Yankees and the AL East: 25 years as baseball’s best division
This was a strange and wonderful amalgam of a team.
For years, the players from the championship teams of the late nineties fell away and watching the Yankees subsequent seasons seemed to like seeing an Elephant slowly die on a slow, painful march to its grave.
Coney left after 2000; Tino Martinez and The Warrior, Paul O’Neill, were gone the following year. Roger “Rocket” Clemens somehow mysteriously was able to pitch well into his early 40’s, finally leaving in 2003.
And the great El Duque, Orlando Hernandez came and went, pitching his final season for the Yankees in 2004.
But after missing the playoffs in 2008, Hal Steinbrenner reloaded this team, adding youth and energy to an aged but experienced group. Back in the fold was Andy Pettitte, and he, along with newly acquired ace CC Sabathia and newly acquired enigma AJ Burnett, led the Yankees back to the World Series for the first time since 2003.
The Fightin’ Phills
There they faced the reigning World Champion Phillies. But two big factors made Yankees success seem inevitable. One, the Phillies pitching was falling apart when the playoffs began. They turned to an aging—scratch that; old—Pedro Martinez. He pitched two games in the series, including the final one, and lost them both.
And, two, the Yankees power was much better distributed. Yankees hitters blasted 244 homers that year, and the Phillies 224, but the difference between the two was much greater than that.
Ryan Howard, who looked on his way to the Hall of Fame back then, had the most of any player in the contest (45). In fact, the Phillies had four of the top five home run hitters from the two teams combined.
But there were only five players on this team with at least 18 overall. The Phils were just too top heavy. New York, meanwhile, had eight men with at least 18 dingers.
The series was a fait accompli before it began; the Yanks won in six, and the term Core Four was born. And that would be the last hurrah for the remaining dynastic players: Jeter, Pettitte, Rivera, and Posada.
As Jon Cusack said at the end of Eight Men Out, “Those guys, they’re all gone now.”
That run that ended in 2009 to the sounds of Jay Z’s, Empire State of Mind, began way back in 1996. Before we leave them forever, let’s take one last appreciative look at all they did.