games apiece with a 9-2 victory. Bernie Williams was the hitting star for New York, going 3-for-4, with five runs batted in and two runs scored. Orlando Hernandez got the win, while Cory Lidle took the loss.
After being held to just one run over seven innings the first time they faced Mark Mulder in the series, the Yankees scored four times against him in the first four innings when the two teams returned to New York for Game Five. Roger Clemens didn’t fare much better, surrendering three runs to Oakland in only 4 1/3 innings of work. However, New York’s bullpen shut out the A’s on just two hits over the final 4 2/3 innings, allowing the Yankees to hold on for a series-clinching 5-3 victory. The win made the Yankees the first team in history to win the ALDS after losing the first two games at home.