The year of the Yankees

Sean McAdam reviews the 2009 Major League Baseball season that culminated in the Yankees' World Series victory over the Phillies.

New York Yankees Derek Jeter (C) celebrates with Jorge Posada (L) and Mariano Rivera (2nd right) holding up the World Series trophy after defeating the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2009 Major League Baseball World Series in New York, November 4, 2009.     REUTERS/Gary Hershorn (UNITED STATES SPORT BASEBALL) *** Local Caption ***  NYY240_BASEBALL-_1105_11.JPG
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Even before the 2009 Majord League Baseball (MLB) season got underway, the stain of steroid use sullied the game. A week or so before pitchers and catchers were due to report to Florida and Arizona, a report by Sports Illustrated revealed that Alex Rodriguez was on the list of players who tested positive during MLB's trail testing period in 2003. Within weeks, there were more names, including Sammy Sosa, another of the sport's biggest starts of the last decade.

Once again, the issue of performance-enhancing drugs hung over the sport like a dark cloud. Sadly, it would not be the last drug scandal to taint the season. After the bad publicity, the start of spring training was a welcome relief, putting the focus back on the game. Per usual, the season held its share of surprises. The Tampa Bay Rays, the surprise pennant winners in the American League (AL) the year before, never got untracked and faded to the middle of the competititve AL East pack.

In the AL West, Texas and Seattle took advantage of some injuries to the Los Angeles Angels, the perennial power in the division, and made a race of it - at least until September when the Angels held on. In the National League (NL), the Colorado Rockies, staginga repeat of their 2007 season, changed managers in late May and became the hottest team in the game, roaring from behind to nearly overtake the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West before settling for the wild card spot.

The Philadelphia Phillies won their second NL East title in a row and eventually would go to win the pennant again, too. A distrubing trend emerged as far as parity was concerned with big-market teams dominating most of the pennant races. In the AL, the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Angels all qualified for the play-offs, while similar big-market teams like the Phillies and Dodgers made the post-season in the NL.

It seemed like a return to a decade previous, when small-market teams were squeezed out for the best free agents and, with the US economy in a tailspin, limited their flexibility in-season. Commissioner Bud Selig maintained that the big market domination of the sport was more of an aberration and while he would monitor the trend, didn't believe it reflected a permanent shift. The mid-summer, the All-Star Game had a ring of familiarity to it - the home run derby drew the most attention, and once again, the AL crushed their NL counterparts, assuring the league of home field advantage in the World Series.

In many ways, the year seemed to orbit around the New York Yankees. The team opened its grandiose new ballpark, at a cost of US $1.2 billion (Dh4.4bn), and soon found that premium seats - some costing as much as $2,500 per game - were empty. Additionally, the playing dimensions of the new ballpark led to an explosion of home runs, especially early in the season when the ball seemed to carry well to right field.

After stumbling out of the game - including eight consecutive losses to their arch-rivals, the Red Sox - the Yankees found themselves in June and took off. By July 20, the Yankees took over first place and never fell out of the position again for the rest of the season, winning nine of their last 10 games head-to-head against Boston. But just as spring training was marred by performance enhancing drug allegations,so, too, was the middle of the season as two of the game's biggest names - the Dogers' Manny Ramirez and Boston's David Ortiz - were linked to possibleuse.

Ramirez tests positive under the present plan, while Ortiz's name surfaced as part of the List from 2003. Both players seemed to suffer from the resulting publicity, though only the Ramirez was suspended under the current guidelines. The post-season began with great expectations, but two of the four series ended in three-game sweeps and none of the series proved competitive.

The League Championship Series weren't much better - the Phils dusted the Dodgers in five games and the Yankees dispatched the Angels in six. In the World Series, the Yankees christened their new ballpark with another title, their 27th. The biggest stars included four players who were part of the 1996 championship - Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada. In what may have been his final appearances in pinstripes, Japanese import Hideki Matsui knocked in seven runs in the clinching game and was named World Series MVP - a first for a Japanese-born player.

Post-season awards were handed out, as is tradition, with the most compeititve race taking place for the NL Cy Young Award. San Francisco's Tim Lincecum edged out St Louis teammates Adam Wainright and Chris Carpenter as the best pitcher in that league.