The New York Yankees were at the peak of their power coming into the 2000 baseball season. They had won three of the previous four World Series titles, including the last two with sweeps. For much of this ’00 campaign, the Yankees looked vulnerable. But once they got into October, that all changed. New York became the first team since the Oakland A’s of 1972-74 to win the Fall Classic three straight years.
Derek Jeter was the leader, and he batted .339. Bernie Williams hit 30 home runs and posted 125 RBIs. Paul O’Neill had a 100-RBI campaign and Jorge Posada was one of the game’s most productive catchers, with 28 homers of his own. Andy Pettitte anchored the rotation with 19 wins.
For the first half of the season, New York was in a dead heat with the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays. The Red Sox were led by rotation ace Pedro Martinez, who won his second straight Cy Young Award. Boston also got a big year from Derek Lowe in the closer role. As for Toronto, they were led by first baseman Carlos Delgado, who finished fifth in the AL MVP voting, and starting pitcher David Wells, who placed third in the final Cy Young tally.
But after an All-Star game where Jeter won MVP honors, the Yankees took control of the race. By September 10, they had an 8 ½ game lead with the Blue Jays and Red Sox lingering on the edges of the race for what was then just a single wild-card berth.
The close to the AL East season was something less than inspiring. The Yankees went into a complete free-fall. Neither the Jays nor Red Sox could really close the gap. On the final Friday of the season, New York clinched what ended up a rather pedestrian division crown—and even that only come about with a Boston loss. The Yankees had plenty of reasons to be concerned. But they were in the postseason again.
New York’s “other” team was having a big year of their own. The Mets and the Atlanta Braves staged a good race in the NL East and both made the playoffs fairly comfortably. New York catcher Mike Piazza finished third in the MVP voting behind a .324 batting average, 38 home runs and 113 RBIs. An excellent pitching staff saw Al Leiter and Mike Hampton combine to win 31 games with ERAs in the low 3s. Armando Benitez saved 41 games.
Atlanta got 100-plus RBI seasons from third baseman Chipper Jones, centerfielder Andruw Jones and first baseman Andres Galarraga. Rafael Furcal was one of the National League’s premier shortstops. And the pitching? Well, it was tough to get much better than Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux at the top of the rotation and the two Hall of Famers finished 2-3 in the final NL Cy Young voting.
The Braves spurted out to a 5 ½ game lead by Memorial Day. But this Atlanta team didn’t have the same depth in their starting rotation that previous editions had enjoyed. New York’s deeper, more balanced staff, started to chip away at the lead and also consolidated their own grip on the wild-card race by late summer. The race for who would win the division and who would be the wild-card was mostly cosmetic, but the Mets were within a half-game by Labor Day. The Braves did end up clinching, but New York was the NL East team entering October with momentum.
It was a great year to be a baseball fan in the Bay Area. The San Francisco Giants had the 1-2 finishers in the NL MVP race, with second baseman Jeff Kent winning it, and outfielder Barry Bonds coming in second. The Giants got a 17-win season from staff ace Livan Hernandez and closer Robb Nen was simply dazzling, saving 41 games with a buck-50 ERA.
San Francisco took a little while to get started and they spotted the defending NL West champ Arizona Diamondbacks the early lead in the division. The Diamondbacks got a Cy Young season from Randy Johnson, but the Giants gradually gained steam, barreled down the stretch and pulled away. San Francisco’s 97 wins were the most in baseball.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Bay, the Oakland A’s took a big step forward after a contending season in 1999. Jason Giambi’s final numbers included a .476 on-base percentage, 37 homers, and 143 RBIs. Giambi won the AL MVP award. Tim Hudson won 20 games and finished second in the AL Cy Young race. Miguel Tejada popped 30 homers and drove in 115 runs. Ben Grieve hit 27 bombs and posted 104 RBIs.
Oakland was in a sizzling AL West with the Seattle Mariners. Even though the Mariners had parted ways with Ken Griffey Jr. , a shortstop named Alex Rodriguez finished third in the MVP voting to lead the way.
The A’s and Mariners broke away from a packed field in the AL West shortly after the All-Star break. Both teams came neck-and-neck to the finish line. What’s more, they were also running even with the Cleveland Indians for the wild-card berth. It was a game of musical chairs—who would be left without a seat?
All three teams were in it on the final day. Oakland won and clinched the division. Seattle won and took home the wild card. Cleveland won but went home.
The playoff field in both leagues was filled out by Middle American teams who won the Central Division races with ease. The St. Louis Cardinals got 42 homers and 108 RBIs from Jim Edmonds, while Darryl Kile won 20 games. The Cardinals had an eight-game lead on the Cincinnati Reds by the All-Star break and cruised home.
Over in the American League, the Chicago White Sox were a pleasant surprise. The great Frank Thomas hit 43 homers, rang up 121 ribbies and came in second to Giambi for the MVP. With the rest of the lineup and rotation balanced throughout, the performance of “The Big Hurt” was enough to get the White Sox some separation. They were up 10 ½ on the Indians by the All-Star break, and Chicago’s 95 wins were the most in the American League.
Playoff baseball can be cruel and one reason is that nice, overachieving teams, often finally run out of steam. That’s what happened to the White Sox. Facing the Mariners, Chicago lost one game in ten innings, and another by one run. Seattle took the Division Series in a three-game sweep.
Atlanta’s late-season fade was consummated when St. Louis went on an offensive rampage, led by Edmonds. The Cardinals scored 24 runs in their three-game sweep.
The Mets and Giants were the hot teams in the National League and their Division Series battle was a good one. After San Francisco took the opener, New York won a pair of 10-inning games, then got a one-hitter from Bobby Jones to close it out in Game 4 .
And the vulnerable Yankees had their hands full with the A’s. The reigning champs and the up-and-comers split the first four games. When New York jumped out to a 6-0 lead in Game 5, this series finally looked over. But Oakland closed the gap to 7-5 by the fourth inning. Then the deep Yankee bullpen, with Mariano Rivera at the end took over and all scoring ended there. The King wasn’t dead yet.
The city of New York was on fire with both of their teams playing for pennants. And the Mets simply dominated the Cardinals. New York went on the road and won the first two games. After St. Louis got back in it with a Game 3 win, the Mets unloaded for 17 runs in Games 4 & 5. Hampton closed it out with his second gem and for the first time since 1986, the New York Mets were going to the World Series.
Seattle got the first game in Yankee Stadium but the veterans in Pinstripes then started to assert themselves. Three straight wins, including a masterful one-hitter by Roger Clemens, came by a combined score of 20-3. Seattle stayed alive at home in Game 5 and had the lead late in Game 6. But a big home run from David Justice secured yet another pennant for the Yanks.
So, for the first time since 1956, we had a Subway Series. And it was a good one. The Mets were on the verge of winning Game 1 until “The Walk Heard Round The World”. In an epic battle, O’Neill kept fouling off two-strike pitches from Benitez until he worked a 10-pitch leadoff walk and eventually scored the tying run. The Yankees won that game in 12 innings. They won another one-run affair the next night, a game marked by a mound confrontation between Piazza and Clemens.
The Mets won Game 3, but once again, the veterans asserted themselves. Jeter set the tone for Game 4 with a home run. The Yankees won a close 3-2 game that night, and a tough 4-2 decision the next night. The 2000 baseball season was far from the most dominant in the historical arc of the New York Yankees. But it was another championship year in the Bronx.