Buoyed by the return of Andy Pettitte to their starting rotation after a three-year absence and a brilliant performance turned in by A.L. MVP Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees advanced to the postseason for the 13th straight time in 2007, finishing the campaign with a record of 94-68. Although the Yankees did well to make the playoffs after playing only .500-ball during the season’s first half, they had to be a little disappointed by their failure to win the A.L. East title for the first time in 10 years. New York entered the postseason tournament as the American League’s wild-card entry, having finished second in their division, two games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox.
The Yankees likely would not have had to settle for a second-place finish had they received better pitching over the course of the season. New York’s team ERA of 4.49 placed them eighth in the league rankings. Andy Pettitte and Chien-Ming Wang were the team’s only reliable starters. Pettitte finished second on the club with 15 victories, while Wang led the staff with a record of 19-7 and an ERA of 3.70. Even Mariano Rivera experienced something of an off-year, compiling a 3.15 ERA and saving only 30 games.
Fortunately for the Yankees, they had the American League’s best offense. New York topped the junior circuit with 968 runs scored, 201 home runs, a .290 team batting average, a .366 team on-base percentage, and a .463 team slugging percentage. Johnny Damon scored 93 runs and led the team with 27 stolen bases. Bobby Abreau batted .283, stole 25 bases, knocked in 101 runs, and placed second in the league with 123 runs scored. Hideki Matsui batted .285, scored 100 runs, and finished second on the team with 25 homers and 103 runs batted in. Robinson Cano hit 19 home runs, knocked in 97 runs, scored 93 others, and batted .306. Derek Jeter earned an 11th place finish in the league MVP voting by batting .322, scoring 102 runs, and accumulating 206 hits. Jorge Posada hit 20 homers, drove in 90 runs, scored 91 others, and batted a career-high .338, en route to earning a sixth-place finish in the MVP balloting. Everyone else in the Yankee lineup, though, assumed a supporting role to Alex Rodriguez, who captured A.L. MVP honors by batting .314, compiling a .422 on-base percentage, and leading the league with 54 home runs, 156 runs batted in, 143 runs scored, and a .645 slugging percentage.
Awaiting the Yankees in the ALDS were the Cleveland Indians, who tied the Boston Red Sox for the league’s best record with a mark of 96-66. The Indians finished first in the A.L. Central, eight games ahead of the second-place Detroit Tigers.
Although the Indians lacked New York’s powerful offense, placing sixth in the league with 811 runs scored, fifth with 178 home runs, and seventh with a team batting average of .268, they were arguably a more well-balanced club. While the Yankees’ team ERA of 4.49 placed them eighth in the league rankings, Cleveland finished third in the circuit with a mark of 4.05. The Indians had three reliable starters in C.C. Sabathia, Fausto Carmona, and Paul Byrd. Sabathia earned A.L. Cy Young honors by finishing the year with a record of 19-7, an ERA of 3.21, 209 strikeouts, and a league-leading 241 innings pitched. Carmona was almost as good, compiling a record of 19-8 and a 3.06 ERA in 215 innings of work. Byrd finished third on the staff with 15 victories. Closer Joe Borowski proved to be eminently hittable over the course of the season, compiling an ERA of 5.07. Nevertheless, he saved 45 games. Meanwhile, setup men Rafael Betancourt and Rafael Perez posted marks of 1.47 and 1.78, respectively.
Although not as potent as New York’s lineup, Cleveland’s batting order was a difficult one for opposing pitchers to navigate through. Leadoff hitter Grady Sizemore batted .277, hit 24 homers, drove in 78 runs, scored 118 others, and stole 33 bases. DH Travis Hafner hit 24 home runs and knocked in 100 runs. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta hit 21 homers, drove in 72 runs, and scored 87 others. Catcher Victor Martinez led the team with 25 home runs, 114 runs batted in, and a .301 batting average.
All things considered, the Yankees and Indians entered their postseason series as two quite evenly-matched ball clubs.
Johnny Damon led off Game One in Cleveland’s Jacobs Field with a home run off C.C. Sabathia, and Robinson Cano added a solo blast against the Cleveland starter in the top of the fourth inning. But those were just about the only highlights for New York in a completely one-sided affair that the Indians won by a final score of 12-3. Cleveland reached Yankee starter Chien-Ming Wang for eight earned runs in only 4 2/3 innings of work, with Kenny Lofton doing much of the damage. Lofton went 3-for-4, with four runs batted in and one run scored, to help the Indians take a 1-0 series lead. Sabathia got the win despite walking six batters over five shaky innings, while Wang was tagged with the loss for New York.
Game Two evolved into a pitcher’s duel between Cleveland’s Fausto Carmona and New York’s Andy Pettitte. A third inning homer by Melky Cabrera enabled the Yankees to take a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning. However, after dominating Cleveland’s lineup the previous frame, New York reliever Joba Chamberlain became unraveled as a swarm of pesky bugs known as Mayflies invaded Jacobs Field on an unusually warm and humid night in Cleveland. After tying the game in the eighth inning without the benefit of a hit, the Indians eventually won the contest in the 11th inning on an RBI single by Travis Hafner off Luis Vizcaino. The 2-1 victory gave Cleveland a commanding 2-0 lead in the series, with the next two games scheduled to be played at Yankee Stadium.
Facing elimination, the Yankees received a clutch performance from rookie Phil Hughes in Game Three that helped them extend their season for at least one more day. Having surrendered three runs to the Indians over the first three innings, Roger Clemens left the contest after straining a hamstring. Replacing Clemens with the Yankees trailing 3-0, Hughes worked 3 2/3 scoreless innings, during which time he allowed Cleveland just two hits. Meanwhile, New York drove Cleveland starter Jake Westbrook from the mound by scoring four runs in the bottom of the fifth inning, before scoring another three times in the sixth frame. Johnny Damon delivered the big blow for New York, turning a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 lead with a three-run home run off Westbrook in the fifth inning. The Yankees went on to win the game by a score of 8-4, cutting Cleveland’s lead in the series to 2-1.
As it turned out, New York’s victory in Game Three merely delayed the inevitable. Working on three days’ rest in Game Four, Chien-Ming Wang was battered by the Indians for the second time in the series, surrendering four runs to Cleveland in just over one full inning of work. Grady Sizemore set the tone for the contest by hitting a leadoff homer against Wang in the top of the first. Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, and Bobby Abreau all hit solo home runs for New York, but it was a case of
too little too late, as the Indians went on to win the game by a final score of 6-4. The loss marked the third straight year that the Yankees were eliminated from the postseason tournament in the very first round. It also turned out to be the final postseason game ever played at the old Yankee Stadium and the final game that Joe Torre managed for the Yankees.