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Yanks' defining moments of '04
10/03/2004 9:54 PM ET
First place: The Yankees took over first place for good on June 1 with an 8-7 victory over Baltimore. The win gave New York a 31-19 record.
AL East Champions

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• The Yankees' road to the playoffs: 56K | 350K
• Yanks clinch AL east with Bernie's blast 56K | 350K

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Offseason moment: Alex Rodriguez wasn't supposed to be a Yankee. The Hot Stove League was ablaze with talk of A-Rod becoming a member of the Red Sox -- and he almost was. But unsuccessful attempts by Boston and Aaron Boone's penchant for pickup basketball changed all that. New York shipped Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named to Texas in exchange for the high-profile shortstop. In addition to the obvious Yanks-Sox drama it caused, there was a bit of initial rumbling in the Bronx ... they already had a shortstop. The shortstop. What of him? Not to worry. A-Rod took over at third base, and all was right with Joe Torre's crew. Nearly eight months later, the Bombers won their seventh straight AL East title.

In-season moment: In May 2003, Orlando Hernandez underwent surgery to repair a slight tear in his rotator cuff. The following January he was looking to get another shot in the Majors, and kept trying until the Yankees signed him to a one-year deal in March. He didn't make the trip back to New York after Spring Training, instead making three starts at Class A Tampa, then three more at Triple-A Columbus before making his first Yankees start on July 11 against Tampa Bay. He joined a rotation desperate for quality starts with Mike Mussina and Kevin Brown injured. He won that first game, then proceeded to win seven more times before losing for the first time on Sept. 22, finishing the year at 8-2.

Game: July 1 isn't typically the time for a defining moment, but when the Yanks and Sox get together, any time is a good time. In the 12th inning of a 3-3 game, with two out and Sox on second and third, Trot Nixon lifted a foul ball toward the seats halfway down the third-base line. Derek Jeter ran full-bore, caught the ball and went head-first into the crowd. The Yankees' captain came out with the ball and a bloodied face, but he ended the inning. One inning later, John Flaherty ended the game with an RBI single and the Yanks won, 5-4, to extend their division lead to three games.

MVP: Gary Sheffield. He hit in front of A-Rod, and he hit behind A-Rod. And all season long he gave the Yankees clutch hits. He finished with 36 home runs, 121 RBIs and a .290 batting average that has made him a solid contender for the AL MVP award. And he did this while playing in 154 games, most of them with an injured left shoulder that led to cortisone shots.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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