“They can do it,” Cindy in her naiveté tried to convince me.
I would have nothing of it.
It was Game 7 of the 2001 World Series.
Tonight, nearly ten years later, the D-backs can beat the San Francisco Giants and clinch the NL West division title and their first postseason berth in four years. This year’s team is different, comprised mostly of homegrown talent and some key acquisitions. That team a decade ago was bought similarly to how their opponent purchased its players then and now.
Back to the story and the game.
Schilling, pitching in his third game of the Series and on three days rest for the second consecutive time, countered Roger Clemens through seven innings, mowing down Yankee after wretched Yankee and coughing up just one run until Alfonso Soriano, in the 8th inning, golfed a split-finger fastball into the left field bleachers, securing a 2-1 lead and rousing Mr. Automatic in the bullpen. After getting an out, Schilling gave way to Miguel Batista, a pretty good starting pitcher that year for Arizona, who got the second out before the unthinkable happened.
First year manager Bob Brenly called for the southpaw. Randy Johnson, certain to be a first ballot and unanimous lock for the Hall of Fame, had shut down the Yankees for seven innings on a little over a 100 pitches just the night before. Brenly wasn’t about to go to any of his relievers, who’d all but gift wrapped New York’s three wins in the Series. Johnson got the final out of the 8th.
Enter Mr. Automatic, one Mariano Rivera, who has made quite a living recording now 600+ saves with just one pitch, a devastating, virtually unhittable cut fastball. The pitch tails away from righties and jams lefty hitters, sawing bats into pieces. No curveballs, no changeups, no sliders. The batter knows what’s coming but nonetheless can do nothing with it. He struck out all three batters in the bottom of the 8th.
Johnson returned for the top of the 9th and retired all three Yankee hitters, but I didn’t see this live because I’d already decided to go to bed. It was late here on Eastern time, the game being played out in Arizona. I knew the D-backs didn’t have a chance against Rivera, Johnson’s effort notwithstanding. Cindy remained hopeful.
Game 7, Bottom of the 9th
And she thrilled when Mark Grace laced a single to open the bottom of the 9th. From the bedroom I could hear her and knew something happened. I should at least watch the end, I thought.
Grace conceded to a pinch runner, a family favorite in David Dellucci, who would later play for the Yankees. Arizona catcher Damien Miller then bunted poorly back to Rivera, who unfathomably threw wide of second. With two runners on and no outs, manager Brenly tried the bunt again, this time with Jay Bell. Apparently, batters can’t square up Rivera even for a bunt, because Bell also bunted back to Rivera, who this time threw accurately to third for the first out.
Inducing a double play ball from speedy Tony Womack would prove difficult. He’d never been a great hitter but wreaked havoc on the bases when he did manage to find a hole in the defense. This time that hole was down the right field line. Womack smacked a double that scored Miller and jogged Bell to third. With the score tied and runners on second and third, Rivera, who demonstrated that in baseball nothing is automatic, ran a cutter in too far, hitting Craig Counsell and bringing Arizona slugger Luis Gonzalez to the plate.
Gonzalez, affectionately known as Gonzo, had driven in 142 runs in 2001, while compiling a Bonds-like 1.117 OPS. Traveling a fraction of the distance of any of Gonzo’s 57 homeruns that year, the hit to the end the Series and secure Arizona’s first championship (of any of its major sports) and bring down the mighty Yankees, who’d been looking for four World Series titles in a row, was a jam-shot bloop over the head of shortstop Derek Jeter, who’d pinched in looking to cut down a runner at home.
Simply unbelievable. I nearly woke up our girls, then just 3 and 1, with my hooting and hollering. Not knowing any better, Cindy had believed and I hadn’t.
Out with the Purple, in with the Red
Could it happen again if the D-backs were to meet the Yankees here ten years later? I highly doubt they’ll make it that far. Their likely first-round opponent is the even mightier Phillies with three ace pitchers. This year Arizona has no Johnson or Schilling or Gonzalez. Instead, theirs is a young team with a couple pretty good pitchers in Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson, a rather solid bullpen, good bats in Justin Upton and Miguel Montero, some nice outfield gloves in Chris Young and Gerardo Parra, and a manager who knows something about winning on the big stage in Kirk Gibson.
I expected nothing when they faced Mr. (Almost Always) Automatic, and I expect little this time around. Maybe they’ll surprise the doubtful again and win in Sedona red. And I’d love our girls (now 12 and 11) and our little guy (2) to see it.