Postseason baseball has had a special place in my heart ever since 2001. That was the year the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the New York Yankees to become the World Series champions. That was a November to remember.
I still remember how poignant it was to have witnessed the tragedies of Sept. 11 and have to push past it to try and enjoy the postseason in October. The Diamondbacks had been built to win a World Series that year, and the Yankees had won been dominant in the postseason since 1996. It truly was a David vs. Goliath situation. The series ended up becoming one of the greatest baseball has ever seen.
The Diamondbacks rode their aces to victories in games one and two (beating Yankee ace Andy Pettite in game two). However, the Yankee mystique reared its ugly head once the series shifted to New York. The Yankees took game three, but not very convincingly. The Diamondbacks started pitcher Brian Anderson, who hadn’t had much postseason experience (let alone against a team like the Yankees). Anderson held the Yankees to two runs, but the Diamondbacks’ bats were stymied by the expert pitching of Yankee ace Roger Clemens. They were only able to score one run.
In game four the Diamondbacks took a 3-1 lead into the ninth inning. Unfortunately for the Diamondbacks, the Yankee mystique began to show itself in the ninth. Diamondbacks closer Byun-Hyung Kim took the mound for the close. Yankee hitters jumped over him and scored two in the ninth to tie it up. The Diamondbacks’ manager Bob Brenly stayed with Kim in the tenth, and it was all over. Derek Jeter hit a walk-off home run off Kim to tie the series at two games apiece.
In game five, the Yankee mystique reared itself once again. The Diamondbacks took a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth (off the brilliant pitching of unlikely hero Miguel Bautista). In the ninth, Brenly chose to go with Kim once again. Just like last game, Yankee hitters tied the game off his pitching. Kim was pulled after that, and the game went into extra innings. In the bottom of the twelfth inning, Alfonso Soriano took Albie Lopez deep for the game winning home run. Things looked bleak for the Diamondbacks going into game six down 3-2.
In game six, the Diamondbacks (now back on their home field) played like they hadn’t had the wind taken out of them two straight times. The Diamondbacks jumped all over Andy Pettite early and often in game six. The Diamondbacks beat the Yankees 15-2 in game six. This brought the decisive game seven: The Duel in the Desert.
Game seven brought Curt Shilling and Roger Clemens to the mound (both on three days rest). Both pitchers were sharp, but Schilling was finally pulled in the sixth after giving up a home run to Alfonso Soriano and a single to David Justice in the eighth (making the score 2-1 Yankees). Brenly brought in Miguel Bautista to end the inning. The D-backs weren’t able to score in the eighth. In the ninth, Brenly brought the previous night’s pitcher Randy Johnson to the mound to close the game. Johnson kept the game at 2-1 and closed the ninth. Then, it was the Diamondbacks’ turn to channel some mystique of their own.
In the bottom of the ninth, the Yankees trotted out their dynamite closer Mariano Rivera. Rivera had an unreal .70 ERA at that point in the postseason and was almost untouchable. Mark Grace led off the inning for the D-backs and hit a single into center field. Catcher Diamian Miller laid down a would-be sacrifice bunt to move Grace to second, but pitcher Mariano Rivera’s throw was wild, and both runners were safe (and were lifted for pinch runners). On Jay Bell’s sacrifice bunt, David Delucci (Grace’s pinch runner) was thrown out at third, but Yankee third baseman Scott Brosius held the ball instead of going for the double play. Next batter, Tony Womack, drove a double down the right-field line which scored Miller’s pinch runner (Midre Cummings) and blew the save for Rivera. Rivera hit Craig Counsel to load the bases, which brought up D-back ace Luis Gonzales. On a 0-1 pitch, Gonzales lifted a single over Jeter to score the winning run.
Bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, winning run on third, as a kid this was always the situation I put before myself when I was batting for the home team. However, to actually see my team do it was amazing. I love my Diamondbacks, and I wish them the same success they had in 2001 this year.