- MLB Playoffs 2001 - Frozen Moment: Rivera finally fails

Sunday, November 4
Updated: November 5, 5:36 AM ET
Frozen Moment: Rivera finally fails

By David Schoenfield

PHOENIX -- The dynasty didn't end with a shellacking of Roger Clemens.

Mariano Rivera
Mariano Rivera isn't used to being the goat, but he's just that after blowing his first save in his last 24 postseason chances.

The dynasty didn't end with Curt Schilling facing 27 batters and not leaving a single Yankee on base, although he did just that for six innings.

The dynasty didn't end with Jay Witasick or Randy Choate on the mound.

The dynasty ended with Mariano Rivera pitching in the bottom of the ninth inning of one of the greatest baseball games ever played in one of the greatest World Series we'll ever see.

It ended with Luis Gonzalez blooping a little one-out flair over a drawn-in Derek Jeter, scoring Jay Bell from third base for a 3-2 victory, sending the purple-pinstriped Diamondbacks into a home-plate frenzy of World Series champion ecstasy and Bank One Ballpark into a delirious state of pom-pom waving loudness.

"Stepping up to the plate there, ninth inning, that's what everybody dreams about," Gonzalez said. "In a key situation to drive in the winning run in the World Series against one of the best relievers in all of baseball and to be honest with you, that's the first time I choked up all year."

And Rivera trudged off the mound as the losing pitcher, hanging his head as the ballpark erupted. The Sandman had never done that before, not in 51 career playoff appearances. He hadn't given up a run in 45 of those appearances. He once pitched a record 34 1/3 scoreless innings in the postseason. He had converted 23 consecutive save chances in the playoffs since Sandy Alomar's home run in Game 4 of the 1997 Division Series. He had allowed only one earned run in 15 2/3 innings this postseason entering the bottom of the ninth.

"Was there any doubt in anybody's mind that somehow, some way, Game 7 was going to be crazy, unlikely?" Arizona first baseman Mark Grace said. "How could you get more unlikely than beating Mariano Rivera? But I'll tell you what, this team believes."

You don't beat the Yankees until you beat Rivera.

"That's baseball," Rivera said. "There's nothing I can do about it."

The Arizona Diamondbacks did it. And they are World Series champions, the first team in World Series history to enter the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 7 behind and then rally to win before extra innings.

After Randy Johnson, who had entered with two outs in the eighth inning, kept the Yankees off the board and the score at 2-1, Arizona came to bat in the ninth. The crowd was loud, but not crazy loud. Not with Rivera on the mound. Not after he had convincingly struck out the side in the eighth.

Grace led off and lined 1-0 pitch into center field, his third hit of the night. David Dellucci entered as a pinch-runner. Catcher Damian Miller, the No. 8 hitter who had struck out three times, came up. Everybody knew what was coming. He squared around to bunt and took a fastball on the outside corner for strike one. He bunted the next pitch towards Rivera, an excellent fielding pitcher, who picked up the ball ... and fired to second base, apparently at the behest of catcher Jorge Posada. The ball sailed past a lunging Jeter and into center field.

Rivera didn't take the sure out at first base and paid the price. A rare mistake by the Yankees. Runners at first and second, no outs.

Jay Bell pinch-hit for Johnson. He laid down a terrible bunt, right back at Rivera, who threw to third to nail Dellucci.

But Tony Womack then lined a 2-2 pitch down the right-field line for an RBI double to tie the game. The pom-poms were waving wildly. Greg Colbrunn was set to hit for Craig Counsell, but with the game now tied, Counsell instead came to the plate. He was hit by a pitch to load the bases for Luis Gonzalez, Arizona's best hitter.

But Gonzo, who hit .325 with 57 home runs in his magical regular season, had been struggling all World Series, with 11 strikeouts in 24 at-bats. He had hit a two-run homer in Game 1 but had been unable to pull anything with any authority, hitting a lot of foul balls down the third-base line and missing a lot of pitches.

The bases were loaded, but Joe Torre pulled his infield in to cut the run down at the plate. In a similar situation in Game 5 in the 11th inning he had played the infield back at double-play depth, which allowed second baseman Alfonso Soriano to snare Reggie Sanders' bases-loaded line drive.

But this was the bottom of the ninth with the World Series on the line. You couldn't count on a double play, even though Rivera's nasty cut fastball induces a lot of grounders (he had a 2-to-1 groundball/flyball ratio this year). The infield was in. The outfield was in.

Gonzalez fouled off the first pitch. Late again.

He stepped out of the batter's box.

The Sandman rocked and fired his cut fastball, bearing in on Gonzalez's fists. He didn't hit it hard. He got jammed. It didn't matter. If Jeter had been playing halfway at double-play depth, he may have made the play. One of history's moments with no answer.

"I was just looking in on everything and got jammed," Gonzalez said. "I knew the infield was playing in (and) didn't have to try and hit it hard, just loop something out there and get it in play."

The ball dropped safely onto the outfield grass, a few feet beyond the infield dirt. Bell ran home with the run. Greeting him at home plate with a bear hug for the season and lift into the sky was Matt Williams.

Two original Diamondbacks. Two veterans acquired before the team ever played a game, who had been there for every win and every loss of the franchise's four-year history.

A perfect ending.

David Schoenfield is the baseball editor at

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