Greatest Teams Never to Win a World Series-02 Yankees
It was supposed to be the new era in New York.
After the previous 5 seasons in Bronx where the Yankees took home the world championship 4 times, the Yankees lost a classic 7 game World Series in 2001 to the Arizona Diamondbacks. No 4-peat, no great comparisons of the previous Yankee dynasties, etc.
And George Steinbrenner was not going to take it sitting down. It was time to really flex their muscle via checkbook.
The great role players of Tino Martinez, Scott Brosius, Paul O'Neill, and then key 2000 integral part David Justice all found new addresses as had Chuck Knoblauch. Money was freed up, which meant it was time to spend spend spend.
And what better way of spending it on the biggest prized free agent of the 2001-2002 off-season, Jason Giambi.
The Athletics star slugger was one of the most powerful lefties in all of baseball at that time, and had it not been for Barry Bonds and his 73 HR, Giambi would probably the most talked about lefty in baseball that year. And he was a rock star in Oakland. He had that rocker vibe of the long hair, scruffy look, and "I will do what I please" moniker. After Oakland nearly fell out of the playoff contention, there was talk he'd be traded in part because of his free agency, but the A's turned it around in the 2nd half, only for the Yankees to take them out in October.....again.
With Oakland being the small-budget team and the Yankees being the big-budget team, New York offered him more money to leave Oakland and Giambi did so. And ironically since Giambi was a wrestling fan and such, many fans of baseball and wrestling considered Giambi to have done a "heel turn" the minute he signed with the Yankees. He goes to the "Evil Empire," the hair gets cut, he becomes clean shaven, and becomes somewhat of a "yes man" after that. But that said, the Yankees were the winners of the big name free agent.
They weren't done after that. The Yankees went across the city to lure Robin Ventura away from the Mets. They also then re-acquired 1998 hero David Wells, the guy they traded for Roger Clemens right before the 1999 season started. The Yankees also added depth in the bullpen, signing Steve Karsay to help set up Mariano Rivera. And to fill in the outfield void of Knoblauch, the Yankees traded for veteran left fielder Rondell White.
And as my friend put it whenever the Yankees made a move, "God I HATE the Yankees!"
So the Yankees wanted to make sure that the drought for a world championship would last for one year and only one year.
Despite having a healthy dose of a relatively weakened AL East, the Yankees were only 12-8 to start out the year. Giambi was off to a relatively slow start (he hit .282 to begin the year but only 4 HR). After a run where the Yankees held serve against their West Coast October opponents in Oakland and Seattle, the Yankees got a healthy dose of the lowly Tampa Bay Devil Rays, a still-young Twins group (yes, Minnesota made it to the ALCS, but the Yankees had dominated them), and then the not-as-strong squads of the Blue Jays and White Sox with the rival Red Sox in between them. In that span, the Bronx Bombers when 18-5, smacking all in their path. The highlight of that run was an extra-innings tilt with the Twins scoring 4 in the 14th after Minnesota scored 3 in the top half, all thanks to a Giambi walk-off grand slam.
Despite the hot run, New York found themselves behind their hated enemy in Boston and continued that way until mid-June before the Yankees really took over. There really wasn't a huge run by the Yankees after May, though the Bombers never had a huge winning streak at any point of the year (6-game winning streak was their longest after May and they had a stretch of winning 9 of their last 10), but what made the Yankees so stout was they didn't really have any string of losses. After May, the Yankees had only one 3-game losing streak and only 6 times where they lost 2 in row. They may not have been as dominant as they were say in 1998, but they were very consistent throughout. With that consistency, the Yankees had the AL East wrapped really by the end of August, despite a good Red Sox squad.
WHAT MADE THEM SO GOOD? Well, the Yankees, much like their history, relied on great hitting. Giambi turned up the juice in May, June, July, and September, raising his average to .314 (still down nearly 30 points from 2001), and had 41 HR (2 off his career high). 2nd baseman Alfonso Soriano hit 39 HR and drove in 102 OUT OF THE LEAD-OFF SPOT. Jeter was Jeter, finding ways to get on base. Ventura had a solid season for the Yankees, though mostly forgotten (27 HR and 93 RBI despite a slightly disappointing .247 average) while Posada continued his solid hitting (.268 with 20 HR and nearly 100 RBI) and Bernie was still a hit machine.
The pitching wasn't as strong despite the seasoned arms of Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, and Wells. Mussina won 18 games but the ERA was 4.05 while Wells had a nice return to the Bronx (19-7 and a 3.75 ERA). Pettitte was solid as they came (13-5 with a 3.27 ERA), and even Orlando Hernandez had a solid year despite injuries (3.64 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP). But the Yankees had hoped they had a future ace in the hole, trading for the Tigers young ace Jeff Weaver. Weaver didn't pitch terrible for New York, going 5-3 with a 4.04 ERA.
WHAT WENT WRONG? The bullpen/pitching went south and fast. Heading into the postseason for the Yankees, it felt like it was theirs to lose. And why not? Their traditional rivals in October weren't there anymore and a bunch of young and inexperienced teams were in. No Mariners. No Indians. What felt like was a makeover of the Athletics. And instead you had the small-market Twins and then the "out-of-nowhere" Angels. And their rally monkey.
The Angels won 99 games that year but many thought of them of as just a "happy-to-be-here" squad. What happened was that the first game, it had that vibe. New York led early but Anaheim kept chipping away at Clemens. After a 2nd blast by Troy Glaus in the game the Angels took a 5-4 lead going into the bottom of the 8th. However, in a rare moment for the Angels, their bullpen imploded, giving up an RBI single to Giambi and then a 3-run blast by Bernie to give New York Game 1.
However, the Angels kept slugging away on the Yankees pitching. Anaheim hit 3 blasts (one from Glaus again and the bullpen imploded with Hernandez falling apart in the 8th inning, giving up back-to-back blasts from Garret Anderson and for insurance, the Angels tacked on one more on Jeff Weaver in the 9th.
Despite another lead on the Angels, the Yankees pitching could not find anything to stop the Angels bats as Anaheim erased a 6-1 deficit early and continued to hit away at the likes of Mussina and then the reliable Mike Stanton (who got shelled for 3 in an inning and 2/3rd).
In Game 4, the Yankees took a 2-1 lead with Wells on the mound before the Angels shelled Wells for 7 alone in the 5th inning and it was all she wrote. The Angels pen did enough to hold the powerful Yankees at bay for a 9-5 win and a rare ALDS elimination for the 4-time defending AL champions.
The numbers speak for themselves: New York's ERA in the ALDS was a disturbing 8.21 ERA. The only pitcher who didn't allow a run was Mariano Rivera, who pitched the first game and that was it. Roger Clemens, who started Game 1, had a 6.35 ERA...and that was the lowest among the starters. Mike Mussina had a 9 ERA. Andy Pettitte put out an ERA of 12 and David Wells had a 15.73 ERA. The Yankee arms imploded on them in the ALDS against the Angels without question. It obviously offset the series the hitters had (.281 AVG, .834 OPS). The problem was, Anaheim hit .376 and had a team OPS over 1.000. You won't win games when your opponent does that.
AFTERMATH: To me, a few things came out of this series that would really haunt the Yankees. The first one was that New York's rotation was old and just unable to win that big game from their pitchers when needed. None of those guys save Mussina would be the same. And the guys after this year that would arrive (Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano, Kevin Brown), weren't the guys New York had hoped after getting them to don the pinstripes. The second one was that New York would continue trying to get the best player on the market via free agency or trade and it never worked from 2002-2008. It was when they went back to having guys who "knew their roles" (despite the signings of CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira) as well as a key few farm guys. But from this time period, continuously adding guys on the roster just wasn't working. And lastly, with Giambi, despite a good year, many felt like something was missing with the Yankees prized acquisition. It was like the New York way didn't mesh with him well. He was a rock-star and he was in an organization that was something you would find on Wall Street. He would find his comfort zone somewhat down the road after the Yankees brought in Alex Rodriguez, but he wasn't the Giambi Yankee fans had hoped for. So to me, this marked the true end of all those great Yankees teams and a beginning of the underachieving Yankee squads in October.
OTHER GREAT TEAMS NEVER TO WIN A WORLD SERIES
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat