10/05/2003 9:05 PM ET
Yankees' pitchers turn it around
ALDS results in 2003 drastically different from '02
MINNEAPOLIS -- The ugly images from 2002 were finally washed away in champagne, and the Yankees' starting rotation celebrated what they always expect to be theirs.
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
The shelling of New York's starters by the Anaheim Angels that doomed the Yankees to a rare first-round bounce-out last year seemed long forgotten and buried one October later, with pitcher after pitcher baffling the Minnesota Twins in the American League Division Series.
David Wells capped off the dominance with 7 2/3 innings of one-run ball in the Yankees' 8-1 win in Game 4 on Sunday at the Metrodome.
He followed Andy Pettitte's seven-inning, one-run masterpiece in Game 2 and Roger Clemens' seven-inning, one-run gem in Game 3.
And Mike Mussina wasn't bad, either, tossing in a good-enough-to-win, seven-inning, three-run effort in a Game 1 loss tainted by poor Yankee defense.
The lasting frames of the New York Yankees from the Metrodome in 2003 were painted in joyful colors, the product of a startling turnaround.
"Well, that was it," Yankees manager Joe Torre said, when asked if the pitching was the difference.
"I mean, that's the main reason. You know, last year, we just didn't pitch well. We didn't pitch up to our standards. And I said going into this series I just felt more comfortable with the way we were pitching toward the end of the year.
"Up to our standards" is a severe understatement, and the dumbfounded expression on Torre's face as he filed out of Edison Field last year spelled that out pretty clearly.
Consider these striking numerical differences between the Yankees' pitching staff in ALDS competition in 2002 and 2003.
The Angels set a postseason record by batting .376 and pounding out 31 runs in four games. The Yankees' team ERA was 8.21 and the starters' ERA was 10.38.
None of the starters lasted more than 5 2/3 innings, the amount of work Clemens logged in a no-decision in Game 1. The four combined to give up 20 runs in 17 1/3 frames over four starts, an average of just over 4 1/3 innings and five runs per outing.
Fast-forward to this year.
The Yankees held the Twins to a .198 team batting average, almost half of what the Angels accomplished.
The starters combined to log 28 2/3 innings in their four games, an average of just over seven per outing, and gave up six total runs for an ERA of 1.95, over four times less than in 2002.
In Dickensian terms, it was a tale of two series, and they went from the worst of times to the best of times.
"Against Anaheim, we didn't execute the scouting report," general manager Brian Cashman said.
"They were told not to throw them strikes, because that's when they cause real damage. Actually, we threw them a lot of strikes.
"This Minnesota team is the same way, but our pitchers did a better job of pitching to their weaknesses than against Anaheim. We took certain guys out of their zone, throwing splitters out of the zone."
Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre's take on the reversal of form and fortune was simple and strong.
"We don't talk about what happened last year," Stottlemyre said. "We're a 'now' club. We were just ready for this playoff. I think our scouts did an excellent job at giving us information on this club and we pretty much stuck with the plan and executed it. I felt really good last year. Maybe that's what bit me."
What bit the Twins was a rotation seemingly driven to not miss a spot, to not make any mistakes. They were constantly ahead in counts and putting the Twins on the defensive.
Doug Mientkiewicz went 2-for-15. Corey Koskie went 3-for-15. A.J. Pierzynski went 3-for-13. Matthew LeCroy went 1-for-11. Jacque Jones went 2-for-16. And Luis Rivas took the ALDS collar, going 0-for-13.
"They were pitching just unconscious," said Twins outfielder Shannon Stewart. "They were hitting their spots on everyone. It's one of those things -- when they're all hot like that, it's going to be tough for anybody to beat that team right now."
And that's coming from a guy who managed to hit .400 in the series.
"It all starts with the pitching," Pettitte said. "We take it personally when we pitch bad. We're going to try to keep the momentum we have right now as a starting staff."
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said he hopes so.
"They push each other, each one trying to out-do the next," Jeter said. "That's good, because we like that kind of competition."
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire seemed to sum it up best.
"You know you're going to run up against a buzzsaw when you run up against their pitching staff," Gardenhire said.
"Every one of them went out there and pitched their tails off. You're going to say we're not swinging good. Good pitching does that to hitters.
"We've got a young bunch of hitters, but, man, they pitched."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.