With mediocre starting pitching proving to be New York’s primary weakness throughout the 2004 campaign, the Yankee front office decided to restructure the team’s starting rotation for the second consecutive off-season. After allowing Jon Lieber and Orlando Hernandez to leave via free agency, New York signed Jaret Wright and Carl Pavano to replace them on the starting staff. The team made its biggest move of the winter, though, on January 11, when it traded Javier Vazquez and two minor leaguers to Arizona for Randy Johnson. Although 41 years old at the time of the deal, Johnson was coming off a year in which he won 16 games for the lowly Diamondbacks, led the National League with 290 strikeouts, and placed among the leaders with a 2.60 ERA and 246 innings pitched. The Yankees firmly believed Johnson gave them the dominating left-handed arm they needed to defeat Boston in a seven-game series.
The Yankees also made a pair of moves to strengthen their already powerful offense, signing second baseman Tony Womack and returning fan- favorite Tino Martinez to free-agent contracts.
Despite the many additions, the Yankees still appeared to be suffering from a hangover after stunningly losing the previous year’s ALCS to Boston after initially building a 3-0 Series lead. New York started off the 2005 campaign slowly, posting a losing 10-14 record by the end of April. Johnson, Pavano, Wright, and Kevin Brown all struggled on the mound, while Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield slumped at the plate. The only thing that prevented New York from compiling an even worse record over the season’s first month was the extraordinary performance turned in by Alex Rodriguez, who led the league in both home runs and runs batted in during the early stages of the campaign. A-Rod punctuated his amazing start with a three-homer, 10 RBI-game against the Angels.
Dissatisfied with the team’s poor start, New York’s front office dipped down to the minor leagues at the end of April, summoning to the major-league club second baseman Robinson Cano and young Taiwanese right-hander Chien-Ming Wang. Cano replaced the struggling Tony Womack at second base, while Wang took over for the oft-injured Jaret Wright.
With Cano and Wang making significant contributions, Randy Johnson rebounding from his slow start, and the rest of the Yankee hitters awakening, New York began to play much better ball during the month of May. Nevertheless, the team still suffered from inconsistent starting pitching, with both Pavano and Wright spending much of the year on the disabled list and failing to perform well whenever they found themselves able to take the mound. To cure their pitching ills, the Yankees made another two moves in July that solidified their rotation the remainder of the year. After calling up journeyman right-hander Aaron Small from the minor leagues, New York traded two minor leaguers to the Colorado Rockies for Shawn Chacon. After going 1-7 with a 4.09 ERA for Colorado the first four months of the season, Chacon compiled a record of 7-3 and an ERA of 2.85 for the Yankees the remainder of the year. Meanwhile, Small proved to be a revelation, posting a perfect 10-0 record for New York.
The Yankees ended up playing exceptional baseball the remainder of the year, edging out the Red Sox for the A.L. East title on the next-to-last day of the season with a Randy Johnson victory in Boston’s Fenway Park. Although both New York and Boston finished the year with identical 95-67 records, the Yankees earned the division title by defeating the Red Sox in 10 of their 19 head-to-head meetings. The excitement created by the tight divisional race helped the Yankees surpass the four-million mark in home attendance for the first time in their illustrious history. New York drew 4,090,696 paying customers through the turnstiles over the course of the season.
New York finished first in the A.L. East despite posting the ninth-best team ERA in the junior circuit (4.52). Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright proved to be huge disappointments, posting a combined record of 9-11. However, after starting off the season slowly, Randy Johnson established himself as the ace of the staff, leading the team with 17 victories, a 3.79 ERA, 211 strikeouts, and 226 innings pitched. Mike Mussina finished second on the club with 13 wins. Meanwhile, Mariano Rivera continued to excel in the bullpen, compiling a 1.38 ERA, saving 43 games, and winning seven others. Rivera earned a spot on the A.L. All-Star Team, placed second in the Cy Young voting, and finished ninth in the MVP balloting.
The Yankees were far more proficient as a team on offense than they were on the mound, placing second in the American League with 886 runs scored and 229 home runs. Robinson Cano finished second in the A.L. Rookie of the Year balloting after hitting 14 homers, driving in 62 runs, and batting .297 during the season’s final five months. Jason Giambi started off the season slowly after admitting to the media he used steroids during his time in Oakland. However, he eventually rebounded to win A.L. Comeback Player of the Year honors by hitting 32 home runs, driving in 87 runs, batting .271, and compiling a .440 on-base percentage. Derek Jeter hit 19 home runs, knocked in 70 runs, scored 122 others, and batted .309, en route to earning a 10th place finish in the league MVP voting. He also won his second consecutive Gold Glove. Hideki Matsui had his third straight outstanding season, hitting 23 home runs, knocking in 116 runs, scoring 108 others, and batting .305. Gary Sheffield had another big year, batting .291, scoring 104 runs, and placing among the league leaders with 34 homers and 123 runs batted in. Sheffield earned A.L. All-Star honors and an eighth-place finish in the league MVP balloting. Meanwhile, Alex Rodriguez edged out Boston’s David Ortiz in the MVP voting, winning the award by finishing near the top of the league rankings with 48 home runs, 130 runs batted in, 124 runs scored, a .321 batting average, a .421 on-base percentage, and a .610 slugging percentage. A-Rod also earned his six straight All-Star selection, and the ninth of his career.
The Yankees got off to a good start against the Angels in the ALDS, winning the first game by a score of 4-2. Anaheim rebounded, though, to take the next two contests. With their backs against the wall, the Yankees won Game Four by a score of 3-2, forcing a decisive fifth contest. After taking an early 2-0 lead, the Yankees surrendered five unanswered runs, losing the game by a final score of 5-3. The defeat at the hands of the Angels marked the second time in four years that Anaheim eliminated New York from the postseason.By Bob_Cohen
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- 2005 ALDS1, Aaron Small, Alex Rodriguez, Anaheim Angels, Bernie Williams (New York Yankees), Carl Pavano, Chien-Ming Wang, David Ortiz, Derek Jeter, Gary Sheffield, George Steinbrenner, Hideki Matsui, Jaret Wright, Jason Giambi, Javier Vazquez, Joe Torre, Jon Lieber, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Mike Mussina, New York Yankees, Orlando Hernandez, Randy Johnson, Robinson Cano, Shawn Chacon, Tino Martinez, Tony Womack