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Color By Numbers: Yankee, Go West

Posted By William Juliano On July 27, 2012 @ 7:23 am In 1: Featured,Baseball,Yankees | Comments Disabled

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It was almost the West Coast trip from hell. After dropping five of six in Oakland and Seattle, not to mention losing Alex Rodriguez to a broken hand, the Yankees were poised for another defeat on Wednesday afternoon. However, Jayson Nix’ bases clearing double in the eighth inning wiped away a 2-1 deficit, and with it, some of the sting of a difficult road trip.

If not for Nix’ heroics, the Yankees would have recorded their second lowest winning percentage on any West Coast trip of at least six games. By squeaking out a win, the Bronx Bombers also nudged their all-time record in the Pacific timezone to just over .500 at 385-384.  Although Yankees’ fans are seldom satisfied with mediocrity, that record might come as a pleasant surprise because trips out West have always seemed to have more than their share of misadventures.

Winning Percentage Distribution of Yankees’ West Coast Trips, 1968 to 2012
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Note: Includes trips involving two or more cities.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

The Yankees’ first regular season game on the West Coast took place on May 5, 1961 [3], when the Bronx Bombers traveled across the country to face the expansion Los Angeles Angels. Media accounts expected the Yankees to romp over the Angels, especially considering the friendly confines of Wrigley Field (there was one in Los Angeles too). Although the AP compared the mighty Yankees’ visit to “letting a channel swimmer work out in bath tub”, Casey’s crew wound up losing two of three in the series and six of nine against the Angels in Los Angeles overall.

Since the Angels joined the American League, the Yankees have played 769 games in the Pacific Time Zone as part of 126 distinct trips. Until the Athletics moved to Oakland in 1968, visits to the West Coast were basically three game stopovers amid longer road trips that included cities like Cleveland, Minnesota, and Kansas City. Then, when the Pilots landed in Seattle for the 1969 season, the jaunt became a lengthy swings up or down the coast. In 1970, East Coast teams were given a bit of a reprieve when the Pilots relocated to Milwaukee, but the three-city circuit became a staple when the Mariners joined the A.L. in 1977.

With Seattle back in business, the three-city trip along the Pacific became a rite of passage for A.L. teams until the next round of expansion in 1998. Since that time, the Yankees have only made one trip covering all three cities. In fact, with the exception of the nine-game jaunt in May 2011, last week’s seven-game trip out West was as long as any other from the past 14 seasons.

Yankees’ Winning Percentage on the West Coast, by Decade, 1961 to 2012
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Note: Includes all games played in the Pacific timezone.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

So, if this most recent West Coast swing almost qualified as the second worst in Yankees’ history, what was the worst? On May 23, 1995 [5], the Yankees, who trailed the Red Sox by 1.5 games at the time, lost the first game of a three-city tour in a 10-0 blowout at the hands of Chuck Finley and the Angels. However, there was a silver lining, albeit one that wouldn’t pay off until the following year. In need of a spot starter, the Yankees promoted a skinny Panamanian kid [6] named Mariano Rivera. Although the loss presaged the kind of trip the Yankees would have, Rivera’s debut turned out to be the more important omen.

The Yankees wound up losing the first five games of the trip before finally getting a win in Oakland behind, you guessed it, Rivera, who, this time, allowed only one run over 5 1/3 innings (the losing pitcher was present day Yankees’ bullpen coach Mike Harkey). Unfortunately, the losing resumed as the Yankees were swept in three games at the Kingdome. By the time the Bronx Bombers limped onto the plane to head back home, the team had dropped seven games behind the Red Sox.

Incredibly, the Yankees followed up the disastrous trip to the West Coast with another epic failure when the team returned in August. This time, the Yankees eked out one more victory to finish the 10-game trip at 2-8. Combined with the three losses the team suffered to the Mariners in the ALDS, the Yankees ended 1995 with 3 wins against 19 defeats on the banks of the Pacific.

Yankees’ Worst West Coast Trip: May 23-31, 1995
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Note: Based on winning percentage; minimum six games.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

One season before the Yankees’ nightmarish Western experience in 1995, the team compiled its most glorious visit to Anaheim, Oakland and Seattle. Following the All Star Break in 1994, the Yankees opened up the second half in the Kingdome, and, for eight innings, looked headed for defeat. Trailing 8-6 in the ninth, the Yankees’ rallied for seven runs and then seemingly never stopped scoring after that. In total, the Bronx Bombers scored 90 runs on the 10-game trip, culminating in Don Mattingly’s first and only pinch hit home run, which helped the Yankees erase another ninth inning deficit in the final game of the trip. The 9-1 stretch allowed the Yankees to build a 5 1/2 game lead in the A.L. East, putting the team in line for its first full season division title since 1980. However, it was all for naught. Less than three weeks later, the players went on strike and the season never resumed.

Yankees’ Best West Coast Trip: July 14-24, 1994

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Note: Based on winning percentage; minimum six games.
Source: Baseball-reference.com


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[3] May 5, 1961: http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/LAA/LAA196105050.shtml

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[5] May 23, 1995: http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/OAK/OAK199505280.shtml

[6] Yankees promoted a skinny Panamanian kid: http://www.captainsblog.info/2011/05/26/rivera-reaches-milestone-a-look-back-at-game-1-of-1000/7324/

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