Yankees monthly recap
Makeshift pitching staff comes through during hot summer
Despite opening the season by winning two of three games against the Red Sox, the Yankees finished April under .500 for the first time during Joe Torre's 10-year reign as manager. Baltimore repeatedly pounded the Yankees, scoring at least seven runs in each of five victories (out of six games). The Yankees played six teams in the month, finishing with a winning record against only the Blue Jays.
Kevin Brown started the season on the disabled list, and went winless in three starts upon returning. Tanyon Sturtze and Ruben Sierra each earned spots on the 15-day DL, and the injury-prone right shoulder of high-profile free-agent signee Jaret Wright sidelined him on April 24 for what was expected to be four-to-six weeks. Rookie Chien-Ming Wang was called up to fill Wright's spot in the rotation.
The Yankees opened May by losing five of six games. It dropped the team's record to 11-19, New York's worst after 30 games since 1966, when the Yankees were also 11-19. A May 3 roster shakeup resulted in the callups of Robinson Cano and Sean Henn, and Steve Karsay's designation for assignment (he would be released May 12). Tony Womack, signed to play second base in the offseason, was bumped to the outfield, and Bernie Williams landed on the bench as a part-time designated hitter and backup outfielder.
On May 10, Brian Cashman and Joe Torre met with struggling first baseman Jason Giambi (then batting .195), discussing whether a trip to the Minor Leagues was in order. However, Giambi declined, instead choosing to work through his struggles in the Majors. Despite the early difficulties, the Yankees rebounded to win 16 of 18 games -- including 10 in a row -- from May 7-27. Alex Rodriguez led the charge by batting .349 with eight home runs, 23 runs scored and 22 RBIs. He won the American League Player of the Month award.
The Yankees posted their second sub-.500 month of the season in June. The Yanks opened the month by losing six of seven games, part of a stretch dating to May 28 during which they dropped nine of 10. New York was swept by Kansas City, dropped three of four games against the Devil Rays and lost three-game series against Minnesota, Milwaukee, St. Louis and the Mets. The Yankees did manage to sweep Pittsburgh and the Cubs in back-to-back series, producing a six-game win streak on May 14-19.
Outfielder Kevin Reese was called up for a cup-of-coffee four-day stint with the Yankees due to their ongoing search for a serviceable center fielder. Wright was shifted to the 60-day DL, and, in yet another roster shakeup, relievers Paul Quantrill and Mike Stanton were designated for assignment on May 30.
In a wildly entropic month, the Yankees opened July by reeling off 12 of 15 victories, including six in a row, and closed it by winning five of seven games. Giambi literally powered the way, breaking out of his season-long slump to bash 14 home runs -- the highest monthly total of any Yankee since Mickey Mantle hit 14 in July 1961. Giambi raised his average to .286 and earned the AL Player of the Month award. Gary Sheffield, Mariano Rivera and Rodriguez represented the Yankees at the All-Star Game. New York had only one losing series, dropping three of four games to the Angels from July 21-24.
Quantrill was traded to San Diego for starter retreads Tim Redding and Darrell May, both of whom were sent to Triple-A Columbus on July 2. Carl Pavano went on the 15-day DL with right shoulder tendinitis, and outfielder Melky Cabrera -- who had played only nine games at Triple-A -- was called up on July 7 with the expectation that he could play adequate defense in center field. By July 7, after several costly misplays in the field, the Cabrera experiment was ended. With Womack nailed to the bench, Williams would assume the majority of the center field playing time for the rest of the way.
With the starting pitching in disarray -- moreso after Wang landed on the 15-day DL on May 14 -- Tanyon Sturtze, May and Redding each made disastrous single starts, and the Yankees seemingly began taking flyers on any pitcher with a pulse. They acquired Al Leiter, who had a disastrous first half, from the Marlins on May 16 for cash and a player to be named. The next day, they purchased the contract of Aaron Small, who would unexpectedly post a 10-0 record the rest of the way while bouncing between the bullpen and rotation. Brown was activated and made two poor starts before returning to the DL on July 28, when he was shut down for the season. The Yankees closed out the month by trading two low-level prospects for Rockies pitcher Shawn Chacon, signing Alan Embree, who had been released by the Red Sox, and trading away Buddy Groom after designating him for assignment.
As the roster moves settled down, the Yankees continued to surge. They won 10 of 13 games, including five in a row, from Aug. 19-31. Rodriguez earned his second Player of the Month award after hitting 12 home runs. Among those 12 home runs were his 20th at home, breaking the single-season record for the most by a right-handed batter at Yankee Stadium, and his 40th overall, which made him the second Yankee righty to reach the 40-homer plateau. The other was Joe DiMaggio.
Wright returned from the DL on Aug. 15, bolstering the starting staff. The Yankees acquired Matt Lawton from the Cubs on Aug. 27, and closed out the month by signing another Red Sox castoff, infielder Mark Bellhorn.
The Yankees started September 4-5, but lost only five games the rest of the way. They won 11 of 13 games from Sept. 9-22, a stretch that included winning streaks of five and six games. They were finally able to beat Tampa Bay, sweeping the Devil Rays during a crucial three-game series on Sept. 13-15, immediately after New York had won two of three games against Boston.
Wang was activated from the DL on Sept. 6 and went 2-2 in five stretch-run starts. Mussina missed more than three weeks with right elbow inflammation, and Sheffield missed a week with a strained muscle in his thigh. The Yankees took over first place from the Red Sox going into a final series against Boston, in which the Yankees won one of three games, but clinched the AL East title for the eighth straight year.
Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.