Thursday, November 8, 2012

2001 World Series: Agony and Ecstasy

The Teams
National League: Arizona Diamondbacks (92-70) - First World Series
American League: New York Yankees (95-65) - 38th World Series (Won 26 previous times) 

What Happened

Is sad
It's a heartbreaking picture. And it says everything that needs to be said. For the second straight game, Arizona closer Byung-Hyun Kim had been one out away from giving his team their third win of the 2001 World Series. And for the second straight game, he had given up a game-tying two-run home run. And it was too much to take. Kim simply didn't want to be there any more. So he crouched down as low as he could get, burying his head in his hands, trying to hide in plain site in the middle of Yankee Stadium. The picture of agony.

That image of Kim crouched on the mound had to be haunting the Diamondbacks as they entered the ninth inning of Game 7. Trailing 2-1, facing the best closer in baseball history, Arizona had to be regretting their blown chances in Games 4 and 5. They had taken a lead into the ninth inning of five of the first six games of the series, but they had only won three of those games, and now they were trailing with Mariano Rivera on the mound. They'd had every chance they could want to win it, and now they were going to lose.

But then Mark Grace led off the ninth with a single to right. And then Damien Miller laid down a bunt that Rivera fielded cleanly but, trying to get the lead runner, he threw it into center field. And the World Series winning run was on first base with nobody out. The unthinkable suddenly seemed possible.

But then Jay Bell laid down a sacrifice. Rivera fielded it cleanly. Again, he tried to get the lead runner. This time, he did, and it all seemed lost again. The Diamondbacks had thought they were on the doorstep, only to find that the door was still locked. Sure, they were a double from possibly winning the World Series, but they were also a double play from losing it.

Tony Womack hit the double - the good kind, from Arizona's perspective - and while it didn't win the series, it tied the game and put the winning run on third base. For the third time in the series, a closer had blown the save in the ninth inning. But this one felt different. This one was heavier. It was Mariano Rivera, after all, the unflappable, unhittable legend. And it was Game 7, the ultimate stakes. Most of all, it was the Yankees, the three-time defending champions and 26-time World Champions, who were throwing it away.

Runners on second and third, one-run game, first base open. It would normally be an automatic intentional walk situation, but the weak-hitting Craig Counsell was up and the powerful Luis Gonzalez was on deck, so Rivera pitched on. The decision became moot when Rivera hit Counsell, loading the bases and bringing up the Diamondbacks' best hitter.

Is happy
Here Yankee manager Joe Torre did something curious. He told the infield to come in, to cut off the run at the plate. It was strange move considering a double play would get the game to the 10th inning, but it was especially strange because of Rivera's cutter. The most famous and devastating pitch in baseball, the cutter had made Rivera what he was. Everybody knew it was coming, yet few could hit it. When it was at its best, it looked like it would be right over the plate before breaking hard in toward left handed batters. If a righty hit it, the best he could hope for was a soft dribbler to the right side. If a lefty hit it, the best he could hope for was ...

... well, exactly what Luis Gonzalez got: a broken bat blooper to medium-deep shortstop. Only Derek Jeter wasn't playing medium-deep. He was playing in. The ball drifted over his head, landing almost exactly where Jeter would have been standing had he been playing at double-play depth. And Gonzalez started jumping up and down and waiving his arms in the air, and Bell threw his arms in the air as he crossed home plate, and Arizona celebrated its first World Championship, the first championship of any kind for the city of Phoenix. The picture of ecstasy.

For the second time, there were multiple MVPs, but this time it made sense. Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson had carried Arizona all season, and they were the primary - possibly sole - reason Arizona won. Schilling started three times, winning Game 1 9-1, handing the ball over to Kim with a 2-0 lead in Game 4, then pitching into the eighth inning of Game 7 before giving up the Alfonso Soriano home run that almost became the series winner. Johnson was just as good, pitching a shutout in Game 2, completely controlling the Yankees in Game 6, then dramatically coming in to relieve in Game 7. Schilling started three games, Johnson won three games, and they were equally brilliant.

(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)

New York10 24 (10)3 (12)22

The List
I'm ranking all the World Series, from worst to best. Here are the ones I've done so far:

4. 2001 - Arizona (N) def. New York (A) 4-3
5. 2011 - St. Louis (N) def. Texas (A) 4-3
6. 1912 - Boston (A) def. New York (N) 4-3 (1 tie)
7. 1992 - Toronto (A) def. Atlanta (N) 4-2
8. 1947 - New York (A) def. Brooklyn (N) 4-3
9. 1972 - Oakland (A) def. Cincinnati (N) 4-3
Numbers 10-19
Numbers 20-29
Numbers 30-39
Numbers 40-49
Numbers 50-59
Numbers 60-69
Numbers 70-79
Numbers 80-89
Numbers 90-99
Numbers 100-107

Game 7s
Simultaneously, I'll rank all the Game 7s. The ones that have appeared in my countdown so far:

2. 2001: Arizona 3, New York (A) 2
3. 1960: Pittsburgh 10, New York (A) 9
5. 1997: Florida 3, Cleveland 2
6. 1912: Boston (A) 3, New York (N) 2 (game 8)
7. 1946: St. Louis (N) 4, Boston (A) 3
9. 1925: Pittsburgh 9, Washington 7
10. 1926: St. Louis (N) 3, New York (A) 2
11. 1962: New York (A) 1, San Francisco 0
12. 1979: Pittsburgh 4, Baltimore 1
13. 1955: Brooklyn 2, New York (A) 0
14. 1952: New York (A) 4, Brooklyn 2
15. 1971: Pittsburgh 2, Baltimore 1
16. 1940: Cincinnati 2, Detroit 1
17. 1972: Oakland 3, Cincinnati 2
18. 1987: Minnesota 4, St. Louis 2
19. 1958: New York 6, Milwaukee 2
20. 1986: New York (N) 8, Boston 5 
21. 1968: Detroit 4, St. Louis 1
22. 1931: St. Louis (N) 4, Philadelphia (A) 2
23. 1973: Oakland 5, New York (N) 2
24. 2002: Anaheim 4, San Francisco 1
25. 1982: St. Louis 6, Milwaukee 3
26. 1947: New York (A) 5, Brooklyn 2
27. 2011: St. Louis 6, Texas 2
28. 1965: Los Angeles (A) 2, Minnesota 0
29. 1964: St. Louis 7, New York (A) 5
30. 1957: Milwaukee 5, New York (A) 0
31. 1967: St. Louis 7, Boston 2
32. 1945: Detroit 9, Chicago (N) 3
33. 1909: Pittsburgh 8, Detroit 0
34. 1934: St. Louis (N) 11, Detroit 0 
35. 1985: Kansas City 11, St. Louis 0
36. 1956: New York (A) 9, Brooklyn 0

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