Trust me, Yankees fans, it’s going to be fine. This is not 2004, this is not history repeating itself—or as Yogi Berra would say, “Déjà vu all over again.”
There are so many differences between this team and the one that will forever be synonymous with being the only (probably first at some point) team to blow a 3-0 series lead, it is preposterous to think this team is going to or should fold because that one did.
To me the most obvious difference is in the starting pitching that the Yankees will be having in Games Six and Seven.
Andy Pettitte is starting Game Six for the Yankees and is known for coming up big when his team needs him most. He has shown it all year long, even at the age of 37. During the regular season, Pettitte went 14-8 with a 4.16 ERA. He has done the same during the postseason, going 1-0 with a 2.84 ERA and nine strikeouts.
Game Seven’s starter does not need much by way of an introduction or stats to back up his ability—it will be C.C. Sabathia. This season, Sabathia tied for the American League lead with 19 wins to only eight losses and a 3.37 ERA, and was lights-out during the second half of the year.
He stayed hot during the postseason, pitching into the seventh inning every start and going eight full innings twice. His postseason stats include a record of 3-0 in three starts, with a very impressive 1.19 ERA and 20 strikeouts.
No offense to the Angels, but there is an old saying in baseball: “momentum is only as good as your next days’ starting pitcher.” For the Yankees, momentum is currently looking pretty good.
Just to compare the "momentum" the Yankees had in 2004, they had Jon Lieber and Kevin Brown going. Lieber was 14-8 with a 4.33 ERA in ’04, and in his three playoff starts had a 1-1 record with a 3.43 ERA. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't good, at least compared to the other two. Brown, 10-6 with a 4.06 ERA during the regular season, was 0-1 with a 21.60 ERA in two starts and only 3.1 innings pitched in the ALCS alone.
Now, look at the rosters. If this is the same team that blew a 3-0 lead, how come only five players (Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera) are on the Yankees now that were part of the 2004 debacle?
One could also make a case that these guys have tasted defeat before and are not going to let it happen again—or at least, they're going to do everything they can to prevent it from happening again.
Jeter is hitting .314 in the postseason with three home runs and eight runs scored. Like Sabathia, Rodriguez does not need much background to say he is getting the job done in the postseason, but here we go. A batting average of .400, five home runs, 11 RBI and 10 runs scored.
Matsui in the ALCS is hitting .294, and has walked five times. Posada, who always plays with a chip on his shoulder, added not starting when A.J. Burnett pitches and has picked his game up this postseason, with a .308 average and two home runs. Rivera has pitched in seven of eight games and has struck out 10 while only allowing five hits. He has not given up a run in eight and two-thirds innings as he continues his dominance of the month of October.
Also, the coaching staff is completely different. Not one coach has been on the team since 2004. New blood means new results, every person is different in how they coach or just go about life. I am not in any way saying Joe Girardi is a better manager than Joe Torre or that any of the coaches of ’09 are better than their ’04 counterparts, but just having something different could be what this team needs to keep ’04 where it belongs—in the past.
The third reason—which for your benefit, I will make my last—is Yankee Stadium. I am not talking about ghosts, spirits, curses or whatever else the ballpark across the street may have had. This place is new and does not yet have too much history, but no one can deny the Yankees' home-field advantage.
When you hear the phrase “the new Yankee Stadium,” what do you think of? For most it would be home runs, and whether it is a jet-stream or short fences, this Yankee team is built for it better than any other team—which obviously includes the visitors from Los Angeles.
The Yankees have out-homered everyone all season long, which includes the playoffs. In the regular season, the Yankees hit 244 home runs, the Texas Rangers and Philadelphia Phillies were second with 224, and the Angels were tenth with 173. That trend has continued in October, where the Yankees and Phillies have led the way with 14 home runs through two rounds so far. The Angels are third, but with nine fewer than the Yankees, having only homered five times.
Also, the Yankees led baseball with the best record in baseball at home during the regular season, 57-24. They also have yet to lose at the Big Ballpark in the Bronx during the postseason, not to mention all of the walk-off wins. With this kind of home-field advantage, why should they be worried about going back to the Bronx?
Once again, this is not 2004, it’s 2009 and the Yankees are a completely different team. They have better pitching, the names have almost completely changed, and they have a new home-field advantage in the new stadium. That is why the Yankees will win one of these next two games and go on to the World Series.