After failing to advance to the World Series for the first time in five years the previous season, the New York Yankees captured their sixth straight A.L. East title in 2003, finishing six games ahead of the second-place Boston Red Sox in the division, with a record of 101-61. Easily the American League’s most well-balanced team, the Yankees finished third in the junior circuit with 877 runs scored, 230 home runs, and a team ERA of 4.02.
Andy Pettitte headed New York’s deep starting rotation, finishing the year with a record of 21-8. Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina each won 17 games, while David Wells chipped in with 15 victories. Meanwhile, closer Mariano Rivera compiled a brilliant 1.66 ERA and placed among the league leaders with 40 saves.
Jorge Posada, Alfonso Soriano, and Jason Giambi all had big years for the Yankees on offense. Posada hit 30 homers, drove in 101 runs, batted .281, and compiled a .405 on-base percentage, en route to earning a third-place finish in the league MVP voting. Soriano batted .290, knocked in 91 runs, and placed among the league leaders with 38 home runs, 114 runs scored, 198 hits, 35 stolen bases, and 358 total bases. Giambi scored 97 runs, compiled a .412 on-base percentage, and led the club with 41 home runs, 107 runs batted in, and 129 bases on balls. Former Japanese star Hideki Matsui also had a solid season in his first year in pinstripes, hitting 16 homers, driving in 106 runs, and batting .287.
New York’s first round playoff opponent, the Minnesota Twins, weren’t nearly as impressive over the course of the regular season. Minnesota scored 76 fewer runs than the Yankees (801), hit 75 fewer home runs (155), and compiled a higher team ERA (4.28), en route to finishing four games ahead of the second-place Chicago White Sox in the A.L. Central, with a record of 90-72. The Twins didn’t have nearly as many offensive weapons as New York. Their top offensive threat was Torii Hunter, who led the team with 26 home runs, 102 runs batted in, and 83 runs scored. The Twins also lacked a true staff ace, with none of their starters winning more than 14 games or posting an ERA less than 4.49. The only member of their starting rotation who truly distinguished himself during the season was 24-year-old lefthander Johan Santana, who compiled a record of 12-3 and an ERA of 3.07 after assuming the role of a starter at midseason. It appeared that the Twins had little hope of advancing beyond the first round of the playoffs heading into their matchup with the Yankees.
Yet, surprisingly, it was the Twins who drew first blood, winning Game One in New York by a score of 3-1. Johan Santana combined with four Minnesota relievers to limit the Yankees to just one ninth inning run, as the Twins jumped out to a 1-0 series lead. Torii Hunter delivered the game’s big blow with a two-run triple off Mike Mussina in the top of the sixth inning.
Hunter reached Yankee starter Andy Pettitte for a solo home run in the fifth inning of Game Two. However, Pettitte allowed the Twins little else, limiting them to just one run on four hits over seven innings, before turning the ball over to Mariano Rivera, who worked two perfect innings in relief. Meanwhile, after scoring a run in the bottom of the first inning off Brad Radke on a Bernie Williams sacrifice fly, the Yankees broke the game open with three runs in the bottom of the seventh. Alfonso Soriano and Jason Giambi delivered RBI singles during the three-run rally, leading New York to a 4-1 victory that evened the series at one game apiece.
A two-run home run by Hideki Matsui and the five-hit pitching of Roger Clemens over seven very strong innings enabled the Yankees to take a one game lead in the series with a 3-1 victory in Game Three. Mariano Rivera earned his second straight save with another two perfect innings of relief.
New York closed out the series in style in Game Four, scoring six times against Johan Santana in the top of the fourth inning, en route to posting an 8-1 victory. Derek Jeter homered for New York, while David Wells allowed the Twins just one run on eight hits over 7 2/3 innings. The win enabled the Yankees to advance to the ALCS for the fifth time in six years.