ESPN.com - MLB Playoffs 2001 - Womack's little smack does the trick

Sunday, October 14
Updated: October 18, 2:16 AM ET
 
Womack's little smack does the trick

By Wayne Drehs
ESPN.com

PHOENIX -- When the craziness had finally finished, when the runs, hits and errors were tallied and the Diamondbacks came out on top, all Tony Womack could think about was his Dad.

Rounding first base and heading to second after slapping the game-winning hit to send Arizona to the NLCS? Dad.

Leaping up and down behind second base, teammates slapping him on the helmet, Bank One Ballpark a frenzied madhouse? Dad.

Reggie Sanders and Tony Womack
Tony Womack gets a big hug from Reggie Sanders.

And standing in the center of the Diamondbacks clubhouse, numerous cameras, microphones, tape recorders and spotlights in his face, completely doused in sticky, smelly champagne? Dad.

See, Thomas Womack, a man who Tony referred to as his "life," died in April of an aneurysm at age 52. And ever since, Womack hasn't quite been the same. He struggled for much of the season, trying to balance baseball with what was eating at him inside.

So on a night like this, when the spotlight brightly shined on the younger Womack's back and he calmly, coolly delivered, he couldn't help but dedicate it to Dad, who was with him all the way.

"He's here right now, I can feel him," Womack said amidst the postgame celebration. He then turned his eyes to the ceiling. "'Dad, I miss you. I love you. You always were there for me. And this one's for you.'"

It didn't come easy. Just as Mark Grace had predicted nearly a week ago, this best-of-five series between the Cardinals and Diamondbacks came down to the last at-bat in the last inning of the last game. And even then, it took a botched squeeze play and an excuse-me single to plate the game-winning run.

But you wouldn't expect much less from these Diamondbacks. All season long they've lived on the edge, failing to put innings, games and even the pennant chase away. Expect the same when the Braves come to town Tuesday for Game 1 of the NLCS.

On this night, when Arizona left the bases loaded in the third inning, you sort of shrugged. In the seventh, when Womack flied to left, stranding Damian Miller at second, you nodded. An inning later, when Mark Grace watched a knee-bending full-count curveball from Matt Morris go by for strike three, leaving yet two more ducks on the pond, you grinned.

But in the ninth, when Matt Williams led off with a double, you felt something different. Maybe because much like Womack, Williams had been booed unmercifully by hometown fans this year, and yet despite being 0-for-15 in the series, delivered.

Whatever the case, Midre Cummings came into pinch run and Williams exited to a standing ovation. After a sacrifice and intentional walk, up to the plate came Womack. As he surveyed the situation, he saw Cummings at third and Greg Colbrunn at first. The stage was set for him to be the star.

But not before a little soul searching. After evening the count against Cardinals left-hander Steve Kline at 1-1, the left-handed-hitting Womack looked at third-base coach Chris Speier, who called for a suicide squeeze. Just as Kline released the ball, Cummings came hauling down the third-base line. The pitch was a slider in the dirt, low and away, nearly impossible for Womack to make contact with. Thus the potential game-winning run was tagged out for the second out and the Cardinals still had hope.

"At that point, our dugout erupted in celebration," Morris said. "We started thinking about who was coming up next inning and what our chances were in the 10th. And then ... "

What happened next is something Tony Womack, the city of Phoenix and baseball fans won't forget for a long, long time.

Colbrunn had advanced to second on the failed squeeze play and Danny Bautista went in to pinch-run. Womack fouled off two pitches and worked the count to 2-2. Kline threw an fastball inside that Womack slapped just over shortstop Edgar Renteria's head for a base hit.

Bautista eyed the plate and Kerry Robinson's throw was late as Bautista's body dragged across home plate safely.

And Womack was the hero.

"There aren't many guys that deserve that as much as he does" Grace said. "We all knew he was going to get a hit. So when Bob (Brenly) called for the squeeze, we were like, 'What the hell are you doing?'"

Brenly was more than relieved that Womack, who was 3-for-5 in the game, bailed him out of a controversial decision that could have been second-guessed in the Valley of the Sun for years to come.

"Even after (the botched squeeze play), I felt Tony was going to make something happen," Brenly said. "You could see it in his eyes today. When he showed up at the ballpark, the way he went about his batting practice, his extra work in the cage and the at-bats he had in the ballgame, he was a very focused man. And I knew he was going to do something to help me out."

For Womack, the rush of emotions was instant. As the rest of his teammates smiled, laughed and celebrated, tears ran down the side of his face.

"People don't really realize that my Dad was my best friend," Womack said. "He was everything to me. And at the age of 52, I didn't think it was time for him to go home."

After the game, a reporter asked Womack what type of pitch he hit for the game-winner.

Said Womack, his tears now replaced by smiles: "Who the hell cares? I don't really give a crap. It dropped down out there in no-man's land and we won the game. And that's all that matters."

He couldn't have been more right. And given the season he's been through, it made perfect sense.

In April, Womack missed six games to attend his father's funeral. When he returned, he struggled to the point that Brenly moved him from leadoff to seventh in the batting order. Another slump pushed him down to eighth.

In mid-June, he was hitting just .220 with a team-high 11 errors. When he stepped to the plate, fans would often chant "Tucson" in reference to the team's Triple-A farm club.

But on this night, the only chant that echoed through Bank One Ballpark was that of the word, "Tony."

"Once you start believing in yourself, you can see it in your teammates," Womack said. "And that's all I care about. I'm not a big fan of numbers. I look at heart. If you're out there pushing your buttons as hard as I am every day, I have no problem with anything else."

Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com.





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