Five Short Years Ago

I’m currently in the process of reviewing content on my NowHitting web site as I prepare to upgrade the look and feel for the 2007 season. Before blogs became such a buzz technology, I had an online journal on NowHitting where I talked about baseball called Diary of a Diehard (what a coincidence). My plan is to migrate all of those entries into archive entries here and I should be finished with that effort by early next week. While reviewing the entries, I realized that I had not written about each of the games in the 2001 World Series. Over the course of the next several days I am going to chronicle my thoughts and feelings of that World Series. Having been to all 4 games in Arizona and watching every pitch of the 3 games in New York, I wanted to give my account of that magical time in Diamondbacks history. Today marks the fifth anniversary of game 1 of the 2001 World Series so let’s stroll back in time to relive history.

It was an exciting time to live in Phoenix. The Arizona Diamondbacks were poised to enter their first World Series having beaten the perennial powerhouse Atlanta Braves to reach the series. This was of course after winning the National League Western Division with a record of 92-70. The first round of the play-offs was a tough 5 game series against the St. Louis Cardinals that had its share of drama and fear. Tony Womack was the hero of that series keeping the Diamondbacks in the game. The National League Championship series was an easier road for the Diamondbacks as they totally dominated the Braves winning the series 4-1 giving them a short break before the World Series would begin. It also allowed manager Bob Brenly to set his pitching staff just how he wanted it. The Diamondbacks would face the defending champion New York Yankees who had accumulated a 95-65 record in the regular season. In the first round of the play-offs the Yankees would face the Oakland Athletics who themselves had a 102-60 record. That divisional series went 5 games with the Yankees winning 5-3 in game 5. The American League Championship series saw New York face the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners held the best record in major league baseball that year at 116-46 and were highly favored. The Yankees though were playing for a city who had just endured the World Trade Center attacks and that emotion poured out onto the field with the Yankees winning 4-1. So they too had a few days before the beginning of the series to set their rotation.

Home field advantage for the 2001 World Series went to the Arizona Diamondbacks since this was two years before the All-Star game decided who had the advantage. It was customary for home field advantage to rotate between the National League and American League and in 2001 it was the National League’s turn. On a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon it was time for the Diamondbacks to show the world why they belonged in the World Series just 3 short years since they became a franchise. If this were a poker hand, you wouldn’t want to bet against Diamondbacks as they had 2 aces and a king. The King was Luis Gonzalez who had won the Home Run Derby at the all star game earlier in the season. He had ended the season hitting 57 home runs and driving in 142. And while that king kicker was a plus, it was the pair of aces that had everyone’s attention. Everyone had assumed that Cy Young candidate Randy Johnson would be the game 1 starter but when you have 2 aces it really doesn’t matter which one you lay down first.

Brenly selected Curt Schilling to start game 1 against Yankees ace Mike Mussina. The atmosphere at Bank One Ballpark was electric with hundreds of people milling around the grounds looking for tickets or just absorbing the atmosphere. I arrived before the gates opened just so I could be there to experience everything. Streets had been closed and there were barricades along the street around the stadium as a reminder that the country was still feeling fragile from the events of September 11. While security was tight, it was not overly apparent. Major League baseball did an admirable job of making you feel safe without turning things into a military operation. The stadium was filled to beyond capacity with attendance of 49,646 there to witness the first World Series game in the history of the state of Arizona. The stadium was outfitted with bunting and all manner of decoration. The World Series logo was painted along each side of the playing field, everything was amazing. During the pre-game ceremonies the New York Yankees wore hats recognizing the valiant efforts of the New York City Police and Fire departments. Probably for the first time in history the New York Yankees were the sentimental favorites. People around the country were rooting for the Yankees to help the people of New York heal from the pain they felt. Not to sound callous but the fans in Arizona were not among those rooting for New York. We felt that we deserved a championship as much as they did and we wanted the home team to win.

With Schilling on the mound, flashes sparkled like the lights on a Christmas tree as the first pitch was thrown. Chuck Knoblauch started the game by popping out to second baseman Craig Counsell. Derek Jeter was hit by a pitch bringing Dave Justice up. Schilling recorded his first strike out bringing up Bernie Williams. Williams doubled right in front of our seats on the left field line allowing Jeter to score. Tino Martinez grounded out to shortstop to end the inning and give the Yankees a 1-0 lead. That lead did not last long as NLCS MVP Craig Counsell homered after Womack struck out to tie the game 1-1 after the first inning. That would be the closest this game would ever be. From that point forward Schilling dominated the Yankee hitters allowing only 3 hits over 7 innings while striking out 8. The Diamondbacks on the other hand were far from over.

In the third inning Tony Womack was hit by a pitch to start the inning. Craig Counsell then hit a sacrifice bunt to move Womack to second. Luis Gonzalez then hit a home run to give the Diamondbacks the lead. Reggie Sanders singled to center then moved to third on Bernie Williams error on a hit by Steve Finley. Matt Williams hit a sacrifice fly to center scoring Sanders and moving Finley to third. Mark Grace was walked intentionally to get to Damian Miller. Miller hit a double to left field scoring Finley and moving Grace to third. After Schilling grounded out the Diamondbacks were leading 5-1. This was the last inning that Mussina would work in game 1 after allowing 5 runs on 6 hits 2 of which were home runs.

Things didn’t get much better for Randy Choate who relieved Mike Mussina. In the fourth inning the Diamondbacks offense again showed clutch hitting. After Womack and Counsell started the inning by getting out, Luis Gonzalez doubled to left. Reggie Sanders was intentionally walked and Steve Finley singled to right to score Gonzalez with Sanders going to third. Matt Williams reached base on an error by Scott Brosius and Sanders scored. Mark Grace then doubled to center with Finley and Williams both scoring. Damian Miller then grounded out to pitcher Randy Choate to end the inning with the Diamondbacks now up 9-1. The remaining innings of the game were a pitching clinic with the mighty Yankees shut down.

So in their first trip to the World Series, the Diamondbacks struck first handing the Yankees a lopsided defeat that saw 5 unearned runs scoring as a result of 2 Yankee errors. The crowd was on the edge of their seats most of the night and nearly everyone was hoarse from cheering. The game lasted 2:44 but it was the best 2:44 I’ve ever spent. There is nothing more exciting than your team in the World Series for the first time.


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