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After losing the 2003 World Series to the Florida Marlins, the Yankees made extensive changes to their roster during the subsequent off-season.  New York’s front-office allowed free-agent pitchers David Wells and Andy Pettitte to sign with other clubs; Wells signed with San Diego, while Pettitte joined his hometown Houston Astros.  Roger Clemens announced his retirement (although he later un-retired to join his close friend Pettitte in Houston).  With 60 percent of their starting rotation no longer in the fold, the Yankees set about restructuring their pitching staff.

It didn’t take the Yankees long to find replacements for Clemens, Pettitte, and Wells.  Jon Lieber, who originally signed with New York in February of 2003, spent the entire 2003 campaign recovering from shoulder surgery.  Fully healthy again, Lieber joined the Yankees in Spring Training.  The Yankees also made two significant trades that netted them starting pitchers.  On December 13, they traded pitcher Jeff Weaver and two minor leaguers to the Dodgers for veteran right-hander Kevin Brown.  Although 38 years old at the time of the deal, Brown had an outstanding year for Los Angeles in 2003, going 14-9 with a 2.39 ERA.  The Yankees filled the final spot in their rotation just three days later, when they traded promising young first baseman Nick Johnson, outfielder Juan Rivera, and pitcher Randy Choate to Montreal for Javier Vazquez.  The 28-year-old Vazquez finished 13-12 for the Expos the previous season, with a 3.24 ERA and 241 strikeouts.  New York also added veteran reliever Tom Gordon, signing him as a free agent the same day they completed the deal for Vazquez. 

Unhappy with the way the team’s offense performed during the World Series, New York’s front office also made two significant moves to upgrade the lineup.  First, the Yankees signed free agent outfielder Gary Sheffield to a four-year deal.  The 35-year-old Sheffield had one of his best years for the Braves the previous season, placing among the N.L. leaders with 39 home runs, 132 runs batted in, 126 runs scored, and a .330 batting average.

The Yankees then completed the biggest deal of the off-season when they traded Alfonso Soriano to the Rangers for reigning A.L. MVP Alex Rodriguez.  Despite playing for a last-place team in Texas, Rodriguez captured league MVP honors by hitting 47 home runs, driving in 118 runs, scoring 124 others, and batting .298.  Upon joining the Yankees, the Gold Glove shortstop quickly agreed to acquiesce to team captain Derek Jeter by moving to third base. 

With a revamped roster, the Yankees ended up finishing the 2004 campaign with the exact same 101-61 record they compiled one year earlier.  Their league-leading mark placed them three games ahead of the second-place Red Sox in the A.L. East.  New York’s offense remained one of the best in baseball, finishing second in the league with 897 runs scored.  However, the team’s pitching staff performed erratically at times.  Without a true staff ace, Yankee pitchers allowed the opposition to cross the plate a total of 808 times, finishing seventh in the league with a team ERA of 4.69. 

Not one of the starters posted an ERA below 4.00, with Kevin Brown coming the closest by finishing the year with a record of 10-6 and an ERA of 4.09.  Javier Vazquez and Jon Lieber led the staff with 14 wins apiece, while Mike Mussina chipped in with 12 victories.  Vazquez was the only member of the rotation to earn a spot on the A.L. All-Star Team.  Meanwhile, the Yankee bullpen placed two members on the squad.  Tom Gordon excelled in his role as set-up man, finishing the year with nine wins, four saves, and a 2.21 ERA.  Mariano Rivera placed third in the Cy Young voting and ninth in the MVP balloting by compiling a 1.94 ERA and leading the league with 53 saves.

On offense, the Yankees established a new franchise record by hitting a league-leading 242 home runs.  They accomplished that feat even though injuries to Jason Giambi limited the slugging first baseman to only 80 games, 12 homers, 40 RBIs, and a .208 batting average.  Hideki Matsui picked up some of the slack, hitting 31 home runs, driving in 108 runs, scoring 109 others, and leading the team with a .298 batting average, en route to earning his second consecutive All-Star selection.  Jorge Posada contributed 21 homers and 81 runs batted in.  Bernie Williams hit 22 home runs and scored 105 runs.  Derek Jeter homered 23 times, drove in 78 runs, scored 111 others, batted .292, stole 23 bases, and led the club with 44 doubles.  He earned a spot on the A.L. All-Star Team and his first Gold Glove.  New York’s two big off-season acquisitions added a significant amount of punch to the Yankee batting order.  Alex Rodriguez hit 36 home runs, knocked in 106 runs, scored 112 others, and batted .286, en route to earning a selection to the A.L. All-Star Team.  Meanwhile, Gary Sheffield batted .290, tied A-Rod for the club lead with 36 homers, and placed among the league leaders with 121 runs batted in and 117 runs scored.  He joined Vazquez, Rivera, Gordon, Matsui, Jeter, and Rodriguez on the All-Star squad and finished second in the A.L. MVP voting.

The Yankees again faced Minnesota in the ALDS, losing Game One by a score of 2-0 to A.L. Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana.  However, New York rebounded to win the next three contests, thereby advancing to the ALCS, where they faced the Red Sox for the second straight year.  The Yankees appeared well on their way towards moving on to the World Series after they dominated the Red Sox in the first three contests.  However, Boston mounted a late rally against Mariano Rivera in Game Four to tie the score in the bottom of the ninth inning.  The Red Sox later won the game in extra innings on a walk-off homer by David Ortiz.  The Boston DH provided more heroics in Game Five, hitting a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning to tie the score, before delivering a game-winning single in the 14th inning.  After an injured Curt Schilling stymied New York’s lineup when the two teams returned to Yankee Stadium for Game Six, the Red Sox became the first team in baseball history to come back from a 3-0 series deficit by eliminating the Yankees by a score of 10-3 in Game Seven.

By Bob_Cohen
 

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Tagged:
2004 ALCS, 2004 ALDS1, Alex Rodriguez, Alfonso Soriano, Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams (New York Yankees), Boston Red Sox, Curt Schilling, David Ortiz, David Wells, Derek Jeter, Gary Sheffield, George Steinbrenner, Hideki Matsui, Jason Giambi, Javier Vazquez, Jeff Weaver, Joe Torre, Johan Santana, Jon Lieber, Jorge Posada, Kevin Brown, Mariano Rivera, Mike Mussina, Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees, Nick Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Randy Choate, Roger Clemens, Tom Gordon

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