Monday, September 29, 2014

Game 7: Exciting World Series Finales (2001)

November 4, 2001
New York Yankees vs. Arizona Diamondbacks
Bank One Ballpark, Arizona 

Having won four of the previous five World Series, the Yankees appeared to be virtually unbeatable. It was the hey-day of the so-called "Core Four" with homegrown stars Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera still very much in their prime. Rounding out an impressive pitching rotation, ageless flame-thrower Roger Clemens posted 20 victories against only 3 losses while ultra-reliable right-hander Mike Mussina gathered 17 wins of his own.

The Diamondbacks had no shortage of reliable arms with strikeout kings Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson forming the most potent one-two punch in the majors. The Arizona offense was driven by outfielders Reggie Sanders and Luis Gonzalez, who combined for 90 homers during the regular season. An All-Star and Silver Slugger Award recipient, Gonzalez was enjoying the most productive campaign of his career with 57 home runs and 142 RBIs. Prior to 1998, he had never hit more than 15 long balls in a season. After 2001, he would never reach the 30-homer threshold again.

The Yankees' pennant run had been staged in the shadow of the September 11 terrorist attacks while the wreckage of the Twin Towers still smoldered and rescue workers combed Ground Zero for remains of the deceased. Yankee players had repeatedly reached out to members of the community in their time of need, offering encouragement and support. In addition to being New York's team, the Bombers had become America's team. 

After clinching the first pennant in franchise history with a 5-game victory over the Braves, the Diamondbacks rolled over the Yankees by a combined score of 13-1 in Games 1 and 2. Schilling held the Yankees to just 3 hits in the opener and Johnson duplicated the feat in the second contest, adding 11 strikeouts to his lofty career totals.

The Yankees looked more like themselves in the next several meetings, staging dramatic come-from-behind victories in Games 4 and 5. In the fourth contest, Tino Martinez tied the score in the bottom of the ninth with an epic 2-run homer. Derek Jeter earned the nickname "Mr. November" with a walk-off shot in the tenth. It was third baseman Scott Brosius's turn to play the hero in Game 5, knotting the score in the bottom of the ninth with a 2-run blast off of Korean bullpen sensation Byung-Hyun Kim. For Kim, it was the second day in a row he had blown a lead. The Yankees won in the twelfth on a clutch single by second baseman Alfonso Soriano.

Trailing 3-games-to-2, the Diamondbacks sent a clear message that they were not finished yet, victimizing four different New York hurlers for a total of 22 hits in a 15-2 blowout. With Curt Schilling slated to start Game 7, the Yankees appeared to be at a distinct disadvantage for the first time all year. Schilling had stymied the Bombers in his two previous starts, allowing just 2 runs while striking out 17. Before a capacity crowd at Bank One Ballpark, he turned in yet another brilliant performance.

Roger Clemens gave the Yankees six and a third strong innings, allowing just 1 run on 7 hits. The Diamondbacks broke through in the bottom of the sixth on an RBI double by journeyman Danny Bautista. Schilling retired 16 straight Yankee batters before surrendering the tying run in the seventh. A leadoff homer by Alfonso Soriano and a 1-out single by David Justice in the eighth chased Schilling from the game. He finished the Series with a 1.69 ERA and 26 strikeouts--numbers good enough to capture co-MVP honors (which he shared with Randy Johnson).

Prior to the '01 World Series, Mariano Rivera had given up just 6 earned runs in more than 70 innings of postseason work. A 2-1 Yankee lead in the ninth seemed relatively secure to nearly everyone watching. Veteran Mark Grace led off with a single. David Dellucci was installed as a pinch-runner. Catcher Damian Miller followed with a bunt that Rivera inexplicably threw into center field. The odds of this happening were slim as Rivera would be charged with just 6 errors in more than 1,100 appearances during his regular season career. As Dellucci slid into second, Yankee owner George Steinbrenner encountered a TV crew setting up for the trophy presentation in New York's clubhouse. "Get out of here!" He bellowed, chasing them into the hall. "You're jinxing me!"

The game unraveled quickly for the Yankees after that. Jay Bell bunted and Rivera threw accurately to Scott Brosius at third to erase the lead runner. Brosius could have fired across the diamond to nail Bell at first fairly easily, but for unknown reasons, he held onto the ball. The next batter, Tony Womack, laced a 2-2 pitch into the right field gap for a double. The game was now tied. Rivera--perhaps a bit unnerved--hit Craig Counsel, who was batting just .083 in the Series to that point. The bases were now loaded with one out and Arizona's most productive hitter coming to the plate. In two previous at-bats against Rivera, Gonzalez had struck out and produced a weak grounder. He choked up on the bat just hoping to put the ball in play as the Yankee infield moved in. With an 0-1 count, Gonzalez swung at a nasty cutter that was in on his hands. The bat broke on contact and the ball fluttered to the edge of the infield, where it dropped for a hit. Had the Yankee infield been playing at normal depth, it almost certainly would have been caught. The Series was over. America's team had lost.

Standing calmly in front of his locker after the game, Rivera answered a barrage of questions. "I made the pitches I wanted to make and they hit them," he said. "That's baseball. I did everything I wanted to do. They beat me. They can say that they beat me."     



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