Rebounding from a heartbreaking seven-game World Series defeat at the hands of the Arizona Diamondbacks the previous year, the New York Yankees compiled the American League’s best record in 2002 – a mark of 103-58 that earned them their fifth straight A.L. East title. New York finished 10 ½ games ahead of the second-place Boston Red Sox in the division.
Buoyed by the free-agent signing of slugging first baseman Jason Giambi, the off-season acquisition of veteran third baseman Robin Ventura, and the further development of young second baseman Alfonso Soriano, the Yankees led the American League with 897 runs scored, a .354 on-base percentage, and a .455 slugging percentage, placed second with 223 home runs, and finished third with a .275 team batting average. The three new members of New York’s starting lineup combined with veteran Yankees Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, and Derek Jeter to give the club baseball’s most formidable batting order. Ventura hit 27 home runs and knocked in 93 runs. Giambi placed among the league leaders with 41 home runs, 122 runs batted in, 120 runs scored, a .314 batting average, a .435 on-base percentage, and a .598 slugging percentage, en route to earning a fifth-place finish in the A.L. MVP voting. Soriano finished third in the balloting after spending most of the year serving as New York’s offensive catalyst. Hitting primarily out of the leadoff spot, Soriano batted .300, knocked in 102 runs, placed among the league leaders with 39 homers, 51 doubles, and 381 total bases, and topped the circuit with 128 runs scored, 209 hits, and 41 stolen bases. Meanwhile, Posada hit 20 homers and drove in 99 runs. Williams hit 19 home runs, knocked in 102 runs, scored 102 others, and placed third in the league with a .333 batting average. Jeter batted .297 and finished second on the team with 32 stolen bases and 124 runs scored.
New York’s pitching staff also received a boost when the team signed David Wells to a free-agent contract during the offseason. Combining with Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens, and Andy Pettitte, the portly left-hander gave the Yankees one of the junior circuit’s deepest starting rotations. Wells led the club with a record of 19-7, Mussina finished 18-10, and Clemens and Pettitte each won 13 games. Mariano Rivera continued to anchor the Yankee bullpen, saving 28 games and compiling a 2.74 ERA.
Awaiting the Yankees in the ALDS were the Anaheim Angels, who advanced to the postseason tournament as the league’s wild-card entry by finishing four games behind first-place Oakland in the A.L. West, with a record of 99-63. Although the Angels lacked New York’s power on offense, hitting 71 fewer home runs as a team (152), they nevertheless scored only 46 fewer runs, finishing fourth in the junior circuit with 851 runs scored. The Angels also placed fourth in the league with a .341 team on-base percentage, and they topped the circuit with a .282 team batting average.
The tandem of Troy Glaus and Garret Anderson led Anaheim’s offensive attack. Glaus hit 30 home runs, knocked in 111 runs, and scored 99 others. Anderson hit 29 homers, drove in 123 runs, scored 93 others, batted .306, and led the American League with 56 doubles, en route to earning a fourth-place finish in the league MVP voting. Tim Salmon, Darin Erstad, and David Eckstein also made major contributions to the team on offense. Salmon hit 22 homers and drove in 88 runs, Erstad stole
23 bases and scored 99 runs, and Eckstein batted .293, stole 21 bases, and led the club with 107 runs scored.
Anaheim also had a very solid pitching staff, finishing a close second in the league with a team ERA of 3.69. Jarrod Washburn placed among the league leaders with a record of 18-6 and an ERA of 3.15. Ramon Ortiz finished second on the staff with 15 victories and a 3.77 ERA. Kevin Appier chipped in with 14 wins. Meanwhile, closer Troy Percival compiled a 1.92 ERA and finished among the league leaders with 40 saves.
Heading into their first round playoff matchup with the Yankees, Anaheim was considered to be a major underdog due to New York’s greater playoff experience and superior offensive firepower. Nevertheless, the Angels’ solid lineup and strong pitching staff appeared to give them a fighting chance.
Game One in New York turned out to be a see-saw affair that saw both starting pitchers struggle at times. Jarrod Washburn worked seven innings for Anaheim, allowing the Yankees to score four runs on six hits. Roger Clemens had an even more difficult time for New York, surrendering four runs on eight hits in 5 2/3 innings of work. Troy Glaus’ second home run of the contest gave the Angels a 5-4 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth inning. However, Anaheim’s bullpen failed to hold the lead, allowing Jason Giambi to tie the game with an RBI single, before surrendering a three-run homer to Bernie Williams that put the Yankees in front by a score of 8-5. Mariano Rivera worked a scoreless ninth to give New York a 1-0 series lead.
Both teams showed their resilience in Game Two, with the Yankees overcoming an early 4-0 deficit to grab a 5-4 lead, before the Angels came storming back to take a 7-5 lead with three runs in the top of the eighth inning. Home runs by Tim Salmon and Scott Spiezio helped put the Angels out in front early in the contest, before Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano helped the Yankees mount their comeback. But Anaheim grabbed the lead for good on back-to-back homers by Garret Anderson and Troy Glaus. Both the Angels and Yankees scored a single run in the final frame, but New York’s late rally wasn’t enough to prevent Anaheim from evening the series with an 8-6 victory.
After the two teams traveled to Anaheim for Game Three, the Yankees built an early 6-1 lead against Ramon Ortiz. However, the Angels’ bullpen held New York scoreless the rest of the way, while Anaheim continued to peck away at Mike Mussina and the Yankee relief corps. After finally tying the game in the bottom of the seventh, the Angels took the lead with three runs in the eighth, with their final two tallies coming on a two-run homer by Tim Salmon. The 9-6 victory gave the Angels a 2-1 lead in the series.
Game Four remained close for the first 4 ½ innings, with the Yankees holding a 2-1 lead heading into the bottom of the fifth. However, the Angels scored eight times against David Wells and Ramiro Mendoza in the bottom of the frame to take a commanding 9-2 lead. The Yankees made the score a bit closer by scoring single runs in the sixth, seventh, and ninth innings, but it wasn’t nearly enough to stave off elimination. The Angels advanced to the ALCS with a decisive 9-5 victory that ended New York’s championship aspirations after only four short games.