After opening the season with a 15-2 romping of Oakland, the Yankees dropped four straight. But they won their next four to quell any early concerns.
Mike Mussina came on midway through the month, taking over as leader of the pitching staff and winning five straight games. Derek Jeter hit .398 with 20 RBIs to begin one of his finest seasons, and offseason acquisition Johnny Damon immediately jump-started the top of the Yankees' order, hitting .312 and scoring 22 runs in April.
The Yankees won five straight in the month's first week, sweeping Tampa Bay in two and Texas in three games, both on the road.
The Red Sox came to New York for the first time of the year and took two of three games, but that wasn't the extent of the Yankees' problems. Hideki Matsui fractured his left wrist on May 11, and Gary Sheffield went on and off the disabled list, also with an injured wrist, before finally being shut down at the end of the month. Both sluggers required surgery and were thought to be possibly out for the season.
Mussina continued to carry the load on the mound, posting a 3-0 record and 2.53 ERA in May. Alex Rodriguez won American League Player of the Month while hitting .330 with eight homers and 28 RBIs. The Yankees won the final five games of the month despite the injuries.
The Yankees fired back against Boston, taking two of three in the Bronx, but they couldn't find a consistent formula and lost their next four. Melky Cabrera began his season filling in for Matsui, and Bernie Williams emerged again as an everyday player in right field.
Jason Giambi slugged 11 homers in the month, but Rodriguez slumped horribly, hitting just .213 with 11 RBIs. That started a tormenting three months for the third baseman, both at the plate and in the field, as Yankees fans booed the defending American League MVP, even as he walked to the plate.
Robinson Cano was also lost for a month when he pulled his hamstring on June 25, only adding to the Yankees' injury woes.
Different role players began to step up, giving the Yankees considerable confidence that they could still play well without their superstar sluggers and All-Star second baseman. The Yankees won four out of five heading into the All-Star break, and they swept the defending World Series champion White Sox to open the second half of the season.
The trade deadline acquisition of Bobby Abreu paid off immediately, and Cano rejoined the Yankees on Aug. 8 to instantly boost the team's offense. Still, the Yankees dropped two out of three in Chicago, split with the Angels and lost two of three at home against Baltimore heading into a key five-game series against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
That's where the season changed. The Yankees swept the five-game series to take a 6 1/2-game lead in the AL East, and they never looked back. Damon tormented his former team and Abreu broke out in the series. The Yankees went 2-4 on an ensuing West Coast trip, but they still picked up ground in the division, as Boston fell off due to an assortment of injuries.
Rodriguez finally started to come alive, going 6-for-13 with four homers and eight RBIs against the Twins to open the month. Jeter continued his assault on the AL batting title and MVP race, and Wang continued to carry the pitching staff.
By building their lead to 11 1/2 games, the Yankees had the luxury of resting injured closer Mariano Rivera and Mussina. Matsui returned from his wrist surgery, and the pieces started coming together for the playoffs. The Yankees won a season-high six straight games heading into a home series against the Red Sox, who took three out of four. But by then, the Yankees' magic number was down to two.
The Yankees clinched the division on Sept. 20 despite losing to the Blue Jays. It marked their ninth straight division title and allowed them to concentrate on easing Sheffield and Rivera back onto the field. They clinched home-field advantage on Friday.
Ryan Mink is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less