After winning the 1996 World Series, the Yankees spent the off-season basking in their first world championship in 18 years.  Team owner George Steinbrenner finally seemed content, even though manager Joe Torre and all his players fully realized The Boss expected them to repeat as world champions in 1997. 

Not wishing to greatly alter team chemistry, which played a huge role in New York’s successful run to the title, the front office made only minimal changes to the roster heading into the 1997 campaign.  New York lost starter Jimmy Key and closer John Wetteland to free agency.  Key signed with the rival Baltimore Orioles, while Wetteland joined the Texas Rangers.  The Yankees had a quick response to Key’s departure, though, signing free agent left-hander David Wells just two weeks later.  Although the 33-year-old Wells finished just 11-14 with a 5.14 ERA for the Orioles the previous season, the Yankees believed he had the ability to succeed in New York.  Meanwhile, New York planned to replace Wetteland as closer with Mariano Rivera, who did such an exceptional job as the team’s set-up man one year earlier.  The Yankees also signed reliever Mike Stanton, who they expected to assume Rivera’s former set-up role.  The only other significant change the Yankees made to their roster occurred early in the season, when they acquired the rights to Japanese right-hander Hideki Irabu from the San Diego Padres. 

Entering the regular season with a ball club that greatly resembled the one that captured the world championship the previous year, the Yankees actually improved upon their performance, finishing the campaign with a record of 96-66.  They scored 20 more runs than they tallied one year earlier, and their pitching staff permitted the opposition to score 100 fewer times.  Nevertheless, New York finished second in the A.L. East, two games behind the Baltimore Orioles, who compiled a record of 98-64.  The Yankees, though, advanced to the postseason as the American League’s wild-card entry.

David Wells and a healthy David Cone were largely responsible for New York’s improved pitching.  Wells finished second on the team with 16 victories and 218 innings pitched, and he led the staff with five complete games.  Cone finished 12-6 with a team-leading 2.82 ERA, en route to earning a spot on the A.L. All-Star Team.  Andy Pettitte had another outstanding year, compiling a record of 18-7 and a 2.88 ERA, and leading the staff with 240 innings pitched. 

Mariano Rivera made the Yankees quickly forget about John Wetteland, placing second in the league with 43 saves and posting a 1.88 ERA.  Rivera joined teammate Cone on the All-Star Team.  Meanwhile, Mike Stanton and Jeff Nelson did an outstanding job as Rivera’s left-handed and right-handed set-up men.  Lefty Stanton finished 6-1 with a 2.57 ERA, while Nelson compiled a 2.86 ERA and struck out 81 batters in 79 innings of work.

New York again had a very deep lineup, led by the quartet of Paul O’Neill, Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, and Tino Martinez.  O’Neill earned a spot on the A.L. All-Star Team and a 12th place finish in the MVP voting by hitting 21 home runs, driving in 117 runs, and batting .324.  Jeter batted .291, led the team with 23 stolen bases, and placed among the league leaders with 116 runs scored and 190 hits.  Williams earned his first All-Star selection by hitting 21 homers, driving in 100 runs, scoring 107 runs, and finishing fourth in the league with a .328 batting average.  He also won his first Gold Glove Award.  Martinez had the finest year of his career, placing second in the league with 44 home runs and 141 runs batted in, scoring 96 runs, and batting .296.  He made the A.L. All-Star Team and finished second in the league MVP balloting.

Having finished second in the A.L. East during the regular season, New York faced the Central Division champion Cleveland Indians in the first round of the playoffs.  The Yankees took a two-games-to-one lead in the ALDS, and they seemed headed towards a second consecutive trip to the ALCS when they entered the ninth inning of Game Four one run ahead of the Indians.  However, Mariano Rivera surrendered a game-tying home run to Sandy Alomar Jr., and the Indians went on to win the game in extra innings.  Cleveland also captured Game Five at home, denying the Yankees a return trip to the ALCS. 

By Bob_Cohen

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1997 ALDS1, Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams (New York Yankees), David Cone, David Wells, Derek Jeter, George Steinbrenner, Hideki Irabu, Jeff Nelson, Jimmy Key, Joe Torre, John Wetteland, Mariano Rivera, Mike Stanton, New York Yankees, Tino Martinez


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