It had been 27 years since any team won three consecutive World Series championships. The 2000 New York Yankees, fresh off sweeps of the Fall Classic in both 1998 and 1999, we aiming to end that drought. The Yankees were also aiming to three-peat for the third time in the illustrious history of their own franchise. The 2000 edition of Pinstripes wasn’t always inspiring and caused more than a little angst in the fan base down the stretch. But when October came, they got it done and won a third consecutive title.
Derek Jeter was the leader of the Yankee lineup at shortstop and The Captain had one of his best seasons in 2000, batting .339 and posting a slugging percentage of .481. Bernie Williams was even better, hitting .307 with 30 home runs and 121 RBIs. Jorge Posada was steady behind the plate and posted a stat line of .417 on-base percentage/.523 slugging percentage.
What made this Yankee lineup a little less formidable than the ones that came before it was depth. They had Chuck Knoblauch, with his .366 on-base percentage to spark the batting order. And Paul O’Neill outperformed his normal stats in clutch situations, driving in 100 runs. But the corners were weak, with neither Tino Martinez at first base or third baseman Scott Brosius having a good year with the bat. The Yanks settled for sixth in the American League in runs scored.
Perhaps more disappointing was that the pitching, the crown jewel of this franchise’s best teams, also finished sixth in the AL. Andy Pettitte won 19 games, but at the price of a 4.35 ERA. Roger Clemens, now 37-years-old, went 13-8 with a 3.70 ERA. The 34-year-old Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez slipped to 12-13 with a 4.51 ERA. David Cone was now 37-years-old himself and he completely collapsed, finishing with a 6.91 ERA in 29 starts.
The Yanks tried to fix their starting pitching depth issues on the trade market when they acquired Denny Neagle in June. But that didn’t work out either, as Neagle’s 15 starts in pinstripes resulted in a 5.81 ERA.
Joe Torre had to make frequent use of his bullpen but Mike Stanton had an ERA of 4.10, while Josh Grimsley’s ERA ended up on the wrong side of 5. What saved Torre’s relief corps was a good year from Jeff Nelson, with a 2.45 ERA. And there was this guy named Mariano Rivera always ready to close it down. Rivera posted 36 saves and a 2.85 ERA.
New York came hopping out of the gates like nothing had changed from 1998-99, winning 11 of their first 14 games. In the early part of May, they swept a contending Cleveland Indians team. The Yankee lead in the AL East grew as high as four games. But a trip to mediocre Detroit saw New York get swept, and the Yanks lost a series to the Indians back in New York.
The Yankees fell back into a tie for first with the Boston Red Sox, then lost two of three at home to Boston over Memorial Day weekend. At the season’s first turn, New York was a game out of first, but the Yankees and Red Sox still had the two best records in the American League.
That would start to change in the month of June. The AL East rivals split six games with each other. But New York lost 6 of 7 games to the Chicago White Sox, the team that eventually wound up with the American League’s best record, and slipped three games back by the end of the month.
The problems with offensive depth were apparent enough that New York went on the trade market in June and acquired David Justice to play left field. Over the balance of the season, Justice hit 20 home runs with a stat line of .391/.585.
The AL East deficit was chopped down to a half-game on July 8. It was time for the Big Apple’s rivalry series, the Yankees and Mets meeting in a four-game weekend set at Shea Stadium.
On Friday night, the Yanks got an early lead when consecutive singles from Jeter, O’Neill, Williams and Posada put up two runs. The bats went quiet the rest of the night, but vintage pitching from El Duque and Mariano preserved the 2-1 win.
Saturday would be a day-night doubleheader. The Yankees sent out Dwight Gooden to the mound to face the team where he had become famous. Gooden gave five good innings. He was staked to another early 2-0 lead, this one starting when Knoblauch began the game with a single, Jeter doubled down the leftfield line and then scored a single by Martinez. The Yanks won 4-2.
On Saturday night, Clemens took the mound and things got interesting. In the second inning, facing the great Mets’ catcher Mike Piazza, Clemens hit Pizza in the head. The catcher had to leave the game and refused to take calls from Clemens, believing the pitch was intentional. Clemens insisted it was a pitch that had simply gotten away, and took Piazza’s shunning personally. It was a national incident that reverberated into October.
Back on the field, Knoblauch’s three-run homer in the fourth was the key to a 4-2 win with Rivera saving his third game of the series. Even though a strong Sunday afternoon outing from Pettite was wasted in a 2-0 loss, the Yankees had a made a statement against a crosstown rival and stabilized the ship.
Meanwhile, Boston was bleeding even worse than New York. By the end of July, the Yankees were only 56-44. But it was good enough for a 3 ½ game lead. Just as notable though, at a time when there was only one wild-card berth available, New York’s record was just fifth-best in the American League. The AL East had won the wild-card in the first five years of its existence, but this year was looking like an old-school, winner-take-all division race.
The Yankees played respectable baseball in August, winning 8 of 13 games against the Seattle Mariners and Oakland A’s, both of whom would end up in the postseason. On September 8, New York’s lead over Boston had extended to six games. They were headed to Fenway for a three-game series and had a chance to put this division race to bed.
Clemens took the ball on Friday night, went eight innings an tossed a 4-0 shutout. The Yankee offense was quiet much of Saturday afternoon, trailing Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez 1-0 in the seventh inning. Then Brosius unloaded a three-run blast. Jose Canseco, acquired off waivers in August, hit a two-run shot. The Yankees won 5-3. On Sunday afternoon, Brosisus homered again, while Jeter, Canseco and Martinez had two hits apiece. A 6-2 win completed the sweep, extended the lead to nine games and indicated that the AL East race was effectively over.
After two subsequent wins over Toronto, the Yankee record was 82-59. Getting homefield advantage for at least the Division Series was at least in the cards. But suddenly, the entire New York train went radically into reverse. They lost 15 of their final 18 games.
It would be a stretch to say the AL East title was in serious jeopardy, especially when Boston couldn’t get hot themselves. But the race did officially go until the final Friday of the season. And even then, New York had to celebrate based on a Boston loss, while they themselves were getting drubbed in Baltimore. For most franchises, a division title under any circumstances is nothing to sneer at. For the Yankees, the postseason began with full-scale alarm bells going off.
Oakland was the opponent in the Division Series round. After dropping the opener on the road, New York bounced back with two wins and was poised to close it out at home. Until Clemens got rocked, and a cross-country flight for a decisive Game 5 loomed. The Yankees jumped the A’s for six early runs and held on for a 7-5 win.
Seattle had surprised Chicago with a sweep in the other Division Series, so after all the collapsing in September, the Yankees still had homefield advantage in the American League Championship Series over the wild-card Mariners. Again, New York spotted their opponent the first game, then took the next two. In Game 4 out west, Clemens stepped up with a vintage performance, delivering a 5-0 win that put a stranglehold on the series. The Yanks eventually closed out the pennant back in New York in Game 6.
One last step to the three-peat remained. The Mets had come out of the wild-card spot and won the National League pennant. A “Subway Series”, something that was so common in the late 1940s and 1950s when the Dodgers and Giants shared New York with the Yanks, was now here in our modern day.
The games were tight. There was another Clemens-Piazza incident in Game 2. But the one common thread is that the veteran Yankees were the ones who kept coming up with the big hit and getting the key out. They won the opener in 12 innings. They held off a late Mets rally to win Game 2. After the Mets made it a Series with a Game 3 win, the Yanks ground out a tough 3-2 win to get firm control of the series. And one night later in Game 5, they put the finishing touches on the championship.
Over the five games, the Yankees had only outscored the Mets 19-16. But perhaps that made it a more fitting end to a season that was more about championship experience than raw talent.
The Yankees certainly weren’t going anywhere. The won the American League pennant in 2001 and again in 2003. They made the playoffs each year in succession up through 2007. But they didn’t win the World Series again until 2009. And as of this writing, in the fall of 2022, they have not even been back to the Fall Classic since that ’09 title. By the standards of this franchise, that is a major drought. 2000 was, perhaps unexpectedly, the end of an era.