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2001 Diamondbacks reunite to celebrate 10-year anniversary

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Associated Press
9/7/2011 8:56:06 PM
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PHOENIX -- In the sombre shadow of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, the Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Yankees met in what turned out to be a World Series for the ages.

Members of that Arizona team will gather this weekend to commemorate the 10th anniversary of that seven-game triumph, a series acclaimed as one of the most dramatic in history, one that ended with Luis Gonzalez's ninth-inning single off Mariano Rivera, a base hit that barely made it to the outfield grass.

The current Diamondbacks, who have built a wide lead in the NL West, will don the old purple uniforms of that championship team for their game Friday night against the San Diego Padres, then the '01 players were reunite on Saturday. The weekend finishes with a red, white and blue t-shirt giveaway on Sunday.

Fuelled by the 1-2 pitching punch of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in their prime, with a cast of players nearing the end of standout careers, the 2001 Diamondbacks won despite most of the country rooting against them, with the Yankees the sentimental favourites because of the devastation that terror had wrought on their city.

Usually, the Yankees were the team that baseball fans loved to hate. But not in late October and early November of 2001.

"We kind of became the Yankees during that series," said Matt Williams, Arizona's third base coach now and third baseman then, "the team that people were rooting against. People wanted them to win, but it didn't happen that way."

Jerry Colangelo, the managing partner of the NBA's Phoenix Suns, had helped Arizona land a baseball team and felt that without a winning team, the fan base could dip too sharply. As managing partner of the Diamondbacks, he signed Randy Johnson in 1999 and the team promptly won an NL West title in its second season of existence. Two years later, he brought Bob Brenly out of the broadcast booth to become manager and added Schilling to the mix.

The result was arguably the best 1-2 pitching duo since Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale with a lineup and chemistry good enough to win it all.

Schilling went 22-6 with a 2.98 ERA and 293 strikeouts, Johnson 21-6 with a 2.49 ERA and a career-high 372 strikeouts.

In the field, the Diamondbacks had Williams at third, Tony Womack at shortstop, Jay Bell at second and Mark Grace at first. Gonzalez was in left with Steve Finley in centre and Reggie Sanders in right, although Danny Bautista started Game 7 of the World Series in Sanders' place. Rod Barajas and Damian Miller split catching chores.

Images beyond the game endure -- the Stealth bomber flying low over Chase Field, Ray Charles at his piano behind home plate singing "America the Beautiful," President Bush defiantly throwing out the first pitch in Game 3 in Yankee Stadium, that American eagle soaring from behind home plate to the Yankee Stadium outfield and back again.

The games were exhilarating or heartbreaking, depending upon the point of view.

" There were so many subplots that turned it into a fabulous story," said Grace, now a colour analyst for Diamondbacks telecasts.

Schilling and Johnson were dominant in the first two games in Arizona. In the opener, the Diamondbacks rolled 9-1. Gonzalez and Craig Counsell homered and Schilling allowed three hits over seven innings. In Game 2, Johnson threw a three-hitter in his first World Series appearance, striking out 11 in a 4-0 victory. Williams hit a three-run homer.

Then it was on to New York, where before they played, most of Arizona's players took a trip to Ground Zero.

"My memory of it is being on the bus," Williams said. "The closer we got to Ground Zero the deeper the dust got on the windowsills, so it was erie. Our objective going there was to be in support of those folks who were working day and night, to make sense of it all, to try to find somebody, whatever it was."

With extensive security, Bush threw out the first pitch for Game 3, then the Yankees followed the pitching of Roger Clemens -- three hits over seven innings -- to eke out a 2-1 victory.

Brenly went back to Schilling on three days' rest, and the right-hander lived up to his big-game reputation, allowing one run in seven innings. In the game, played on Halloween night, Arizona took a 3-1 lead in the eighth, and closer Byung-Hyun Kim came in and struck out the side. But with two out in the ninth, Tino Martinez hit a two-run homer to send the game to extra innings. In the 10th, shortly after midnight, Derek Jeter hit the game-winning homer off Kim, becoming baseball's first "Mr. November."

Game 5 was just as excruciating for Arizona. The Diamondbacks led 2-0 in the ninth, only to have Scott Brosius homer off Kim with two outs to tie it. With Kim bent over in emotional agony, Grace came over and gave him a hug. The Korean would not pitch again in the series. The Yankees went on to win 3-2 in 12 innings to take a 3-2 lead and send it back to Arizona, where Johnson and the Diamondbacks rolled 15-2 in Game 6.

Any longtime Diamondbacks fan can recite what happened in Game 7. In a tense duel between Clemens and Schilling, the Yankees led 2-1 after eight innings. On one days' rest, Johnson came out of the bullpen to get the final four outs, then the Yankees sent the virtually unbeatable Rivera to the mound in the ninth.

Grace led off with a single, then was replaced by pinch runner David Dellucci. Delluci made it to second when Rivera threw wild to the bag on Miller's bunt. Dellucci was thrown out at third on Bell's bunt, then in a huge hit that sometimes is overlooked, Womack doubled to bring home the tying run. Counsell was hit by a pitch to load the bases with one out.

With the crowd's roar deafening, Yankees manager Joe Torre brought the infield in to cut off the winning run at home, and Gonzalez -- without his usual power because of a sore wrist -- jammed a soft fly over the shortstop Jeter's head and Bell danced home with the game winner.

In the Diamondbacks' fourth year of existence, the state of Arizona had what remains its only major professional sports championship. The trophy still stands in the main entry to Chase Field.

"When we cross paths, it seems like it was yesterday," said Gonzalez, now special assistant to Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall. "They were a great bunch of guys."

2001 Arizona Diamondbacks celebrate (Photo: Chuck Solomon/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Chuck Solomon/Getty Images)
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