The Rollercoaster Ride That Was The 2021 New York Yankees

Colin McGee ’22

On October 9, 2020, the New York Yankees suffered yet another crushing postseason defeat. On this day, the Yankees lost a 2-1 heartbreaker to the divisional rival Rays in Game 5 of the American League Divisional Series. This loss effectively ended their season. The Covid-shortened 2020 season was a strange one for New York as they finished with a 33-27 regular-season record. 

The 2020 Yankees offseason saw the team acquire pitchers such as Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon as well as re-signing second baseman DJ LeMahieu. Going into the 2021 season, the Yankees were once again expected to be World Series contenders, if not favorites. Whether or not the Yankees would be able to climb to the top of the MLB mountain for the first time since 2009 would be the real question. 

The Yankees finished the month of April 2021 with a 12-14 record. This month the Yankees were given a great opportunity to make a statement against the team who eliminated them a year ago, the Rays, as they played six games against each other in April. In these six games, the Yankees were only able to muster a record of 1-5. The month of May was much more positive in the Bronx. This 17-11 month featured highlights such as Corey Kluber stunningly throwing the 12th no-hitter in Yankees history and lowlights such as the team finishing out the month on a four-game losing streak. 

An up-and-down trend continued until the all-star break. Through the first 82 games, the Yankees held a record of 41-41 and, at the all-star, break a record of 46-43. Crushing collapses were frequent in this stretch. 

On June 30, the Yankees held an 8-4 lead going into the top of the ninth inning against the Los Angeles Angels. When the ninth inning was all said and done, the Yankees lost 11-8 after giving up seven runs in the ninth. On July 4 against the cross-town rival Mets, the Yankees would give up six runs while they had the Mets down to their last three outs and lost 10-5. Perhaps the most crushing of these losses was the last game before the all-star break against the Astros, where New York lost 8-7, although leading 7-2 going into the bottom of the ninth. 

Despite this first-half performance, Aaron Judge, Gerrit Cole, and Aroldis Chapman were named American League All-Stars for their efforts. Frustrations were high in the Bronx. Due to the underperforming nature of the team, the Yankees were expected to be big players at the trade deadline. They proved themselves to be as they made blockbuster trades for Texas Rangers slugger Joey Gallo and Chicago Cubs legend Anthony Rizzo.

The results from this huge trade deadline immediately paid dividends for the Yankees. From July 4 to August 27, the Yankees compiled a record of 35-11. On August 12, the Yankees played in the first-ever Field of Dreams Game in Iowa, which was based on the movie Field of Dreams. This game saw the Yankees have a ferocious rally in the 9th led by Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, only to fall short to the White Sox 9-8 as Chicago’s Tim Anderson hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth.

After losing in Iowa, the Yankees would go on a 13 game winning streak. This streak, the longest the Yankees have had since 1961, saw many key contributions from unexpected places. Bronx native Andrew Valazquez filled in for the injured Gleyber Torres at shortstop during this period and brought new energy to the team. Nestor Cortes Jr. established himself as the clear #2 starter in the Yankee rotation behind Gerrit Cole. New bullpen arms such as Clay Holmes and Wandy Peralta were good in huge moments as well.

The Yankees catapulted themselves back into the playoff picture due to their winning. However, as was the case many times this season, the Yankees could never stay consistent. Immediately following the 13 game winning streak came a four-game losing streak. From September 4 to September 10, the Yankees went on a seven-game losing skid, their longest of the year.

The Yankees were able to recover at the end of September by having a huge three-game sweep of the Red Sox in Boston. In this series, Giancarlo Stanton hit three home runs and batted in 10 runs. Throughout the home stretch of the regular season, the Yankees were carried in large part by their two best hitters, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, showing up at the most pivotal time.

The last game of the regular season gave New York a very simple scenario to reach the storied franchise’s 57th postseason: win and you’re in. They had to beat the Tampa Bay Rays, who, at this point, were already crowned the AL East champion. A thrilling 1-0 Yankee win was capped off by Aaron Judge hitting a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth, the first walk-off hit of his career.

This victory punched the Yankees a postseason ticket to a place which they are all too familiar with: to Boston to play the Red Sox at Fenway Park. This single-game elimination setting was very intriguing because of the nature of the Yankees-Red Sox regular season series in 2021. The Red Sox won the first seven games of the regular series. However, in the six regular-season contests that followed the trade deadline, the Yankees went 6-0.

Despite another phenomenal performance from Giancarlo Stanton at Fenway Park (3-4, 1 home run), the New York Yankees’ 2021 season was ended by the Boston Red Sox in the American League Wild Card Game by a final score of 6-2. The most shocking development of this game was the poor pitching of Yankees ace Gerrit Cole. The $324 million pitcher was only able to pitch 2+ innings of work after giving up three runs in that span.

Just like in 2020, the Yankees season ended in a postseason winner-take-all game against a division rival. This loss, as well as the season in total, called into question the job security of manager Aaron Boone and general manager Brian Cashman. Both have been confirmed to return in 2022 despite the speculation. It is fair to expect many moves to be made in the offseason as a result of 2021. 

The 2021 New York Yankees were one of the most intriguing Yankees teams in recent memory. In this year, the team saw so many thrilling victories and heartbreaking losses. This team was a fascinating ride, but ultimately they were not good enough. So now, all Yankees fans will turn to 2022 and beyond to see when the Bronx Bombers will finally get over the hump.