Even though we would all like the Yankees to go 162-0 every year and win the division by 70 games, a good pennant race can be fun. The Yankees happen to be in one now, and have been in many over their recent history. With that in mind, I thought I'd ask the PSA staff about their favorite pennant races.
Q: The Yankees are neck and neck with the Blue Jays for the AL East. What was the most memorable Yankees pennant race ever?
I'll always remember the 2006 season, which had a rare 5 game series between the Yankees and Red Sox. They ended up sweeping the Red Sox and went on to win the division that year. Unfortunately, this was during a very dark time in Yankees history as far as pitching was concerned, but looking back it was fun to watch.
I'll have to go with 1998. After a 61-20 first half it looked like it would be smooth sailing from there on out, but the Yankees stumbled to an embarrassing 53-28 mark after the break including a month of August where they >gasp
It's hard to beat 1978 given that the Yankees overcame a 14 1/2 game deficit to beat the Red Sox, but since I wasn't alive for that, I'm going to go with 2006. It did pretty much end in August, but it's going to be hard for any pennant race to beat the Boston Massacre II. Due to an earlier rainout, the Yankees and Red Sox played a five-game set at Fenway from August 18th through the 21st, and since the Yankees entered only a game and a half ahead of Boston, it seemed like this could really be a decisive series. The Yankees then bludgeoned Boston pitching for 39 runs over the first three wins, took the fourth game in extra innings on the strength of homers from Jason Giambi and Jorge Posada, and then finished off the shocking five-game sweep when Cory Lidle outdueled David Wells, 2-1. The Yankees ran away with the AL East title after that and the Red Sox tumbled all the way to third place. It was a good time, even though the playoffs didn't go as well as we hoped.
This was definitely a tough one. As Yankees fans, we've been lucky enough to witness pennant races for the last 20 years or so, even with the team missing the playoffs the last couple of seasons. This makes it hard for particular pennant races to stick out for me. I think my favorite one has to be in 2006. While this one didn't come down to the last game of the season or anything, the Yankees rolled into Boston in late August for a five game series (double header Friday, games on Saturday, Sunday and Monday). By the end of Friday, the Yankees 1.5 game lead had grown to 3.5. By the end of the series, the Yankees were 6.5 up. The games weren't really even close. The Yankees scored 12, 14 and 13 runs respectively in the first three games. They won fourth game 8-5, and then squeezed the sweep out with a 2-1 win on Monday. It was a complete beatdown, and the Yankees never looked back. Boston, meanwhile, ended up third and 11 games behind the Yanks. Also, it was made all the more sweeter by the fact that I was living in Boston at the time. It was nice to go out around the city wearing my Yankees hat and not hear any chirping from the Sox fans. They had nothing to say after that sweep.
The 1978 race must have been fun for Yankee fans of the era. The 2007 comeback was special except for the finish. My pick of the pennant races though would be 2006, highlighted by the five game sweep in Fenway. Only 1.5 games in it heading into that series, it was as decisive as any set of August games could be.
It was only tangentially related to the Yankees because it included a colossal choke by the Red Sox, but the last day of the 2011 regular season is probably my favorite.
I could say 1996, since that was the first time I fully remember seeing the Yankees compete for first place. I could also say 1998 because it was just such a dominant year for them. I mean, I've never seen anything like that year and I don't know if I ever will again. I could also say 2011, since the Yankees not only defied the odds by winning the division, but also the Red Sox defied the odds by royally tanking at the last moment. That last game of the year was one of the most enjoyable days of baseball I've ever watched, and the Yankees lost that game. Magnificent.
My answer is definitely 1998 though. I will never forget the incredible year that was.
Even though this is one the Yankees lost, I have a weird soft spot for 2010 just because of how dumb it was. On August 31, the Yankees led the AL East by one game and had a .621 winning percentage. The Rays were in second with .614. As the month went along, it became apparent that the team that won the division would likely face the Rangers, while the loser would still get the wild card, but would face the Twins. At that point, both teams seemingly shrugged and stopped caring about winning games. When the dust settled, the Rays came out on top with a 96-66 record, which was a .596 winning percentage. The Yankees finished a game back with a .586 winning percentage. Both teams may have been proven right in not wanting to face the Rangers, as Texas would take out both teams in the playoffs. Thankfully for the Yankees it came a round later than it did for the Rays. Shrug-athon 2010 may have at least partially played a part in the change in the playoff format that was eventually introduced in 2012.
Now it's your turn. Tell us about your favorite pennant races from Yankee (or just general) history.