Tuesday, June 7, 2011

2001 ALDS: What makes a champion

Everything should have been laid out exactly the way Oakland wanted. The A's had won 102 games in 2001, a fact that was overshadowed by the fact that division rival Seattle had won 116. Stuck being the wild card team, Oakland earned another first-round matchup with the Yankees, who had knocked Oakland out of the playoffs the year before. New York was the three-time defending World Series champion and had the home-field advantage in the series.

But the A's proved their 102 wins were no fluke, winning the first two games in New York to head back to Oakland up two games to none. They seemed to have set themselves up perfectly for a matchup with Seattle for the American League pennant.

The Yankees reminded everybody why they were the three-time defending champions, however. They won Game 3 1-0, helped by Derek Jeter's famous backhand flip to catcher Jorge Posada to cut down the potential game-tying run in the seventh inning. Then they cut down Oakland 9-2 in Game 4, helped by five runs batted in by Bernie Williams. Having lost the momentum and the advantage, the A's had to fly back to New York for Game 5.

The Game
With Oakland's Mark Mulder facing Roger Clemens in a rematch of Game 1's pitching matchup, both teams had their ace on the hill for the deciding Game 5. Though they had lost all the momentum, Oakland jumped out to a 2-0 lead, getting an rbi single by Jason Giambi in the first and an rbi single by Jason's brother Jeremy in the second. But like they had so many times in the previous three seasons, the Yankees answered right back, getting a bases-loaded single by Alfonso Soriano to tie the game in the second.

After that, the game was a textbook example of what makes some teams champions and other teams also-rans. With one out in the third, Williams struck out on a ball in the dirt, but backup catcher Greg Myers - who had come in for starter Ramon Hernandez just that inning - threw the ball away to allow Williams to reach. One batter later, a fly ball that should have been the third out moved Williams to third, and he then came in to score on an error by third baseman Eric Chavez.

The Yankees had taken the lead in an inning where they were given five outs rather than the typical three. They extended that lead after another Oakland error the next inning. After Chuck Knoblauch led off the fourth with a single, Mulder seemed to have him picked off, but in the ensuing rundown, Jason Giambi threw the ball away, allowing Knoblauch to get to second. After being bunted over to third, Knoblauch scored on a sacrifice fly to make it 4-2.

Jason Giambi tried to make amends for his error with a run-scoring single in the fifth, but the Yankees got that run right back with a pinch-hit home run by David Justice in the sixth.

The rest of the way, the Yankees used what had been their unquestioned strength throughout their postseason run - their incredible bullpen. Giambi's single came in the first at bat against a Yankee reliever; the rest of the game, the only other hit Oakland got was a Giambi eighth-inning single. Mariano Rivera closed the door again to send the Yankees to the ALCS, and to teach the A's a valuable lesson: never, ever give the Yankees any extra outs.

Even with the home-field advantage, the Yankees might have been underdogs against Oakland. They were definitely underdogs against the mighty Mariners in the ALCS. But the Yankees again showed why they were such great champions, dispatching the Mariners with relative ease in a five-game victory. Advancing to the World Series, the Yankees lost the first two games to Arizona, then came from behind to win games 3, 4, and 5. After a loss in Game 6, the Yankees came from behind again in Game 7 to take the lead entering the ninth inning before the game - and their dynasty - got away from them.

Oakland wasn't finished with their postseason runs. 2001 was merely the second of four straight seasons in which they suffered a five-game defeat in the first round.

The Rundown

18. N.Y. Yankees 5, Oakland 3 (2001 ALDS)
19. Seattle 3, Cleveland 1 (2001 ALDS)
20. Chicago 5, San Francisco 3 (1998 NL Wild Card tiebreaker)
21. N.Y. Yankees 7, Oakland 5 (2000 ALDS)
22. Los Angeles 4, Houston 0 (1981 NL West Division Series)
23. Montreal 3, Philadelphia 0 (1981 NL East Division Series)
24. N.Y. Yankees 7, Milwaukee 3 (1981 AL East Division Series)
25. Seattle 9, California 1 (1995 AL West tiebreaker)
26. Chicago 5, Atlanta 1 (2003 NLDS)
27. Houston 12, Atlanta 3 (2004 NLDS)
28. N.Y. Mets 5, Cincinnati 0 (1999 NL Wild Card tiebreaker)
29. Cleveland 8, Boston 3 (1948 AL tiebreaker)
30. Houston 7, Los Angeles 1 (1980 NL West tiebreaker)

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