Unlikely Heroes

Play-off baseball is a fascinating phenomenon. It has a way to bring out the best and the worst in people depending upon the circumstances. The events of the St. Louis and Arizona series bears witness to this fact. With their season on the line and in one of the most important games in the history of this franchise, the Diamondbacks found two unlikely heroes.

In game 2 at Bank One Ballpark, the Arizona Diamondbacks were in need of a relief pitcher in the ninth inning. They had just seen Mike Morgan walk Jim Edmonds and then give up a hit to Craig Paquette. Greg Swindell had then come in to face J.D. Drew who reached base on a fielder’s choice. With runners at first and third with one out and the Diamondbacks trailing 3-1, manager Bob Brenly made what many thought was an unconventional move. He brought in Miguel Batista to face Kerry Robinson. This was interesting since Brenly had already named Batista the game 3 starter for Friday. After posting a 3-1 count to Robinson, Batista forced him to hit a ball back to the box where he fielded it cleanly. Then in a comical play that looked reminiscent of a John Belushi sketch in Animal House, he danced around looking from base to base before throwing to first to late and allowing Edmonds to score from third. The Diamondbacks went on to lose the game 4-1 and the series tied 1-1 going back to St. Louis. Batista became the conversation at many water coolers as fans laughed at his expense and questioned what he was thinking.

In Game 3, Batista was to face Darryl Kile in a game whose match-up heavily favored the Cardinals. If you were to read the predictions or listen to the media, it was a forgone conclusion that St. Louis would win the game forcing Brenly to bring Schilling back on three days rest in a crucial game 4. The problem was, no one told Batista that he may as well not show up. Someone forgot to remind him that he had no chance of winning. Rather, Batista had a rare opportunity for redemption and made the most of his chance. Miguel pitched six strong innings allowing only 3 hits while walking one and striking out 4. Although one of the 3 hits was a two-run home run, Batista did not get flustered. Instead, he showed the poise and composure that one would expect from a seasoned veteran. Watching him pitch, it was hard to believe that at the end of March he was battling just to make this team out of spring training. He proved beyond a shadow of a doubt why he should be considered the number 3 starter for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Most baseball fans can remember the 1997 World Series where the Florida Marlins met the Cleveland Indians and that classic game 7 when Craig Counsell scored the winning run to give the Marlins their first and only World Championship. After that fateful night though, Counsell became somewhat of a mystery. During the fire sale in Florida, Counsell was let go to reduce payroll. Craig then bounced around baseball playing for the Dodgers before being released. The Diamondbacks had an interest in Counsell and offered him a minor league contract. Craig made the best of this opportunity soon proving himself to be a great utility player who became indispensable during the 2001 season. He patrolled third base, second base and shortstop during the regular season and each game he somehow found a way to get on base. His gutsy play made an impression on coaches and fans alike and he soon became a favorite around Bank One Ballpark. But in the divisional play-offs, Counsell found himself in a similar situation that other Diamondbacks faced. He was hitless during the series. Brenly’s confidence in Craig did not waiver as he was placed in the line-up batting second. Counsell made the most of this opportunity by going 1-4 at the plate with a walk. That one hit was a three-run home run off Cardinal pitcher Mike Matthews to give the Diamondbacks the lead and ultimately the victory.

So in a game made up of superstars, it was two journeymen who contributed the most. Two of the hardest working men in Diamondbacks uniforms were rewarded for all of their work and perseverance. These guys won’t see their likenesses on the front of a cereal box nor will they have their own bobblehead days but they have endeared themselves to the hearts of Diamondbacks fans everywhere.

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