All season long, the Yankees and Red Sox have engaged in a seesaw battle for control of the American League East. Since May 13, the two teams have been separated by no more than three games. If not for the wild card, the rivalry could be headed for one of its most heated pennant races, but instead of a riveting final six weeks, Joe Girardi and Terry Francona could wind up worrying more about preparing for the post season than finishing in first place.
Even though the wild card has diluted the meaning of first place, it is still an important benchmark. So, the Yankees have to feel pretty good about being in first place after game 120, especially considering the injuries the team has endured and its 2-10 head-to-head record against the Red Sox.
The Yankees have been in first place as late as game 120 in 54 of the franchise’s 109 full seasons (the strike years of 1981 and 1994 not included). Of that total, the team has failed to cross the finish line in first place in only nine seasons, including last year, when they made it as far as game 161 before ceding the top spot to the Rays.
Latest Date the Yankees Have Spent in First Place, 1901-2011 (click to enlarge)
Note: Green dots represent seasons in which the Yankees finished the year in first. Red dots represent seasons in which no games were spent in first place. No entry has been made for the strike seasons of 1981 and 1994.
In terms of days spent in first place, the 2011 team’s current total of 64 is the 45th highest in franchise history. More importantly, only five of those teams (1933, 1934, 1987, 1988, and 2010) didn’t end the season in that position, which bodes well for the stretch drive. Once again, the 2010 team spent the most days (108) in first without sealing the deal. Interestingly, the legendary 1927 team is the only Yankees’ squad to go wire-to-wire in first place.
On the flip side, the Yankees have had 19 seasons in which they never spent a single day in first place, including three stretches of three straight seasons. Interestingly, the Yankees posted strong records in two of those spans (.567 from 1983 to 1985 and .530 from 1970 to 1972), but fans of the team still had to wait four calendar years to see the Yankees listed first in the newspaper.
Days the Yankees Have Spent in First Place, 1901-2011 (click to enlarge)
Note: Green dots represent seasons in which the Yankees finished the year in first. Red dots represent seasons in which no days were spent in first place. No entry has been made for the strike seasons of 1981 and 1994.
The Yankees have had three prolonged stretches without appearing in the post season (1901-1920; 1965-1975; and 1982-1995), but the most barren stretch in terms of days spent in first place occurred between 1965 and 1972. During that span, the Yankees were in first place later than the opening game in only one season (game 13 in 1967), and spent a cumulative total of nine days (six games) sitting atop the league or division.
Whether or not the Yankees finish in first, they are an almost sure bet to make the post season for the 16th time in the last 17 seasons. However, simply making it to October should not be the overriding goal. The Yankees’ legacy has been about being the best, so hopefully the team will abandon last season’s indifferent approach and aim for the top. Getting to first place after game 120 hasn’t been easy. It would be a shame if the Yankees do not fight just as hard to remain there.