The Yankees’ lopsided 10-1 victory in Detroit on Tuesday night ensured that the Bombers would have the opportunity to return home to the Bronx to finish the Tigers off in a winner-takes-all Game 5 of the 2011 American League Division Series. The victory was the Yankees’ second-ever road win in an ALDS Game 4 to force a Game 5 at home — the first was against Oakland in 2001. The last time the Yankees played an ALDS that went the distance was in 2005, when they lost to the Angels in Los Angeles.
The Yankees have played five previous ALDS Game 5s — compiling a 2-3 record all time — but they only had home field advantage in one of those five — that 2001 series against Oakland, which they won. The Yankees have played three Game 7s in the DS era, going 1-2 in those contests, giving the team a 3-5 record overall (though 2-1 at home) in playoff series enders.
In honor of this auspicious occasion, here’s a rundown of the Yankees’ previous decisive Game 5s and 7s in the Divisional Series Era:
2005 ALDS Game 5 | Yankees at Angels | Monday, October 10, 2005. Angels beat Yankees 5-3.
The 2005 Yankee team was arguably the ugliest all-around Yankee team of the aughts — at least as far as pitching and defense was concerned — but they could rake with the best of them, with Alex Rodriguez‘s .438 wOBA, 9.1-fWAR MVP year fueling a second-best-in-the-Majors .350 team wOBA. Down 2-1 in this series, the Yankees rode another improbable Shawn Chacon performance to a Game 4 victory at home, setting up the final showdown in Los Angeles. Unfortunately Mike Mussina was terrible in Game 5 — though he wasn’t exactly helped by his outfield defense — lasting only 2.2 innings and giving up five earned runs. You almost never hear about this, but Randy Johnson came on in relief on two days’ rest and fired 4 1/3 scoreless innings, giving the Yankees, who worked back to get to within 5-3, a chance to win.
Biggest Play: Adam Kennedy‘s triple to center (.226 WPA) that one of Bubba Crosby or Gary Sheffield probably should have caught, pushing the Angels ahead 3-2 after being down 2-1.
Worst Play: With no outs in the top of the ninth, a runner on first and the Angels ahead by two, A-Rod grounds into a double play (-.131), effectively ending the Yankees’ season.
2004 ALCS Game 7 | Yankees vs. Red Sox | Wednesday, October 20, 2004. Red Sox beat Yankees 10-3.
I know no one wants to relive this, but at least Boston had the decency to put it out of reach early. A one-run loss would’ve been unbearably painful. With the Yankees trying to avoid the unthinkable having dropped three straight to Boston after taking a commanding 3-0 series lead, the Bombers ran out of pitching and were forced to send the much-maligned Kevin Brown to the hill in Game 7. Brown responded by lasting only 1.1 innings, and was relieved by Javier Vazquez. Down 2-0 with the bases loaded and one out, Home Run Javy threw one of the more unfortunate pitches in recent Yankee history, serving up a grand slam to Johnny Damon to effectively end any hope the Yankees might have had of coming back. Damon also touched Vazquez up for a two-run home run a couple of innings later. This one was about as ugly as it gets, and the coda was even worse, as the Red Sox rode their improbable run to a sweep of the Cardinals for the franchise’s first World Series victory in 86 years.
Biggest Play: Believe it or not, it wasn’t Damon’s slam. David Ortiz‘s first-inning two-run home run with two outs carried the highest WPA (.171) of the game.
Worst Play: Going strictly by WPA, Derek Jeter‘s flyout to lead off the bottom of the first inning with the Yankees already in a 2-0 hole carried the worst negative WPA of the game for the Yankees on offense, at -.024.
2003 ALCS Game 7 | Yankees vs. Red Sox | Thursday, October 16, 2003. Yankees win 6-5 in 11 innings.
You don’t need me to recap this one, but I’m going to do it anyway, since I was there, and it remains the greatest sporting event I’ve ever attended. After this series inevitably went to Game 7 despite the Yankees having an opportunity to put Boston away in six games, the Red Sox jumped out to a commanding 5-2 lead (with the Yankee runs courtesy of two Jason Giambi solo blasts that felt like afterthoughts at the time), knocking Roger Clemens out of the game after three-plus — though fortunately Mike Mussina would more or less save the Yankees’ season, turning in one of his finest-ever performances in pinstripes as he escaped from Clemens’ bases-loaded, no-out jam in the fourth unscathed and ultimately hurled three innings of huge, shutout ball — while Pedro Martinez was still on the hill in the 8th. Grady Little famously left Pedro in three hitters too long, and after a Jorge Posada bloop double the Yankees had fought all the way back to tie the game. Three scoreless innings of Mariano Rivera relief later, and Aaron Boone would end up sending the Yankees to the 2003 World Series, leading the bottom of the 11th off against Tim Wakefield and blasting a no-doubter into the night sky for one of the most dramatic walk-off home runs in team history.
Biggest Play: Unsurprisingly, Boone’s walk-off home run (.356 WPA). Special mention goes to the Posada double.
Worst Play: For the Red Sox at the plate, Kevin Millar popping out to the shortstop with a man on second to end the 10th tied Todd Walker — who lined out with a man on second and two out the previous inning — for worst WPA play, at .106.
2001 World Series Game 7 | Yankees at Diamondbacks | Sunday, November 4, 2001. Diamondbacks beat Yankees 3-2.
Amidst all the hype surrounding Luis Gonzalez‘s improbable game-winning bloop single off Mariano Rivera, it’s easy to forget that the Yankees were two outs away from winning this game 2-1 and taking down the fourth straight championship. With Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling locked in an incredibly tight 1-1 ballgame, Alfonso Soriano took Schilling deep to lead off the eighth inning and give the Yankees their one-run edge. If Mo holds on in the bottom of the 9th, Soriano would have been the toast of the town. Instead, the Bombers lost the game and the World Series in as heartbreaking fashion as possible. While the the 2004 ALCS stung, I think many Yankee fans would point to this game as the toughest Yankee postseason loss in the Division Series era.
Biggest Play: Tony Womack‘s game-tying double off Rivera with two men on and one out in the bottom of the ninth. That hit carried a whopping .500 WPA.
Worst Play: While the Womack and Gonzalez hits were the worst for the Yankees on the field, their worst out per WPA was Shane Spencer‘s two-out flyout to center with two men on in the seventh (-.080).
2001 ALDS Game 5 | Yankees vs. Athletics | Monday, October 15, 2001. Yankees win 5-3.
I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I really don’t remember this game at all, and may in fact have not even watched it. You see, I was a junior in college at the time, and while the Yankees have always been my most significant extracurricular activity, and though I have vivid memories of watching them play in the World Series from 1999 through 2001 — not to mention a particularly painful memory of sitting in my fraternity’s TV room my senior year watching the team get their butts handed to them in Game 4 of the 2002 ALDS — I guess the first round of the playoffs just wasn’t that high on my priority list at the time. Anyway, the A’s actually jumped out to a 2-0 lead against Roger Clemens in this one (thanks to two Jason Giambi RBI singles), but the Yankees battled back and got a huge insurance run in the bottom of the 6th via a solo shot courtesy of David Justice, and the team never looked back.
Biggest Play: Alfonso Soriano‘s second-inning game-tying single off Mark Mulder (.130 WPA).
Worst Play: Terrence Long‘s flyout to center in the top of the 5th with two outs, runners on 1st and 3rd, and the A’s down by one (-.070 WPA).
2000 ALDS Game 5 | Yankees at Athletics | Sunday, October 8, 2000. Yankees win 7-5.
Another game I just have zero recollection of; the Yankees apparently jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the first, knocking A’s starter Gil Heredia out after only 1/3 of an inning! Andy Pettitte actually let Oakland back into the game in the bottom of the 4th, as the A’s would get within two runs. But the scoring ended following the fourth, with both teams’ bullpens shutting the other down. Mariano Rivera of course closed things out with a five-out save to send the Yankees to their third straight ALCS.
Biggest Play: Tino Martinez‘s bases-clearing double with one out in the top of the first that extended the Yankee lead to 4-0 before Oakland even came to the plate, good for .150 WPA.
Worst Play: Terrence Long (again!) strikes out swinging against Mo with a man on second and one out in the eighth (-.070).
1997 ALDS Game 5 | Yankees at Indians | Monday, October 6, 1997. Yankees lose 4-3.
Another foggy game for me, as I was pretty deep into being a brooding, lovelorn high schooler and apparently baseball was less of a priority for me than usual that year. Funny, especially as I distinctly remember watching every game of the 1996 World Series run, but I guess you just can’t predict teenagers. Anyway, the Indians jumped out to a 4-0 lead in this one and never trailed. Andy Pettitte went 6 2/3 but gave up all four runs and was saddled with the loss. Jaret Wright started for the Indians and gave up two runs over 5 1/3 for the win. Thankfully the Yankees would exact their revenge the following season, torching Wright for five first-inning runs in Game 1 of the 1998 ALCS.
Biggest Play: Manny Ramirez‘s ground-rule double with two out in the bottom of the third to give Cleveland a 2-0 lead (.180 WPA).
Worst Play: Jorge Posada grounds out with runners on first and third and two outs in the top of the eighth against closer Jose Mesa (-.120).
1995 ALDS Game 5 | Yankees at Mariners | Sunday, October 8, 1995. Yankees lose 6-5 in 11 innings.
This was the first playoff series for a generation of Yankee fans, the ones, like me, that grew up in the 1980s and had to deal with their Met fan friends bragging about their team for much of the decade while the Bombers languished. Things started turning around in 1993, and in 1994 the Yankees looked poised to charge to the World Series until the player’s strike devastatingly cut the season short in August. The 1995 Yankees weren’t quite as good as the previous year’s incarnation, and held a 41-42 record on July 28 (though they were only three games out of first place). The Yankees dealt for David Cone that day, and the trade not only helped catapult the Yankees to a scorching-hot second half, as they went 38-23 (with Cone going 9-2 and posting a 3.82 ERA) down the stretch to win MLB’s first-ever American League Wild Card, but arguably changed the course of franchise history.
In the early days of the Wild Card, the team with the worst record strangely hosted the first two games of the first round, while the team with the superior record got the last three. The Yankees took care of business at home, winning the first two — including the epic, extra-inning Jim Leyritz walk-off win in Game 2, which was the first playoff game I ever attended — to take a commanding 2-0 lead. Unfortunately Seattle had other ideas, and battled back to force a decisive Game 5 at the Kingdome.
Cone started the game for the Yankees and pitched valiantly, throwing 7 2/3 innings of four-run ball, but unfortunately the last two runs — a solo home run to Ken Griffey, Jr. and a bases-loaded walk to Doug Strange, plating rookie Alex Rodriguez — enabled the M’s to tie things up in the eighth. Following a scoreless ninth, Randy Johnson came on in relief (funny how often history tends to repeat itself) in the 10th, and the Yankees actually took a one-run against Johnson in the top of the 11th, on a Randy Velarde single. Unfortunately, for whatever reason Buck Showalter let Jack McDowell come back out for a second inning of work to try to close thins out in the bottom of the 11th, but McDowell did the exact opposite of getting the job done, giving up three straight hits — a leadoff single to Alex Cora, a single to Griffey and the game-winning double to Edgar Martinez — to send the Yankees home and break the heart of this 14-year-old boy.
The Yankees would of course come back with a vengeance in 1996 and win their first World Series trophy in nearly 20 years, coming back from what felt like an insurmountable 0-2 deficit against Atlanta to win championship #23, but this ALDS loss was my generation of Yankee fans’ first crushing defeat, and it remains the only ALDS the Yankees lost after winning the first two games.
Biggest Play: Obviously Martinez’s hit, good for .320 WPA.
Worst Play: It’s a tie — Wade Boggs strikes out swinging against the Big Unit with runners on first and second an no one out in the top of the ninth, and Paul O’Neill ends the inning with a foul popout to the catcher (both -.120).
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