Saturday, January 08, 2005

2004 in Review, Part II: An Odd Season, Indeed

One of the big things that I've tried to do in this space over the past year is to give a perspective on what being a Yankee fan was like for the 2004 season. I'd like to put in one last word on that topic.

Last season, for the seventh season in a row, the Yankees finished first in the AL East. For the third straight season, they both won over 100 games, and finished with the best record in the American League. And for the fourth season in a row, they were beat in the playoffs by the eventual World Champions.

Coming into 2004, the Yankees had already revamped their entire pitching staff, trading for Javier Vazquez and Kevin Brown to replace Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, expanding the roles of Jon Lieber and Jose Contreras to plug into the spots vacated by Jeff Weaver and David Wells, and signing Tom Gordon and Paul Quantrill to shore up the bullpen. By the end of 2003, the Yanks had also picked up Gary Sheffield as a free agent, to play right field.

That is to say, the 2004 Yankees looked like they were a complete team on January 1, 2004. Every starting position was accounted for, the pitching rotation was set, only the last few bench spots were in question.

Then Aaron Boone busted his knee shooting hoops, and the Yankees, who were already guaranteed to have the Major's highest payroll, pulled an incredible, luxurious feat: they got A-Rod.

Surely, some thought, this made the Yankees unbeatable. They reached the World Series in 2003, and yet they had added the most coveted young pitcher in the National League, another pitcher who was second in the NL in ERA, one of the best outfielders in baseball, and finally, the reigning AL MVP shortstop.

Thankfully, they still play the games. The literal fantasies of "unbeatability" came to an end in March, when they dropped the opener to the Devil Rays in the Tokyo Dome, and the figurative ones were doomed in April, when the Red Sox crushed the Pinstripers two weekend series, winning six of seven games, the last three a sweep at Yankee Stadium.

Still, the team didn't curl up and die. Standing at 8-11 after the Red Sox left the Stadium, the Yanks won 8 straight, caught up with the Sox by early June, and by July 2, had left them rather decisively in the dust. At one magical moment in time, the Red Sox were broken, their fans fit to surrender, and the Devil Rays, of all people, were looking like they were headed for the #2 slot in the AL East.

Still, the sailing wasn't too smooth. The Sox surged back in mid-August, to make everything interesting. The pitching got terribly thin, with Brown and Mussina blinking in and out of effectiveness, with injuries (self-inflicted and otherwise), and Javy and Paul Quantrill taking massive spills in the second half.

We all remember how it ended: the Sox got the Wild Card, both they and the Yanks tore through their Division Series partners, and then the two teams met for what has to be the biggest debacle in Yankees history--up 3-0, then down 4-3, done in by Curt Schilling's stigmata-ankle, among other sorrows.

So, coming within a game of the World Series would be satifying for some. Heck, reaching the World Series in 2003 would've been a jamboree for some franchises. It doesn't feel that way in Yankeeland. Not at all.

To be continued...

No comments: