Having captured their third straight world championship the previous year, the Yankees entered the 2001 campaign hopeful of becoming just the third team in major league history to win as many as four consecutive World Series (the 1936-1939 Yankees and the 1949-1953 Yankees previously accomplished the feat). Aside from a return of the complacency that set in to the team during the latter stages of the 2000 regular season, the Yankees’ biggest obstacle appeared to be the age of their starting pitchers. With Roger Clemens, David Cone, and Orlando Hernandez all in their mid-to-upper thirties, New York’s rotation was the oldest in the league.
Cone’s 4-14 record the previous season prompted the Yankees to look in another direction when he became eligible for free agency at the end of the year. The 38-year-old right-hander ended up signing with the arch-rival Boston Red Sox instead. To replace Cone in the rotation, New York tapped the free-agent market by signing Mike Mussina to a long-term contract. The 32-year-old Mussina previously spent his entire career with the Baltimore Orioles, winning at least 13 games each year from 1993 to 2000, and surpassing 18 victories on four separate occasions. Despite finishing the 2000 campaign with a record of only 11-15 for the lowly Orioles, Mussina pitched fairly well, compiling an ERA of 3.79 and leading the league with 238 innings pitched.
The Yankees also decided to add some youth to their starting lineup by inserting top prospect Alfonso Soriano at second base. With Chuck Knoblauch continuing to be plagued by throwing problems throughout the 2000 season, New York shifted the temperamental second baseman to left field.
The additions of Mussina and Soriano paid huge dividends for the Yankees, who finished first in the A.L. East, 13 ½ games ahead of the second-place Red Sox, with a record of 95-65. Mussina compiled a record of 17-11, placed second in the league with a 3.15 ERA, 214 strikeouts, and three shutouts, and won a Gold Glove for his outstanding fielding on the mound. Mussina was surpassed, though, by teammate Roger Clemens, who finished 20-3, for a league-leading .870 winning percentage, en route to earning a spot on the A.L. All-Star Team, league Cy Young honors, and an eighth-place finish in the MVP balloting. Andy Pettitte joined Mussina and Clemens in giving the Yankees a “Big Three” at the top of their rotation. Pettitte won 15 games and joined Clemens on the All-Star squad. Closer Mariano Rivera also earned a spot on the All-Star Team by posting a 2.34 ERA and leading the league with 50 saves. Reliever Mike Stanton made his lone All-Star appearance, earning a trip to the Midsummer Classic by compiling a record of 9-4 and a 2.58 ERA.
Meanwhile, Soriano added a considerable amount of speed to New York’s offense, placing third in the league with 43 stolen bases en route to earning a third-place finish in the Rookie of the Year balloting. He also hit 18 home runs and drove in 73 runs. Paul O’Neill hit 21 homers, knocked in 70 runs, and stole a career-high 22 bases in his final year in pinstripes. Jorge Posada earned his second consecutive All-Star selection by hitting 22 home runs, driving in 95 runs, and batting .277. Tino Martinez rebounded from his sub-par 2000 campaign by batting .280, scoring 89 runs, and leading the team with 34 homers and 113 runs batted in. Bernie Williams earned his fifth and final All-Star selection by hitting 26 home runs, knocking in 94 runs, scoring 102 others, and batting .307. Derek Jeter hit 21 homers, drove in 74 runs, stole 27 bases, and led the team with 110 runs scored, 191 hits, and a .311 batting average. He earned a spot on the A.L. All-Star Team and a 10th place finish in the league MVP voting.
The Yankees entered the postseason representing the city of New York more than ever before after terrorist attacks destroyed the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on September 11th. However, the team’s quest for a fourth straight world championship appeared to be in serious jeopardy when it dropped the first two games of the ALDS at home to the Oakland Athletics. Aided by Derek Jeter’s famous “flip” to catcher Jorge Posada at home plate in Game Three, the Yankees somehow managed to pick themselves off the ground, win Game Three out in Oakland, and go on to win the Series in five games. They then faced a Seattle Mariners team in the ALCS that won an American League record 116 games during the regular season. New York made surprisingly quick work of the Mariners, needing only five games to dispose of them.
The Yankees’ hopes for a fourth straight title ended in the World Series, though, when they lost a memorable Fall Classic to the Arizona Diamondbacks in seven games. Included in the Series highlights were game-tying, two-out two-run homers in the bottom of the ninth inning on consecutive evenings that eventually enabled the Yankees to take a 3-2 edge over the Diamondbacks heading back to Arizona for the final two contests. However, the pitching of Arizona aces Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling proved to be too much for the Yankees, who fell one run short of their ultimate goal when a bloop hit off the bat of Arizona slugger Luis Gonzalez over a drawn-in infield in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game Seven provided the margin of victory against the practically unbeatable Mariano Rivera.By Bob_Cohen
- 2001 ALCS, 2001 ALDS1, 2001 World Series, Alfonso Soriano, Andy Pettitte, Arizona Diamondbacks, Bernie Williams (New York Yankees), Boston Red Sox, Chuck Knoblauch, Curt Schilling, Derek Jeter, George Steinbrenner, Joe Torre, Jorge Posada, Luis Gonzalez, Mariano Rivera, Mike Mussina, Mike Stanton, New York Yankees, Oakland Athletics, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Tino Martinez