Sunday, October 31, 2010

October 31, 2001: Mr. November

BRONX, N.Y. - It had already been a great game. Curt Schilling, pitching on only three days' rest, and Orlando Hernandez, one of the greatest postseason pitchers of his era, had locked horns in a classic pitchers' duel in game 4 of the World Series. Both pitchers had pitched into the seventh and left with the game tied 1-1. Arizona had taken a 3-1 lead in the 8th, and were seemingly in control entering the bottom of the ninth.

With two outs and a runner on first, Tino Martinez hit the first pitch he saw from Byung-Hyun Kim for a game-tying home run, and absolutely devastating blow for Arizona. Instead of being one out from a 3-1 series lead, the Diamondbacks had instead given all the momentum in the series back to New York.

The Yankees got two more runners on base in the ninth before Kim got out of it. Mariano Rivera came in to put the Diamondbacks away 1-2-3 in the top of the 10th. A shaken Kim returned for the 10th, getting the first two outs quickly.

And then the clocks changed. Midnight came on the east coast, and with it, the first Major League pitches ever to be thrown in the month of November. The crowd stood and cheered, proud to have witnessed history. They had no idea what was coming next.

The 2001 World Series had been pushed back to November because of the 10-day layoff following the September 11 attacks. When the season resumed, the Yankees became the official team of 9/11, honoring the firefighters and policemen involved in the attacks at every opportunity and providing a needed respite for the city. New Yorkers turned to the Yankees looking for a magical ride to help them forget what happened.

After two losses in Arizona, the Yankees struck back to win game 3 2-1. Now it was game 4, and the magic had started. Tino Martinez had started the excitement with his blast. Now that the series was shifting to November, it seemed like something special was going to happen.

The next batter, the first man to ever bat in November, was Derek Jeter, the heart and soul of the Yankees. He fell behind Kim 0-2, then began a clinic in keeping at bats alive. After taking a ball, he fouled off two pitches. Two more balls came, followed by another ball. He had seen eight pitches so far in the at bat. The ninth pitch came. Jeter didn't let that one go to waste.

Jeter's line drive into the bleachers in right-center field sent Yankee Stadium into delirium. The Yankees had won a truly magical game. Despite the fact that the series was still tied 2-2, the Yankees had all the momentum. They had the dramatic win, and they had knocked Arizona's closer out with two huge blasts. And as Jeter rounded the bases and greeted his teammates at home plate, he forever earned a new nickname: Mr. November.

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