After coming within one game of winning their fourth consecutive world championship in 2001, the Yankees underwent major changes during the subsequent off-season. The team had a big chunk of its heart torn away when gamers Paul O’Neill and Scott Brosius announced their retirements. The front office allowed another core member of the squad to get away when it elected not to re-sign Tino Martinez when he became eligible for free agency at the end of the year. Instead, New York’s brain-trust chose to sign 2000 A.L. MVP Jason Giambi to a free agent contract. The power-hitting first baseman posted an extremely impressive stat-line for Oakland the previous season, hitting 38 home runs, driving in 120 runs, batting .342, and leading the junior circuit with 47 doubles, 129 walks, a .477 on-base percentage, and a .660 slugging percentage. Meanwhile, in an effort to replace the retired Brosius at the hot corner, the Yankees traded outfielder David Justice to the crosstown rival New York Mets for veteran third baseman Robin Ventura. New York also attempted to soften the blow of O’Neill’s departure by acquiring the services of outfielder Rondell White via free agency. The Yankees made their final major move of the off-season in mid-January when they welcomed home free-agent pitcher David Wells, who earlier spent two full seasons in the Bronx, before being traded to Toronto at the conclusion of the 1998 campaign for Roger Clemens.
Featuring a very different look than the ball club that won three straight World Series, the Yankees powered their way through the American League in 2002, compiling the circuit’s best record, with a mark of 103-58. They finished 10 ½ games ahead of the second-place Boston Red Sox in the A.L. East. The Yankees scored an A.L. high 897 runs, increasing their offensive output by almost 100 runs from the previous year. Meanwhile, New York hurlers permitted the opposition to cross the plate a total of only 697 times.
New York’s starting staff was headed by the tandem of Mike Mussina and David Wells. Mussina finished the year 18-10, while Wells led the team with a record of 19-7. Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte chipped in with 13 victories apiece. Mariano Rivera was the pitching staff’s only representative on the A.L. All-Star Team. Rivera saved 28 games and posted a 2.74 ERA.
On offense, Robin Ventura did an outstanding job of replacing Scott Brosius at third base, earning a spot on the All-Star Team by hitting 27 home runs and driving in 93 runs. Jorge Posada earned his third consecutive selection to the All-Star squad by hitting 20 homers and driving in 99 runs. Bernie Williams hit 19 home runs, knocked in 102 runs, scored 102 others, and finished third in the league with a .333 batting average, en route to earning a 10th place finish in the A.L. MVP voting. Derek Jeter made the All-Star Team for the fifth straight time by hitting 18 homers, driving in 75 runs, stealing 32 bases, batting .297, and finishing third in the league with 124 runs scored. Jason Giambi had a big first year in New York, placing among the league leaders with 41 home runs, 122 runs batted in, 120 runs scored, a .314 batting average, a .435 on-base percentage, and a .598 slugging percentage. He earned All-Star honors and a fifth-place finish in the MVP balloting. Finishing third in the voting was Alfonso Soriano, who served as New York’s offensive catalyst. Hitting primarily out of the leadoff spot, Soriano batted .300, knocked in 102 runs, placed among the league leaders with 39 homers, 51 doubles, and 381 total bases, and topped the circuit with 128 runs scored, 209 hits, and 41 stolen bases. In addition to finishing third in the MVP balloting, Soriano earned his first selection to the A.L. All-Star Team.
Despite faring extremely well over the course of the regular season, the Yankees sorely missed the leadership of O’Neill, Martinez, and Brosius once the playoffs began. After splitting the first two games with the Anaheim Angels at Yankee Stadium, New York jumped out to an early 6-1 lead in Game Three in Anaheim. However, the Angels rallied to win the contest by a score of 9-6. Unable to regain the momentum of the Series in Game Four, the Yankees surrendered eight runs to Anaheim in the fifth inning, en route to being eliminated from the postseason by a score of 9-5. New York’s early elimination marked the first time the team failed to advance to the World Series in five years.By Bob_Cohen
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- 2002 ALDS1, Alfonso Soriano, Anaheim Angels, Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams (New York Yankees), David Justice, David Wells, Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Mike Mussina, New York Yankees, Robin Ventura, Roger Clemens, Rondell White, Scott Brosius, Tino Martinez