The Yankees entered the 2003 campaign desperately wanting to celebrate their 100th anniversary with a World Series victory at season’s end. Yet, despite failing to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs the previous year, the team made only minimal changes during the off-season. The Yankees made easily their most significant move of the winter on December 19, when they signed Japanese outfielder Hideki Matsui to a free-agent contract. Considered to be one of Japanese baseball’s greatest stars, Matsui earned the nickname “Godzilla” in his homeland for his prodigious hitting feats. He joined an already powerful Yankee lineup that finished first in the American League in runs scored (897) and second in home runs (223) the previous season.
The Yankees reaped early returns on the investment they made in Matsui when he helped lead them to victory in their home opener by hitting a grand slam homer against the Minnesota Twins. The Yankees, in fact, got off to an extremely fast start, winning 18 of their first 21 games, despite losing Derek Jeter for the season’s first month after he injured his shoulder on opening night in Toronto. New York continued to play outstanding ball after Jeter returned to the team in May, finishing the year with a record of 101-61, in first place in the A.L. East, six games ahead of second-place Boston. New York’s offense remained one baseball’s best, finishing third in the American League in both runs scored (877) and home runs (230). Yankee pitchers also acquitted themselves quite well, placing third in the junior circuit with a team ERA of 4.02.
New York’s starting staff was headed by Andy Pettitte, who finished the year with a record of 21-8. Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina each won 17 games, while David Wells chipped in with 15 victories. Mussina also won a Gold Glove for his fielding excellence, while Clemens earned a spot on the A.L. All-Star Team. Clemens also reached two milestones during the season, collecting his 4,000th career strikeout and his 300th win against the St. Louis Cardinals on June 13th. Meanwhile, closer Mariano Rivera compiled a brilliant 1.66 ERA and placed among the league leaders with 40 saves.
Although Alfonso Soriano and Jason Giambi were unable to duplicate their exceptional 2002 performances, they both had extremely productive years. Soriano earned A.L. All-Star honors by batting .290, driving in 91 runs, and placing among the league leaders with 38 home runs, 114 runs scored, 198 hits, 35 stolen bases, and 358 total bases. Giambi also earned a spot on the All-Star squad by leading New York with 41 home runs, 107 runs batted in, and 129 bases on balls. Derek Jeter played well after he returned to the team in May, scoring 87 runs and finishing third in the league with a .324 batting average. Hideki Matsui had a big first year in the United States, earning All-Star honors by hitting 16 homers, driving in 106 runs, and batting .287. Jorge Posada had arguably his finest all-around season, hitting 30 home runs, knocking in 101 runs, scoring 83 others, batting .281, and compiling a .405 on-base percentage. Posada earned a spot on the A.L. All-Star Team and a third-place finish in the league MVP voting.
After dropping Game One of the ALDS to the Minnesota Twins, the Yankees advanced to the ALCS by taking the next three contests from Minnesota. They then faced the Boston Red Sox in a memorable ALCS that featured a little bit of everything. After losing Game One to Boston, the Yankees bounced back to win Game Two behind a solid pitching performance by Andy Pettitte. The feelings of animosity that existed between the two clubs then surfaced in Game Three, when Red Sox hurler Pedro Martinez precipitated two bench-clearing incidents by throwing at Yankee outfielder Karim Garcia. During the first melee, Martinez ended up throwing Yankee coach Don Zimmer to the ground. Garcia and New York reliever Jeff Nelson later battled with a Boston club employee in the Yankee bullpen. Meanwhile, the Yankees won the game on the field by a score of 4-3. The Red Sox took two of the next three contests to set the stage for a decisive Game Seven at Yankee Stadium. New York fell behind early in the game to Boston starter Pedro Martinez by a score of 4-0, before closing the gap to 5-2 heading into the bottom of the eighth inning. The Yankees mounted a rally to tie the score at 5-5, subsequently sending the game into extra innings. With ALCS MVP Mariano Rivera working three innings of scoreless relief, the game entered the bottom of the 11th inning. Aaron Boone led off the frame by hitting Tim Wakefield’s first pitch into the lower left field stands, giving the Yankees the victory and their 39th American League pennant.
The Yankees had little time to savor their victory, entering the World Series against the Florida Marlins less than 48 hours later. Showing signs of a hangover, New York lost the first game by a score of 3-2. However, the Yankees seemingly took control of the Series by winning each of the next two contests. A struggling Alfonso Soriano, injuries to Jason Giambi and David Wells, and the stellar pitching of Florida’s young hurlers eventually doomed the Yankees, though. The Marlins won Games Four through Six, ending New York’s quest for their 27th world championship.By Bob_Cohen
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- 2003 ALCS, 2003 ALDS1, 2003 World Series, Aaron Boone, Alfonso Soriano, Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams (New York Yankees), Boston Red Sox, Derek Jeter, Don Zimmer, Florida Marlins, Hideki Matsui, Jason Giambi, Jeff Nelson, Jorge Posada, Karim Garcia, Mariano Rivera, Mike Mussina, New York Yankees, Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, Tim Wakefield