After failing to advance to the World Series for the first time in five years the previous season, the New York Yankees returned to the Fall Classic in 2003. Having captured the A.L. East title with a league-best 101-61 record during the regular season, the Yankees subsequently disposed of the Minnesota Twins in four games in the ALDS. They then won a hotly-contested American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox, finally prevailing in the 11th inning of Game Seven when Aaron Boone hit a walk-off home run against Tim Wakefield.
New York entered the World Series as an overwhelming favorite to defeat the Florida Marlins. Billed as a battle of the “haves” versus the “have-nots,” the Series pitted the star-studded Yankees and their $164 million payroll against the young Marlins and their $54 million payroll. New York’s deep starting rotation included 21-game winner Andy Pettitte, 17-game winners Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina, and David Wells, who posted 15 victories during the regular season. The Yankees also had the game’s best closer in Mariano Rivera. Meanwhile, New York’s lineup included playoff veterans Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter, former Japanese star Hideki Matsui, and three of the American League’s most productive offensive players over the course of the campaign – Jorge Posada, Alfonso Soriano, and Jason Giambi. 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.
The upstart Marlins lacked the household names that littered the Yankee roster. Indeed, the Marlins had to consider themselves extremely fortunate even to be facing New York in the World Series. Florida initially earned a postseason berth by finishing second in the N.L. East, 10 games behind first-place Atlanta, with a record of 91-71. The wild-card Marlins then lost the first game of the NLDS to the San Francisco Giants, before storming back to win the final three contests. They subsequently went down three-games-to-one to the Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series. But, with a little luck and a lot of timely hitting, Florida rallied once more, winning the final three games to advance to the Fall Classic with a 4-3 series win over Chicago.
The Marlins clearly lacked the offensive firepower of their World Series opponents. While New York finished third in the American League with 877 runs scored and 230 home runs, the Marlins placed eighth in the senior circuit with 751 runs scored, and they finished 11th with 157 home runs. The Yankees also posted a higher team batting average (.271 to .266) and a significantly higher team on-base percentage (.356 to .333). The only statistical edge the Marlins held over the Yankees was in stolen bases (150 to 98).
Still, the Marlins were not without their offensive weapons. Ivan Rodriguez hit 16 homers, drove in 85 runs, scored 90 others, and batted .297. Juan Encarnacion hit 19 home runs and knocked in 94 runs. Luis Castillo scored 99 runs and led the team with a .314 batting average. Derrek Lee hit 31 homers, drove in 92 runs, and scored 91 others. Mike Lowell led the club with 32 home runs and 105 runs batted in. Juan Pierre served as Florida’s offensive catalyst, batting .305 and leading the team with 100 runs scored, 204 hits, and 65 stolen bases.
Although Florida’s pitchers weren’t nearly as well-known as the members of New York’s starting staff, they were a young and talented group. The Marlins finished sixth in the National League with a team ERA of 4.04, and their starting rotation featured three pitchers who won 14 games – Brad Penny, Mark Redman, and N.L. Rookie of the Year Dontrelle Willis. Yet their most talented hurler may well have been 23-year-old right-hander Josh Beckett, who won nine games and compiled a team-best 3.04 ERA after he became a regular member of the starting rotation during the season. Nevertheless, the Yankees had to be given the edge in pitching as well heading into their postseason matchup, since New York’s team ERA of 4.02 represented the third-lowest figure compiled by any American League club during the regular season.
As it turned out, Florida’s pitchers proved to be superior in Game One, played in New York. Although New York collected nine hits to Florida’s seven, the Yankees managed to score only two runs against a trio of Marlins pitchers. Brad Penny, Dontrelle Willis, and Ugueth Urbina allowed the Yankees to score only on an RBI single by Derek Jeter and a solo home run by Bernie Williams. Meanwhile, Juan Pierre scored Florida’s first run and drove in the other two with a two-run single off David Wells in the top of the fifth inning. Penny got the win for Florida, while Wells, who worked seven strong innings for New York, took the hard-luck loss.
The Yankees bounced back in Game Two to even the Series at one game apiece with a convincing 6-1 victory. Andy Pettitte allowed just six hits and one unearned run in 8 2/3 innings, while Hideki Matsui and Alfonso Soriano combined to drive in five of New York’s six runs. Matsui became the first Japanese player to hit a home run in the World Series when he delivered a three-run blast in the first inning. Soriano hit a two-run shot off reliever Rick Helling in the fourth. Florida starter Mark Redman lasted only 2 1/3 innings, allowing the Yankees their first four runs.
After the two teams traveled to Florida for Game Three, starters Mike Mussina and Josh Beckett kept the contest close for the first eight innings. Mussina surrendered just a first inning run to the Marlins, before settling down to blank them over the next six frames. Meanwhile, Beckett worked into the top of the eighth, leaving the contest with the score tied at 1-1 and having struck out 10 Yankee batters. Dontrelle Willis retired the first batter he faced after relieving Beckett, but he subsequently gave up an RBI single to Hideki Matsui that gave the Yankees their first lead of the night. New York then broke the game open in the top of the ninth inning, scoring four times on a solo home run by Aaron Boone and a three-run blast by Bernie Williams. The Williams homer was the 19th of his postseason career, placing him first on the all-time list. Mariano Rivera worked the final two innings for the Yankees, to preserve the 6-1 victory that gave them a 2-1 Series lead.
Three first inning runs against Roger Clemens gave Florida the lead for most of Game Four. Although the Yankees scored once in the top of the second, they failed to cross the plate again against Carl Pavano, who left the game after the eighth inning with a 3-1 lead. However, the Yankees rallied for two runs in the top of the ninth against Ugueth Urbina. After Bernie Williams singled and Hideki Matsui walked, Ruben Sierra drove in both men with a two-out game-tying triple. In danger of going down three-games-to-one in the Series, the Marlins shifted the momentum of the Fall Classic suddenly and dramatically in the bottom of the 12th inning, when Alex Gonzalez led off the frame with a home run off Jeff Weaver that gave Florida a 4-3 victory and evened the Series at two games apiece.
Having lost all the momentum they gained after winning Games Two and Three, the Yankees suddenly found themselves in a rather precarious position heading into the fifth contest. Manager Joe Torre decided to bench a slumping Alfonso Soriano, and injuries to Jason Giambi and David Wells made both men questionable heading into Game Five. Wells started the contest for New York, but back spasms forced him to leave the contest after pitching just one inning. His replacement, Jose Contreras, pitched three shaky innings, allowing the Marlins four runs. Florida eventually built a 6-1 lead after the first five innings, before New York attempted to mount a late-inning comeback. An RBI-single by Derek Jeter in the seventh inning plated one run for the Yankees. They added another two in the top of the ninth on a pinch-hit homer by Giambi and an RBI-double by Enrique Wilson. But the Yankee rally fell just short when Bernie Williams’ bid for a game-tying two-run homer was caught near the outfield wall by Juan Encarnacion. The 6-4 victory put the Marlins up in the Series three-games-to-two.
The Yankees hoped that a return to New York might help to shift the momentum of the Series back to their side again. However, a brilliant effort by Josh Beckett prevented the Yankees from getting back into the Series. Working on just three days’ rest, Beckett threw a complete-game, five-hit shutout, giving the Marlins their second world championship with a 2-0 victory.