Things grew a bit testy in the Bronx after the Yankees were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for the second consecutive time in 2006. With manager Joe Torre’s contract due to expire at the end of the ensuing season, team ownership put everyone in the organization on notice that it expected nothing short of a World Series appearance in 2007.
Knowing that they already had arguably the best offense in baseball, the Yankees elected not to pursue any power-hitting free agents during the subsequent off-season. Instead, they picked up the option on right-fielder Bobby Abreau, who contributed greatly to the success of the team over the final two months of the previous campaign. New York also hoped that a return to full health by Hideki Matsui, who missed most of 2006 with an injured wrist, would further enhance the club’s already powerful offense. While the front office eagerly anticipated the returns of Abreau and Matsui, it decided to part ways with longtime fan favorite Bernie Williams, who it chose not to re-sign. The team also traded Gary Sheffield to the Tigers for three minor leaguers.
After failing in his earlier attempts to upgrade New York’s pitching staff by overpaying for mediocre hurlers such as Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright, general manager Brian Cashman again showed questionable judgment by purchasing left-hander Kei Igawa from the Hanshin Tigers of Japan’s Central League. Igawa proved to be a total bust, winning only two games while posting an ERA of 6.25.
Choosing a much safer route, New York’s general manager brought back into the fold free-agent left-hander Andy Pettitte, who returned to the team after spending the previous three years with the Houston Astros. Another player who rejoined the Yankees after a three-year absence was Roger Clemens. After un-retiring for a third time in early May, the 44-year-old right-hander chose to accept New York’s rather generous offer of $18 million for the final four months of the season.
Clemens’ signing was prompted largely by New York’s poor play over the season’s first month. With virtually everyone in the lineup and starting rotation struggling, the Yankees posted a record of only 9-14 in April. However, their record likely would have been even worse had it not been for Alex Rodriguez, who got off to the greatest start of his career. After hitting a walk-off grand slam against the Baltimore Orioles less than two weeks earlier, A-Rod hit a dramatic three-run homer during an 8-6 victory over the Cleveland Indians on April 18 that helped New York overcome an earlier deficit. Rodriguez finished the month with a record 14 home runs.
The Yankees continued to struggle well into May, sitting in third place at one point, 15 games behind first-place Boston. However, they began to show signs of life after they summoned from the minor leagues two young pitchers with tremendous potential. Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain both made their major league debuts with the club over the course of the season, breathing new life into New York’s pitching staff. Hughes won five of his eight decisions, while Chamberlain excelled in relief, compiling a record of 2-0 and a microscopic 0.38 ERA in 24 innings of work.
Meanwhile, as the other members of the Yankee lineup began to awaken from their slumber, A-Rod continued to pound the ball. He became the youngest player in the history of the game to reach the 500-homer plateau on August 4th, en route to leading the major leagues with 54 home runs. A-Rod also topped the majors with 156 runs batted in.
Shortly after Rodriguez hit his milestone home run, the Yankee family was saddened by the loss of one of their own. After a lengthy illness, Phil Rizzuto passed away at the age of 89 on August 13th. One of the most beloved men in the history of the franchise, Rizzuto spent almost 60 years in the organization, first as a player, and later as a broadcaster.
Led by Rodriguez, New York posted the best record in baseball during the season’s second half, overcoming a 42-43 start to advance to the playoffs as the American League’s wild-card entry. Although the Yankees failed to win the A.L. East title for the first time in 10 years, they finished only two games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox, with a record of 94-68.
The Yankees likely would have won their division had they received better pitching over the course of the season. New York’s team ERA of 4.49 placed them eighth in the league rankings. Roger Clemens failed to earn the exorbitant fee the Yankees paid him for his services, posting a record of only 6-6 with a 4.18 ERA over the final four months of the year. Mike Mussina finished just 11-10 with a 5.15 ERA. Andy Pettitte and Chien-Ming Wang were the team’s only reliable starters. Pettitte finished second on the club with 15 victories, while Wang led the staff with a record of 19-7 and an ERA of 3.70. Even Mariano Rivera experienced something of an off-year, compiling a 3.15 ERA and saving only 30 games.
Fortunately for the Yankees, they led the American League with 968 runs scored and 201 home runs. Johnny Damon scored 93 runs and led the team with 27 stolen bases. Bobby Abreau batted .283, stole 25 bases, knocked in 101 runs, and placed second in the league with 123 runs scored. Hideki Matsui batted .285, scored 100 runs, and finished second on the team with 25 homers and 103 runs batted in. Robinson Cano hit 19 home runs, knocked in 97 runs, scored 93 others, and batted .306. Derek Jeter earned A.L. All-Star honors and an 11th place finish in the league MVP voting by batting .322, scoring 102 runs, and accumulating 206 hits. Jorge Posada hit 20 homers, drove in 90 runs, scored 91 others, and batted a career-high .338, en route to earning his fifth and final All-Star selection and a sixth-place finish in the MVP balloting.
The backbone of New York’s offense all year long, though, was Alex Rodriguez. In addition to leading all of baseball with 54 home runs and 156 runs batted in, he topped the major leagues with 143 runs scored and a .645 slugging percentage, batted .314, and compiled a .422 on-base percentage. A-Rod’s extraordinary performance earned him a spot on the A.L. All-Star Team, league MVP honors, and recognition as The Major League Player of the Year.
New York subsequently faced the Cleveland Indians in the first round of the playoffs, dropping the first contest by a score of 12-3, as Cleveland’s lineup pounded Yankee starter Chien-Ming Wang. Game Two evolved into a pitcher’s duel between Cleveland’s Fausto Carmona and New York’s Andy Pettitte. The Yankees eventually pushed a run across the plate, taking a 1-0 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth inning. However, after dominating Cleveland’s lineup the previous frame, New York reliever Joba Chamberlain became unraveled as a swarm of pesky bugs known as Mayflies invaded Jacobs Field on an unusually warm and humid night in Cleveland. After tying the game in the eighth inning without the benefit of a hit, the Indians eventually won the contest in the 11th inning. With George Steinbrenner repeating his “win or else” edict, the Yankees found themselves with their backs against the wall as the series shifted to the Bronx. The Yankees responded by winning Game Three by a score of 8-4. However, New York’s season ended the very next night when Cleveland’s lineup roughed up Chien-Ming Wang for a second consecutive time, en route to posting a 6-4 victory.
The Yankees’ loss to the Indians in the ALDS not only eliminated them from the postseason, but it also ended an era in New York. Suffering from dementia, owner George Steinbrenner subsequently turned over control of the team to his two sons, Hank and Hal. Shortly thereafter, the three Steinbrenners met with Joe Torre, during which time they expressed little interest in offering him another contract to continue managing the team. As a result, Torre decided to leave New York for the bright lights of Los Angeles, subsequently signing a multi-year deal to manage the Dodgers.
Meanwhile, Alex Rodriguez tested ownership’s patience by choosing to opt out of his exorbitant multi-year contract. However, after an angry Hank Steinbrenner stated the Yankees had no intention of trying to re-sign Rodriguez, the league’s MVP approached the Yankees with an offer to negotiate a new deal. The two sides ended up agreeing on a 10-year, $275 million contract.By Bob_Cohen
- 2007 ALDS1, Alex Rodriguez, Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams (New York Yankees), Bobby Abreu, Carl Pavano, Chien-Ming Wang, Cleveland Indians, Derek Jeter, Gary Sheffield, George Steinbrenner, Hideki Matsui, Jacobs Field, Jaret Wright, Jason Giambi, Joba Chamberlain, Joe Torre, Johnny Damon, Jorge Posada, Kei Igawa, Mariano Rivera, Mike Mussina, New York Yankees, Philip Hughes, Randy Johnson, Robinson Cano, Roger Clemens