Yankees and the AL East: 25 years as baseball’s best division

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by General Photographic Agency/Getty Images) /

New York Yankees versus Boston Red Sox, Vol. I

Before the 21 century, Boston had not won a World Series title since 1918. Up till that time, they were a juggernaut, winning five titles in fifteen years, including two of the last three. But when then-owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth—and his baseball soul—for a great big wad of sweaty cash, he angered the fans…and the baseball gods.

They decreed that Boston would have to beat the Yankees in head-to-head competition if they were ever to win another title. That would not happen until 2004.

It was they who helped Bucky Dent hit the decisive home run when the two teams met in a one game playoff all the way back in 1978; Reggie didn’t need any help and he certainly wouldn’t acknowledge it if he had gotten any. And those same gods punished Boston for trying to win it all without going through the Bronx in 1986. Bill Buckner was no accident.

Back to the Past

That brings us to 1999. This was the first year ever that the Yankees and Red Sox met in the ALCS. The two teams would go on to meet three times in the LCS over the next five years, including back-to-back meetings in ’03 and ’04.

New York was not only the reigning champion but also had won two of the three previous titles. And they had just completed the best year in modern baseball history.

Boston, meanwhile, fielded good teams every decade but never put a full, championship team together. This was their first real chance since 1986.

A broad statistical analysis alone would be confusing. The Red Sox out hit the Yankees: .293/.350/.467 as compared to .239/.313/.409. And Boston’s ERA was slightly better, .368 to .380.

Pedro Martinez was the best pitcher on either team and finished the series with a 0.00 ERA. How, then, did the Yankees win this series 4-1? I said it would be confusing.

Well, Susan, That’s Baseball

The answer is that baseball has always been baseball. First, the Yankees bullpen was the superior of the two. I doubt Rod Beck, Boston’s closer, can walk foot in the city, let alone Yawkey Way. He pitched in two games for a grand total of two-thirds of an inning and finished the series, and the Red Sox, with a 27.00 ERA.

Second, their errors were many and costly. They committed ten in the five game series, twice as many as the Yankees. Nomar Garciaparra committed four errors by himself, although it seems as if the two by Jose “Boo Boo” Offerman were perhaps more costly. Be that as it may, the Sox threw this series away.

Jeff Beck Would have Been a Better Choice

Finally, the Yankees showed once again it is not how much you hit, but how timely that hitting is. The Boys from the Bronx simply got the hits when they needed them, a lesson the current team still needs to learn. Bernie Williams, baby, burned a solo shot in the bottom of the tenth inning of game one and walked off in style.

And although the Yankees were already ahead 5-2 when Ricky Ledee ripped a grand slam in game four, it was still a big hit. It gave the Yanks immense adrenaline that they carried over into the next day, scoring two in the top of the first.

But it also destroyed Rod Beck for the rest of the series, as both Ledee and Williams had gotten their home run hits against him.

It was a series that resonated for the Yankees, Red Sox, and all of baseball. The Yankees would go on to win the World Series that year and the next, and appear in two of the next three after that. The Sox would spend the next three years getting better pitching, more powerful hitters, and a desire for revenge.

They got their next chance in 2003.