|Wednesday, March 27
Updated: June 11, 8:35 AM ET
A game that history won't forget
By Jim Caple
Editor's note: Jim Caple spent time with the Yankees and Diamondbacks this spring and collected their memories of the 2001 World Series. This column on Game 7 originally appeared on ESPN.com on March 27, 2002.
Before we throw out the first pitch to another season, before we edge any closer to the looming labor war and before the commissioner attempts to murder off any more teams, let us briefly return to that November night in the desert when baseball held as much drama and possibility as life itself.
Let us return to a showdown between American sport's most illustrious team and a four-year-old club with a snake on its caps. Let us return to a pitching matchup between two 20-game winners, with 10 Cy Young awards represented on the mound by the night's finish. To a game that began with a $1 billion Stealth bomber flying overhead and ended with a cheap bloop single that barely cleared the infield dirt. To a night that provided a sandstorm and a desert shower in the same inning, a first-year manager using so many players he wasn't sure if he had run out, baseball's tallest pitcher standing even taller on the mound, a home run champion choking up on his bat and exhausted fans everywhere choking up with emotion.
Let us return to a game so good, so tense and so magical it should have been simulcast on ESPN Classic.
Let us return to Game 7 of the World Series.
We won't be alone.
"Everywhere you go, everyone wants to tell you where they were and what they were doing in the ninth inning of Game 7," Arizona Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly says, delighted to do so as well. "They all had such an emotional investment in the game, across every economic background and class."
One woman told Brenly that the game was so good it changed her mind about letting her sons play Little League. An elderly man told Brenly the game was the most exciting he had ever seen, and then, with tears in his eyes, asked the manager whether he could hug him. And yet another man told Brenly he called his brother in Kansas to give him a scoring update during the fifth inning and, because his brother wasn't near a TV, stayed on the phone providing him play-by-play until the game ended.
Did the man also second-guess Brenly? "I'm sure he did," Brenly says. "Of course, he did."
Why should that fan be any different, even if there were phone charges involved? We all second-guessed Brenly throughout the series and throughout Game 7. Sticking with Byung-Hyun Kim for 62 pitches in Game 4? Bringing him back the very next day in Game 5? Not pinch-hitting for Curt Schilling in the seventh inning of Game 7? What was the man thinking?
He obviously knew something we didn't.
"I didn't second-guess myself on any of the moves and I don't think the players did," Brenly says. "I know a lot of people around the country did but they weren't in that clubhouse. I knew from my days as a broadcaster that no matter what move you make, half the people will think you're a genius and half will think you're an idiot. So I wasn't too concerned about public opinion as long as my players continued to think we were doing the right thing.
"And all's well that ends well."
Of course, that depends on whether you rooted for the Diamondbacks or the New York Yankees when New York manager Joe Torre brought the infield in with the bases loaded and Luis Gonzalez stepping to the plate, the winning run on third base and the great Mariano Rivera looking in for the sign ...
But we're getting ahead of the story.
Roger and Me
That's the way this World Series was, though, each game feeding off the previous one. And off previous Octobers, as well. The Yankees had won three consecutive World Series and four of the past five, prompting people to look at the fistful of rings and Derek Jeter's miraculous no-look shovel pass that preserved a 1-0 win during the Oakland playoff series and attribute it all to some special Yankees magic. After hearing so much talk about the Yankees' mystique and aura, an exasperated Curt Schilling told reporters before Game 1 that as far as he was concerned, "Mystique and Aura are dancers at a nightclub."
It certainly appeared that way when he and Randy Johnson, the greatest pair since Lennon and McCartney, won the first two games in Arizona handily before Clemens won Game 3 at Yankee Stadium (following a first-pitch strike from President Bush with 100-some heaters of his own). Still, the Diamondbacks nearly won the Series in New York, taking two leads into the ninth inning of Game 4 and 5, only to watch closer Byung-Hyun Kim give up game-tying, two-run, two-out, ninth inning home runs on consecutive nights.
Tino Martinez (or was it Mystique?) hit the first in Game 4 before Derek Jeter (or was it Aura?) won the game just after midnight with a 10th-inning shot on Kim's 62nd pitch (what was he still doing in there?). Jeter's home run immediately inspired "Mr. November" headlines but manager Joe Torre had a different date in mind the next night when Scott Brosius homered off Kim in the ninth and the Yankees again won in extra innings. "It's Groundhog's Day," he said. "I don't know what's going on."
If Torre didn't know after five World Series with the Yankees, what hope did Kim have? Indeed, the game-tying home runs were so unimaginable, the Yankees had never hit game-tying home runs in the ninth in back-to-back games in their 101-year history.
The Diamondbacks recovered when the Series returned to Arizona and Johnson returned to the mound for a 15-2 rout in Game 6 that forced the deciding seventh game and a matchup between Schilling and Clemens, only the sixth in World Series history that two 20-game winners from the regular season would face off in the season's winner-take-all game.
There were some doubts whether Schilling would be available after his Game 4 start. He had thrown 256 innings in the regular season, followed by 27 more in the playoffs, and then 14 more in the World Series -- 297 innings in all. And he would be making just his second career start on three days' rest; his first had been Game 4.
"My arm was more than normal sore. It was 290-innings into the season sore," Schilling says. "The last thing I wanted to have happen was to have someone like Brian Anderson come to the ballpark Sunday and be told, 'Oh, you're going to have to pitch Game 7 of the World Series.' That isn't fair.
"But it felt better the next day after working out and you start watching the games and the adrenaline kicks in and pretty soon you have to pitch. And after the second day I knew I would be able to pitch."
Forget all that for a moment. Schilling's Game 7 battle with Clemens really became possible 10 years earlier during a chance meeting between the two pitchers at the Astrodome when they were working out in the winter. That was when Clemens, already a three-time Cy Young winner, told Schilling to get to work and stop wasting his talent. It was a career-changing meeting for Schilling, who went from a talented but undisciplined pitcher to an All-Star and 20-game winner, the sort of pitcher a manager could go to with confidence on short rest in the most important game of the season.
Schilling so closely followed Clemens' instruction that when the two faced each other in Game 7, the New York pitcher says, "It was like facing me."
"From a personal standpoint," Schilling says, "things had come full circle for me -- from that day Roger and me were standing in the weight room face to face to Game 7 of the World Series, 10 years later, matching up against each other.
"The night before the game I was thinking about that day. Which one of us would have looked at the other then and said, 'Ten years from now, you'll be pitching against me in Game 7 of the World Series?' C'mon. That doesn't happen."
Oh, but it does. Baseball is a sport where this sort of thing happens all the time. This is the sport where sons and fathers play alongside each other (Tim Raines Jr. and Sr. joined the Griffey's in that department the final week of the regular season), where an American icon homers in his 19th and final All-Star Game, where the greatest basestealer in history breaks the all-time runs record by homering (and sliding into home plate) and where a 5-foot-9 Japanese outfielder crosses the ocean to win the MVP in his rookie season.
And where high school teammates Tino Martinez and Luis Gonzalez both play in the majors and end a World Series together at first base.
But we're getting ahead of the story again.
The Game Begins
Actually, Schilling had been preparing longer than that. He says he went over videotape every day of the postseason because, "It's not enough to pitch well in the postseason, you have to pitch great."
Just in case the innings finally took their toll on Schilling though, Anderson began the game in the bullpen, ready to take over if needed. Within an inning or two, Anderson realized he wouldn't be needed for that role. Schilling needed no relief. He might not have been at the peak of his game but he was close enough.
As was Clemens. He and Schilling matched each other beautifully for the first five innings, taking a 0-0 game into the bottom of the sixth, only the third time in World Series history pitchers had matched zeroes that long in a Game 7 (John Smoltz vs Jack Morris in 1991 and Bob Gibson vs. Mickey Lolich in 1968 were the others). Schilling faced the minimum through the first six innings, allowing only one baserunner, Paul O'Neill, who doubled in the first inning but was thrown out right fielder Danny Bautista trying to stretch the hit into a triple.
Clemens struck out eight in the first four innings before Arizona finally scored the game's first run with none out in the sixth when Bautista doubled home Steve Finley. But Bautista also got thrown at third, stopping possible further damage. Diamondbacks 1, Yankees 0 at the end of six.
And then things began getting interesting.
The seventh inning arrived with a miniature dust storm sweeping into the stadium, kicking up dirt and blowing wrappers and debris around the field. A light rain began falling minutes later and fans began scanning the stadium rim for locusts.
Catcher Damian Miller has played in Arizona all four years of the team's existence and can't remember ever seeing anything like it. Yankees reliever Mike Stanton says the New York relievers were puzzled as well by operation desert storm. "We couldn't see because of all the sand in our eyes," he says. "We were asking, 'This is a domed stadium, why don't they close the roof?' "
With the wind blowing, Schilling allowed the tying run in the seventh when Martinez singled home Jeter. New York's Shane Spencer thought he broke open the game with a two-run double to right-center but Arizona center fielder Steve Finley chased down the flyball for the final out because he had been moving to right-center with the pitch. He was able to reach it, he says, because "I anticipated the ball going that way because I saw the pitch was heading outside."
It was a small adjustment but an important one. And it was easily lost among everything that followed.
Which brings us to Brenly's decision to let Schilling lead off the bottom of the seventh inning instead of pinch-hitting for him. As millions groaned and criticized across the nation, Brenly sent Schilling to the plate against Clemens and he struck out for the third time.
Brenly maintains there was no reason to take out Schilling because the game was tied and he had seen no loss in velocity or effectiveness. But there was a loss in effectiveness. After allowing one baserunner the first six innings, Schilling gave up three hard-hit singles in the top of the seventh and the long drive that Finley hauled in. Everyone knew Schilling was tiring, including Johnson, who walked from the dugout to the bullpen to begin warming up as the seventh inning ended.
"The first seven innings are just a blur," Arizona second baseman Craig Counsell says. "You don't even remember the first seven innings and they were probably pretty significant."
Seven innings were in the book. And in a way, the game was just about to start.
Mystique and Aura Return
Thus, fans stood and applauded along the left-field line as Johnson passed by, and in the bullpen, Game 5 starter Miguel Batista got goose bumps the size of Mark McGwire's biceps. "Well, this is huge right here," Batista thought to himself.
"I had just sat down to take my jacket off," Johnson says. "And then the phone rang."
That's because just as Johnson reached the bullpen, New York second baseman Alfonso Soriano reached the seats by leading off the eighth and lining Schilling's 0-2 splitter over the left-center fence to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead.
Was the homer run a clear indication that Brenly stayed too long with Schilling? Perhaps, but Brenly, Schilling and Miller aren't so sure, pointing out that Soriano hit an amazing pitch -- and likely the only one of the five Schilling threw him that was out of the strike zone. "I was getting ready to block it in in the dirt, it was that low," Miller says. "He just golfed it. I went to the mound and Schilling asked me, 'How did that just happen?' "
Miller could offer no explanation. But had he looked in the right spot, he might have seen Mystique and Aura both blowing the ball over the fence.
Schilling struck out Scott Brosius for the first out of the inning, but when pinch-hitter David Justice singled for his first hit of the series, Brenly brought in Batista, who had pitched 7.2 scoreless innings in Game 5. Batista faced one batter, retiring Jeter on a hard grounder to third, before Brenly made another pitching change.
Out went Batista. In came Johnson, with the crowd standing in anticipation.
Mariano Rivera, meanwhile, was warming up in the Yankees bullpen.
Mo and the Big Unit
This was Grover Alexander walking to the mound for two innings of relief in Game 7 of the 1926 World Series after throwing a complete game to win Game 6. This was Morris stomping the mound for the 10th inning of a 0-0 tie in Game 7 of 1991. This was the stuff of legend. This was history.
"I didn't know how I was going to feel warming up," Johnson says. "It was a close game and I didn't want to overstep my ability with people expecting me to throw 98. But I warmed up really quickly. It must have been all the adrenaline. I was ready to go."
Brenly brought Johnson in to face O'Neill, the left-handed hitting leader of the Yankees who was playing the final game of his career. New York fans had spontaneously saluted O'Neill in the ninth inning of Game 5 during what they figured would be his final inning at Yankee Stadium, but he played on when the game went into extra innings. There was no reprieve in Game 7 -- Torre sat him down for a right-handed pinch-hitter. O'Neill's career ended as Johnson retired Chuck Knoblauch on a flyball to end the inning and bring Rivera into the game.
At that point, Rivera was 6-0 with 24 saves and a 0.70 ERA in the postseason. He had never blown a save in the World Series. He had converted his past 23 postseason save chances, including 19 longer than one inning. It was as if he didn't enter games from the bullpen, but from the Fortress of Solitude.
He took the mound in the eighth and struck out Gonzalez, Matt Williams and Bautista. Never did a 2-1 lead seem so imposing.
Johnson gave the Diamondbacks a scoreless inning (completing his 292nd of the year) in the ninth, keeping the game close. He is embarrassed when people say he and Schilling carried Arizona, pointing out the obvious, that neither would have won a game had it not been for their teammates. And as much as the two meant to the team -- they combined for 52 wins, nearly 600 innings and more than 700 strikekouts -- when they had carried the team as far as they could, it wasn't quite far enough. Someone else still needed to carry Arizona the final distance.
"All these people say, 'We knew we could do it. We knew we could do it.' That's bullshit," Arizona first baseman Mark Grace says. "We knew what we were up against. We saw Rivera strike out the side in the eighth inning. So we were kind of like, What a shame that we came this far.
"But I was leading off and I knew my job was to get on base by hook or by crook someway. Even if had to stick my head in front of one, I had to do it. You can get over a concussion in a month or so. That was my mind-set. I have to get on base."
So, as Arizona began what would be its final at-bat of the season and attempted a late rally against the best closer in baseball and the three-time defending champions, it sent out a chain-smoking first baseman who had spent the first 13 seasons of his career with the team most renowned for losing. With the World Series on the line, it was the best closer in postseason history against the ex-Cub factor.
Naturally, with the way this Series went, the ex-Cub won. Grace singled up the middle.
"This might sound arrogant," Grace says, "but to be honest with you, if I make an out there, we probably don't win. Because if you get on there, we could play for a run and we could bunt. And then we got a break and we could play for the win.
"It had to start somewhere and I'm glad it started with me."
Brenly sent David Dellucci in to pinch-run for Grace, beginning a series of strategic moves that left his lineup card looking like a highway map of Central Phoenix and leaving him with a curious feeling.
"You hear athletes talk all the time about getting into a zone," Brenly says. "That's kind of what that ninth inning felt like to me. Almost like things were happening to you, making things happen. I've only experienced one time similar to that and that was the game at Candlestick when I made four errors in one inning playing third base. After that inning, it was as if I was out of my body and someone was making things happen to me and had no control over it."
Undoubtedly, Brenly is the only person to compare winning the World Series to making four errors, but as we said, it was that sort of inning. Why, Brenly told Greg Colbrunn to get ready to pinch-hit four times and he never got in the game. In the end, Colbrunn simply stayed in the on-deck circle, enjoying one of great moments in baseball history from the best seat in the house.
Rivera is a great closer not only because of his 95-mph cut fastball. He is an exceptional fielder as well, so bunting against him is difficult. Because stealing or hitting-and-running against him is equally difficult though, Brenly saw little alternative but to have Miller lay down a sacrifice bunt.
Miller bunted and sure enough, Rivera pounced on the ball so quickly he had time to throw to second to at least gun down Dellucci and possibly start a double play. There was just one problem. Rivera didn't get a good grip on the ball and threw it into center field. Instead of one out and one on -- and possibly two out and nobody on -- the Diamondbacks had runners at first and second and nobody out.
Still playing small ball against a great reliever, Brenly pulled back Colbrunn and had Jay Bell (pinch-hitting for Johnson) bunt, trying to put runners on second and third. Bell bunted too close to the pitcher's mound, Rivera fielded the ball quickly and again he went for the lead runner. And this time his throw was on the mark to Brosius at third to force out Dellucci. After releasing the ball, Rivera ducked out of the way for Brosius' relay across to first base for what should have been a crippling double play. It never came. Brosius held onto the ball.
"The ball hit Brosius in the chest and he just took his foot off the bag," Rivera told The New York Times earlier this spring. "I was waiting for the ball to cross me. When you're a pitcher, you always wait for the ball to cross you. I was like, 'Where's the ball?' I saw Brosius with the ball, I said, 'Uh oh.' I tell you what, that was a double play. Easy."
Instead, that left runners at first and second for shortstop Tony Womack. Brenly still had Reggie Sanders, who hit 33 home runs during the season, and pinch-hitter deluxe Erubiel Durazo available. Instead, he left in Womack, whose .307 on-base percentage during the season was among the lowest in the majors for leadoff hitters. It would be Womack's final at-bat in what had been a trying season. His father, Thomas, died suddenly in late April. That, coupled with a leg injury, took a toll. His average dipped as low as .212. He lost his leadoff spot and his starting position before regaining both in the final month. He readily acknowledges his father's death affected him.
"My father is everything to me," Womack says. "If it didn't affect me, I would have been disappointed in myself.
"I didn't want to get away from it. When I was between the lines, I was OK. I focused on what I had to do. But it wasn't as easy as people thought it would be. I knew I could still play in the major leagues but it was a trying time for me. I was struggling and I knew it would take some time for me and I was willing to accept it."
Brenly understood what Womack was going through and stuck with him down the stretch when the shortstop began turning the corner. Womack hit well the final month of the regular season and came through in the World Series. He had eight hits in the final four games, none of them more important than in the ninth inning of Game 7 when he doubled down the right-field line on a 2-2 pitch, scoring pinch-runner Midre Cummings to tie the game and leave runners at second and third.
Pulling into second base, Womack pointed to the sky. "I told my father, Thank you for trying to make me a better player. Thank you for making me a stronger person."
Colbrunn was set to hit for Craig Counsell, but with the game now tied, Brenly let his best defensive second baseman hit. Torre decided to pitch to him rather than intentionally walk him to load the bases for Gonzalez. It didn't matter, though. Rivera plunked Counsell on a one-strike pitch, loading the bases anyway.
Gonzalez was the next batter.
The Little Hit That Could
As Gonzalez walked to the plate, he thought about how he was in the situation that every child dreams about while playing wiffle ball in the backyard. And he thought how every child always dreams about hitting a home run in that situation.
And so, the man who had hit 57 home runs during the regular season, the man who won the home run derby at the All-Star Game against Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire, stepped into the batter's box for the most important at-bat of his life and did something extraordinary. He forgot all about the childhood dreams, ignored the 57 home runs, swallowed the excitement of the moment, called up the experience and poise of a 12-year veteran ... and choked up on the bat.
"I was just trying to shorten my bat up a little bit," Gonzalez says. "I hadn't done it all year but in that situation, you do whatever you have to do to get by. With the infield playing in, I knew I didn't have to hit the ball hard; I just had to put it in play and make something happen."
Meanwhile in the Arizona dugout, Brenly turned to bench coach Bob Melvin and asked whether the Diamondbacks had enough players left to fill the nine positions should the game go into extra innings. "I had briefly just turned and asked him," Brenly says, "and just as I looked back, Gonzo made contact and the ball was floating over the infield."
The pitch cracked Gonzalez's bat but he hit it hard enough to send it just beyond the drawin-in Jeter at shortstop for the Series-winning hit, which almost everyone realized immediately. "It was like everything was in slow motion," Jeter says. "You saw the ball floating out there but there was nothing you could do to stop it."
When Gonzalez reached first base (where his old prep teammate Martinez was playing) he knew he had just made his team champions of the world.
In a season in which Bonds broke the single-season home run record, the year's most important hit traveled less than 150 feet.
What If ...
While the Diamondbacks celebrated their first world championship, not knowing who to hug or where to run next, the Yankees turned away and walked off the field. "When you win, you look at what you did," catcher Jorge Posada says. "When you lose, you don't look back."
It's tempting, though. The game's outcome provided enough little what ifs to fuel the entire hot stove league. What if Rivera had gotten a better grip on the bunt throw to second? What if Brosius had tried to complete the double play? What if Finley hadn't been moving toward right field when the pitch still was on the way to Spencer?
Torre refuses to draw himself into such thinking. "We won so many games that same way that it's hard to say we had tough luck in Game 7."
Besides, he says, if you start that sort of thinking, pretty soon you're talking about the what ifs in Games 4 and 5, the what ifs in the playoff with Oakland, and eventually he's all the way back to Game 2 of the 1996 Division Series with Texas, his first postseason series managing the Yankees. "They had beaten us the first game and I've often wondered what would have happened if we had lost Game 2," Torre says.
Would the team have had the confidence to come back from an 0-2 deficit at that point? Would they have been able to win the World Series that year or any of the subsequent years? Would they have felt Mystique and Aura dancing with them each October? Speculating is fun but in the end it is a waste of time. After a World Series like this one, it's difficult to figure out what actually happened, let alone what might have.
Gonzalez's hit ended the longest season in baseball history, a season extended one week after the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington. Wearing the famous interlocked NY cap following the World Trade Center collapse had special meaning to Torre. Mayor Rudy Giuliani had attended each World Series game in New York, and had the Yankees won, Torre says he would have brought Giuliani onto the field to celebrate.
"From seeing what he did, seeing him go to funerals at the rate of two a day, I don't think he could have slept more than 20 minutes a night," Torre says. "He never stopped doing his job as mayor. We were a distraction for him. We added some enjoyment to his day."
And not just to Giuliani, but to millions across the country. In the days immediately after September 11, it didn't seem possible that we could care so much about anything so trivial as a baseball game. But we cared during World War I, we cared during the Depression, we cared during World War II and the Korean War and the Vietnam War and during every other crisis since the game became a professional sport just after the Civil War.
And we cared again on a windy, magical night in the desert, caring so much that months later, old men with tears in their eyes felt the urge to hug the participants.
"Baseball, I thought, re-established itself -- our niche, where we belong -- in the country," Schilling says. "In the everyday life of America, baseball has its place. Last year's postseason, I thought we had re-established that spot. 'This is our parking space, this is ours, this is where we belong, this is where the country wants us.' "
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.