Sublime- verb- to elevate or exalt especially in dignity or honor
(2): to render finer (as in purity or excellence)
B: to convert (something inferior) into something of higher worth
The pitching prospect had lost his velocity. His previously meteoric stock had plummeted, his once limitless potential narrowing to nothing. His name was invoked in fledgling trade rumors, for bit pieces. One day, he wakes up, and the fastball returns, even stronger than before his arm surgery. His career is saved.
There is never an explanation. Nobody asks for one.
He is immediately untouchable, born again.
We wonder about fate.
It begins and ends with Mariano Rivera.
As the dogs days of August began to grudgingly give way to the promise of September, nary a thought of foreign politics or agendas swirled through my mind as I happily clutched the tickets to Cal Ripken’s final home game at Camden Yards. In just a few weeks, I’d be sitting in a modern cathedral, bowing at the altar of baseball history. The days dropped off my calendar with routine ease. Reality was established, and ruled. September 9TH… September 10th…
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. A rare early morning that refused conformity to minutia, one could simply crane his eyes toward the heavens and be reminded that life’s truly a precious gift. Unfortunately, it was a school day, so I would have to wait six hours before basking in summer’s final curtain. After all, it was September 11, and the scattered leaves populating our sidewalks and streets were already beginning to decay into a familiar autumnal brown.
What happened during the course of that day has been recounted by far more worthier voices than mine. On the eleventh day of September, in the year 2001, the world I existed within, as a normal eighth grader who had life and people relatively figured out, was summarily destroyed. Someone, living and breathing, a mother, a brother, a father or son, is murdered. Viciously taken from their lives, from the people they love, and who love them.
We are all robbed.
When darkness finally permeated the sky and I afforded my self the chance to sleep, the last thing on my mind were the 2001 New York Yankees.
As the Yankees rolled along on yet another victorious ride during the 2001 season, an ardent fan of the team was now more inclined to compare their roster with outfits from a glorious past, rather than any contemporary competition around the league. In this particular campaign, pitching reigned supreme. Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens, and Andy Pettite solidified a staff that was the best money could buy. Clemens, in fact, turned in one of his finest seasons, adding another Cy Young Award to a resume already shrouded in the superlative. It was Clemens’ first with the Yankees, and third since Red Sox management pronounced him in the twilight of his career. The team’s matinee idol, shortstop Derek Jeter, recycled another stellar performance, simply adding further framework to his burgeoning legend, while artistically inclined centerfielder Bernie Williams eased into a familiar seasonal rhythm, providing a melodic expression of Baseball Grace.
There were invigorating stories around the rest of the Baseball world as well. Ichiro Suzuki and Albert Pujols shone as stars in their maiden rookie voyages, for the Mariners and Cardinals respectively. Ichiro’s team did just as well to compliment their new right fielder, as the Mariners hauled in an incredible 116 wins. In the National League, Barry Bonds steam rolled Mark McGwire’s relatively new single season home run record. In eclipsing 73 with 70, Bonds shattered the mere 3-year-old standard. The Mets would make a valiant divisional drive in the season’s final weeks, eventually bidding fruitlessly for a third straight postseason appearance, foiled by the implosion of erratic closer Armando Benitez.
As the season rushed toward a climatic finish, the unspeakable tragedy of 9/11 rightfully curtailed the proceedings. While a reasonable argument could have been made to simply delete the remaining games, pride in life and tradition defeated fear. A message was delivered by our President to search for normalcy. For me, and many others, Baseball provided a secure pathway toward gradual healing. Watching a game became therapeutic. For me, personally, baseball did not evaporate the pain. It served more as a modicum of stability, a realm of consistency during a turbulent time. Sitting in class one day, smoke from Ground Zero filtered into the room, echoing a devilish cackle as it rose to the ceiling. The teacher instructed us to sit in silence, we would no longer be asked to concentrate. The silence was horrible. Some closed their eyes. Others stared at the ceiling. Nobody spoke. I lowered my head, and drifted off some place, where the Yankees were winning the World Series.
The New York Yankees had won 3 straight World Series Championships as they entered the year 2001, and after surviving the archrival Mets in five hotly contested games for the 2000’s crowning achievement, a confidence bordering on arrogance became ingrained in those delighting in their deeds. This deeply rooted sentiment became a dependable facet. We wouldn’t allow defeat. No deficit would be insurmountable, no loss acceptable, not so long as we were on their side. Collectively, this became a franchise that refused to lose. No ego. No superstar. It was blissful.
Derek Jeter may not have accumulated epic stats, but he’s viewed as royalty within the hierarchy of Yankee fans everywhere. Voices shout in dissidence, deeming Jeter a mere byproduct of his team, and the media canonizing it.
The key to inciting a Jeter critic is in the mere mentioning of his intangibles, contributions toward a winning effort that could never be imprisoned within simplistic numerals.
But how else to explain what happened in Game 3?
As the city attempted to live and breathe, trapped in suffocating grief, the Yankees headed into the Playoffs against a fearsome Oakland A’s team. The A’s were young and hungry, and on the prowl for revenge against the very team that had vanquished them in 2000. Oakland was at its peak during 2001. Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, and Eric Chavez patrolled a star-studded infield, first, short and third. The big three, a triumvirate of aces on top of Oakland’s pitching staff, had each reached excellence. The Big Three boasted Tim Hudson, a pitcher who possessed the subtle skill of a deft artist, belying a bulldog’s tenacity, Barry Zito, the prototypical oddball lefty, who featured a devastating curveball and a personality immune to pressure, and Mark Mulder, another lefthander, who juxtaposed a serene personality with frustrating lapses of concentration emblematic of any young pitcher. Backing the efforts of the Big Three was Corey Lidle, an unheralded fourth starter who finished strong, buoying World Series hopes in the Bay Area. The A’s felt it was their time to shine. All the pieces were in place, for the thoroughbreds wearing White and Gold.
Sure enough, Oakland roared into the Stadium not unlike a locomotive and took the first two games of the best of five A.L.D.S. in convincing fashion. As the Yankees marched toward a loss in Game 2, fans left the game early in the eighth inning. It was a sight unfamiliar, but understandable. For in this year, it was difficult to get truly excited for Postseason baseball. No one wanted to embrace the stress. If the Yankees were to be vanquished, a general feeling of malaise would greet their defeat. Discussing it with my friends, one of them wondered if it " just wasn’t the time" to care about a game. At the time I brushed the thought off, making all the generic statements about moving on and continuing to live. I believed it, but not with all my heart. I expressed this through the Yankees:
" Hey, maybe they caught a hot team this year."
Or maybe it just wasn’t that important.
The A’s were in complete control despite a pitiful batting average with runners in scoring position, a stat confirming that they were simply overwhelming the Yankees with better talent. Victory never appeared such an impossible dream.
Zito was absolutely dealing that night. It was game 3, and night had faded in on the Oakland Alameda Coliseum. Following overpowering performances coldly exacted by Mulder and Hudson in Games One and Two, Zito’s curve was dancing, and he had made only two real mistakes the entire game. Jorge Posada homered, and Shane Spencer doubled, the latter eventually stranded at second base. As for the Yankee starter, Mike Mussina was brilliant, holding Oakland scoreless. However, as the game rolled along and the Yankees continued to conjure a dearth of offensive output, a general feeling of impending doom floated over the proceedings. The A’s line up was far too effective to be whitewashed through the course of nine innings. Mussina was bound to run into a rough spot at some point, and wouldn’t have the luxury of run support to withstand it. Finally, in the seventh inning, with two men out and a man on first, Terrence Long stepped up to the plate and hit a blazing grounder that evaded the dive of first baseman Tino Martinez, beginning a lengthy roll towards the right-field corner. My shoulders slumped, and my mouth ran dry.
“ So this is it.”
Baseball was going to play by the rules after all. The Yankees had to eventually pay the price for their feeble offensive attack. The only saving grace may have been the runner representing a potential tie: Jeremy Giambi, chugging slow as molasses around the bases. Jeremy was Jason’s brother, and despite compiling superior minor league stats, he had never reached his sibling’s level of Major League achievement. He rounded third base with a proverbial head of steam, a mere ninety feet away from delivering a crippling blow to the Yankees. Shane Spencer, filled with adrenaline, over shot not one, but two cut off men, and the ball bounded pathetically toward home plate, destined for nowhere.
He had no business being there. Any other Shortstop in the Major Leagues surely would not have.
But he was.
Derek Jeter intercepted the errant throw, made a perfect backhanded flip to home plate while contorting sideways through the air, and Posada incredibly maintained possession as Jeremy Giambi’s massive, tree-trunk legs collided full force with his catcher’s mitt. Indeed, Jeremy had made the unwise decision not to slide, making the call for Umpire Kerwin Daley all the more easy.
Call it intangibles, call it instincts, or even call it luck and attempt to keep a straight face, the fact of the matter is that Derek Jeter was there, intercepting Shane Spencer’s relay marked for oblivion. No stat could project what the play did for that team. For they would go on to win game 3. There would be tomorrow.
Corey Lidle was hammered in Game 4, although he wasn’t particularly helped by a muffed double play blown by utility man F.P. Santangelo, starting at second base because A’s manager Art Howe thought him a good luck charm. The Yankees turned that botched play into a big inning, and rolled behind postseason legend Orlando Hernandez.
The scene shifted to a delirious Bronx for game number 5. Jubilation had nullified resignation. The A’s jumped off to a great start, scoring a pair before the fans had even settled into their seats. Their lead would not hold up. The Yankees had their cause aided and abided by shoddy Oakland defense. An untimely letdown by Mark Mulder countered by the nearly pristine work of Roger Clemens and the Yankee bullpen equaled a 5-3 win. Derek Jeter would make another spectacular play, this time falling into the seats along the third base line while reaching for a foul pop, willfully sacrificing his body for an out that his team needed to have. By the time untouchable Yankee closer Mariano Rivera arrived to play Executioner, the outcome seemed predetermined by the Baseball Gods. There would be no A’s come back. The Yankees, who just a week prior had been a team pronounced dead after two shocking opening losses in their home ballpark, were now heading to the A.L.C.S.
No team had ever won a Division Series after losing their initial two games at home.
While the infield capsized in joyous celebration, a guest was invited to join the party by manager Joe Torre. It was the city’s mayor Rudy Guliani, a Yankee fan his entire life. When hizzoner momentarily refused the invitation at first beckon, Torre prodded him forward by exclaiming that the Representative and Leader of New York City, was indeed part of the team.
In 2001, the Seattle Mariners shocked and amazed baseball forecasters and fans alike with a virtuoso performance, winning 116 games. Ichiro Suzuki, an imported player from the far East Coast, slashed his way to 3 prestigious awards. [Batting Champ, Rookie of the Year, and M.V.P.] The svelte right fielder played defense with impeccable precision, his throws from the outfield breathtakingly beautiful. If Ichiro, foolishly tabbed as a potential fourth outfielder by assorted scouts in Spring Training, was a surprise, Bret Boone was a revelation. The short, bulky second baseman ascended from obscurity to produce eye-popping stats, not to mention a Gold Glove. Other contributors included ultra smooth First Baseman John Olerud, reliable centerfielder Mike Cameron, and the entire pitching staff, which did not rely on one hurler but rather the whole to carry 162 games of beastly burden. This was a team in the truest sense of the word, which made their series against the Yankees so intriguing.
The Yankees and Mariners were near reflections, featuring diversified offensive attacks and superb pitching and defense.
When the Yankees returned home to the Bronx carrying a 2-0 advantage in the series, they appeared invincible. Lou Pinella however, was far from convinced that his record setting Mariners were finished. He guaranteed that the Series would return back to Seattle. His team backed up the fiery manager’s pointed words with a blowout of the Bombers in Game 3. Sweet Lou’s bold proclamation was now appearing more shrewd than desperate. Game 4 saw a seesaw battle turn on Alfonso Soriano’s clutch ninth inning homerun off Kaz Sasaki. Sasaki’s lone weakness as a closer was a definite susceptibility to the long ball, and he delivered on scouting prophecy while serving up an opposite field blast to the Yankees’ prodigal second baseman. The Mariners wouldn’t have admitted it at the time, but they were finished. As the Yankees trounced them in a decisive game 5, an outpouring of emotion from the Stadium served as a release for many in New York. With a symphony of Yankee hits demolishing Mariners pitching deep into the night, a tribal chant arose from the masses.
Clap! Clap! Clap!
“ Over- Rated!”
Clap! Clap! Clap!
The chant continued, rising in volume and utter joy. Some misinterpreted it as a classless send off to the Mariners. Hardly. It was a nod of appreciation to the Yankees. We found peace by rediscovering noise.
We could rise from these ashes.
Lou Pinella recognized the true measure of the chant. Despite his team’s defeat, the thought crossed his mind in the dugout that “this city had been through a lot.”
After the victory was capped, a touching scene occurred in the clubhouse, as the team solemnly rose their champagne glasses in tribute to a scarred but still resilient city.
There was a video snap shot of Bernie Williams walking off the field toward the dugout, his arms raised over his head in complete and utter victory. As the noise around him swelled, Bernie slowed down his walk and embraced the moment. The city and this team, for a moment in time, were waves in water. In complete and utter unity.
Awaiting the Yankees in the World Series were the Arizona Diamondbacks, who had dispatched Atlanta in the N.L.C.S. and survived a classic series against St. Louis the round previous, winning on a single by Tony Womack. The Diamondbacks Organization may have been youthful, but the players representing the logo were grizzly veterans. Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson formed the best one-two punch in all of Major League Baseball. Mark Grace provided leadership and a line drive bat at first, but the centerpiece of their offense was Louis Gonzalez. In a year when Barry Bonds pounded 73 homers, the astounding season by Gonzalez  will eventually be lost in time.
If Arizona was looking to set a tone in Game 1, they accomplished it in spades. D-Back hitters jumped all over Division Series hero Mike Mussina, and several fielding miscues by the Yankees fueled a Game 1 wash out. Game 2 belonged to Randy Johnson, as the intimidating lefty who had haunted the Yankees in postseason’s past ripped their hearts out yet again, disarming the Bomber offense in a shutout. The series shifted back to New York, where the hopes of the Yankees and their fans rested on the broad shoulders of Roger Clemens.
Clemens was often badgered, his merits as a “True Yankee” questioned, despite winning World Series crowns with the club in 1999 and 2000. Clemens had arrived with the Yankees in 1999, after forcing a trade from the languishing Blue Jays. The expectations heaped upon the Red Sox legend were of overwhelming proportion. When Clemens let the masses down with a disappointing year, tabloids everywhere readied the venom for further scathing in 2000. The jackals got exactly what they desired when Roger once again fell short of expectations during the first half, a failing compounded by a stint on the D.L. with a groin problem. During the D.L. stay, George Steinbrenner shared a pep talk with the beleaguered future Hall of Famer, and shortly thereafter Clemens returned to his old sneering self. Whether the Owner’s little talk had any bearing on his performance is a question for another day, but the fact of the matter remains that the man they called “Rocket” took off in the second half, raising his intensity and elevating his game. After previously closing out the Braves in the ’99 Series and pitching a dominant Game 2 during the 2000 Edition, with a start for the ages thrown in against Seattle that very postseason for good measure, Clemens had seemingly overcome the stigma that he couldn’t control his emotions in a big game. But if there was still any fragment of doubt remaining on that issue, it was summarily answered in Game 3 of the 2001 Series.
Game 3 is the most overlooked battle of this historic series, and in comparison with Games 4 and 5 it may look a bit dry. Roger Clemens’ effort in the do or die endeavor for the Yanks however, should not be forgotten. With his team’s back against the wall, Clemens went out and pitched an absolute gem, handing the game to Mariano Rivera having held the D-Backs to an anemic 1 run. And Rivera, as he always did, closed the game with a seasoned Assassin’s poise. It was a Series again, and no one had the faintest idea of where it would go next.
On three days rest, Curt Schilling took the ball in game 4 hoping to bury the Yankees in a 3-1 hole. Schilling, despite the short respite, had drawn from the apex of his ability, dealing strikes and working the corners with cunning savvy. The only blemish on his record was a solo homer surrendered to Shane Spencer, who shot one the opposite way into the short porch in right. Orlando Hernandez was in peak form as well, but eventually tired in the seventh inning, giving way to Mike Stanton. The score sat deadlocked at 1-1. Stanton, bought in to maintain the tie, failed in neutralizing the dangerous Erubial Durazo, hanging a curve on the inside corner of the plate with a runner on in the eighth. Durazo walloped it just beyond the reach of Bernie Williams in center field, and the runner on first, Luis Gonzalez, came all the way around to score. When the D-Backs padded their lead with an additional run, the game appeared to be all but over. Arizona manager Bob Brenly surprised many however, with his decision to hook Curt Schilling and summon the enigmatic B.K. Kim from his bullpen in an attempt to record the final six outs. Kim, a mysterious right-hander from Korea, was rumored to sleep 17 hours of a given day. The reliever’s pitching motion suited his personality, a confounding submarine style that gave right-handed hitters fits. Due to this arm action, however, lefties were afforded a longer look at the ball as it spiraled toward home plate, and split statistics dictated their benefit from this precious advantage. Kim effortlessly reached the 90’s with his fastball, and had a wide array of junk to keep the opposition off balance. He had assumed the closer mantle from oft- injured flamethrower Matt Mantei, and the stage was now set for him to be a hero.
Kim made Brenly appear a brilliant tactician in the eighth inning, striking out the side on his way to a deliciously easy frame. As the scoreboard flashed forward to the bottom of the ninth inning, under a glowing full moon, Kim recorded an easy first out before giving up a limp broken bat bleeder into left field by Paul O’Neill. Many argued that left fielder Gonzalez could have laid out for the ball, but the way Kim was throwing, it didn’t appear to be remotely an issue. He struck out Bernie Williams on a nasty slider in the dirt for the ninth’s second out, as Arizona readied their grip for a strangle hold on the series. The only person left standing in their way was Yankee first baseman, Tino Martinez.
Over the course of Tino’s career, he had gotten in the tricky habit of replacing legends at first base. In Seattle, Tino took over for the beloved Alvin Davis, who to that point had been the Mariners’ only real superstar. After a few productive years in the Pacific North West, Tino was shipped off to the Bronx prior to the 1996 season. Yankee Deity Don Mattingly had just taken a leave of absence, and would be missing for all of ’96. While fans wondered if they had seen the last of Mattingly, they didn’t know what to make of Martinez. A tepid reputation as a decent fielding first sacker had followed him from Seattle, but he definitely was no Donnie Baseball, a venerable defensive wizard. A slow start at the plate did nothing to dissipate the fan’s incredulity regarding their newest Yankee. However, everything changed on one rainy night in Baltimore. For Martinez would sock a grand slam in extra innings to give the Yankees a valuable win, and from that point forward, Tino would be beloved in the Bronx.. When Tino’s production fell off drastically in 2000, many called for the promotion of Nick Johnson, than the club’s top prospect at Triple A. But in 2001, it was Tino who would carry the offense. Swatting 34 home runs and collecting over 100 RBI’s, the consummate team player appeared to have regained support from the front office while also earning an undying loyalty that players seldom get from fickle fans.
Now, it was up to Martinez to keep the Yankees afloat in the Series. It was his first face-off ever with Kim, and he only had a few sneak peeks through video as reference. Choosing the simplest of strategies, Tino simply looked for a fastball he could put his best swing on. Kim, perhaps overly cocky, was only too willing to oblige. Joe Buck, the Fox play-by-play man, had barely finished praising Kim for his presence under pressure before the next pitch was thrown. What came next was the most shell-shocked call of a dramatic home run in recent history:
“ Belted… right center field… and we are tied.”
As the disbelieving words sputtered out of Buck’s mouth, Tino Martinez floated around the bases with the game’s tying run.
After the stone cold Rivera slammed the door on the D-Backs in the tenth, the Yankees came up in the bottom half and were greeted by… Kim. Brenly had left his closer in the game due to a fallible lack of confidence in the rest of his pen. Whatever weariness Kim may have felt, physically or emotionally, was not evident as he mowed down the Yankees’ first two hitters. With two outs in the tenth, the stadium clock struck 12. It was officially November 1st, the first time a baseball game had been played this late in the calendar. It was a cruel reminder.
If nothing else, Derek Jeter now had a chance to officially become Mr. November. Early in the at bat however, Kim seemed to be seizing his chance for redemption. He quickly jumped ahead of the count 0-2, and Jeter had to foul some tough pitches off just to maintain the AB. As Kim unleashed yet another one of his unfurled deliveries, I noticed it sailing toward the outside corner, an awful pitch, especially at Yankee stadium, where Jeter could poke one out of right field using the short porch.
Kim’s last fastball of the night exploded off of Jeter’s bat and landed just beyond that friendly right field fence. The Yankees had risen from the dead once again. As Tim McCarver succinctly stated over the chorus of ecstasy:
“ A night to remember forever… bedlam in the Bronx.”
What could possibly be next? As many followers of the National Past Time observed, a game such as number 4 only occurred once in a lifetime. However, any rules mistakenly tangled with sanity were about to be turned upside down for game 5.
Mike Mussina repented from a putrid Game 1 with a sterling outing, leaving the game having given up only 2 runs. Unfortunately for Mussina and the Yanks, Miguel Batista had answered the call for Bob Brenly and pitched dominating baseball. A fact somewhat lost in the series was that Batista and Brian Anderson, by and large unheralded starters, both pitched marvelously in their outings with nary a win to show for it. Many in Baseball circles were left in disbelief when Bautista rose to the occasion, his strange persona intertwined with World Series pressure perceived to be a combustible combination. Miguel’s reputation was well earned, through many odd statements and decisions. He once diverted all questions about his performance, claiming that if the media wanted to talk, it could only be about his pet bird.
Was it idiocy, trust, or blind faith? Whatever conclusion one arrives at remains distinctly a matter of opinion, but the increasingly suspect Bob Brenly gave the ball again to B.K. Kim, requesting the closure of Game Five. Kim, now a national symbol for choking, had acquired a definite aura of vulnerability. B.K. was in his early twenties, and still had traces of acne trailing down his young face. His task was to hold down a two run lead, a mission that had disastrously escaped his grasp the night before. He was welcomed with a double down the left field line by Jorge Posada, before quickly retiring the next two hitters. Once again, Kim only needed one more out. And once again, a corner infielder for the New York Yankees stepped up to the plate. This time, it was third baseman, Scott Brosius.
Brosius was regarded as a booby prize, awarded to the Yankees for unloading Kenny Rogers on the A’s, but he was penciled in to be the third baseman in 1998. Scott had just come off an absolutely awful season for the A’s in ’97, barely keeping his average above the Mendoza line. The Yankees’ initial plan was to use Brosius as a stopgap for prospect Mike Lowell. Brosius however, would prove his worth much higher than that. He surprised everyone by hitting .300 in 1998, this after a dismal Spring Training that had some questioning his ability to hit Major League Pitching. The best was yet to come, as Brosius won the 1998 World Series M.V.P. trophy, on the strength of his clutch homer off Trevor Hoffman in the eighth inning of Game 3. Brosius became a familiar, almost neighborly staple of the Yankee Dynasty.
Kim had barely avoided giving up a home run to Brosius the previous night in extra innings, as the Playoff Vet just missed clipping the left field foul pole with a blistering line drive. Perhaps this was on B.K.’s mind the next night, when he wound up and threw a slider, hanging so atrociously that it flattened out right down the middle. Brosius crushed it into the left field seats, and Posada, who appeared to be left twisting in the wind at second after his double, joyously rounded the bases. As for Brosius, instantly after he made contact with the ball his arms rose in the pose of a hero, a role he played to fitting familiarity. It was De Ja Vu, all over again, and as John Sterling pontificated “probably the greatest feat in World Series history!”
Byun Hyun Kim slumped to his knees on the mound, in absolute defeat. His teammates attempted to console him, and Rod Barajas went as far to shake his fist with a forceful yell: “This isn’t going to beat us!”
Kim was removed from the game, and received a massive sarcastic ovation from the New York fans. Cheers for tears.
When Chuck Knoblauch touched home plate after Alfonso Soriano’s winning single in the 12th inning, the final period had been punctuated on the two most memorable games in World Series history. It may have been trite to say a baseball game had lifted the spirits of New York, but it isn’t outlandish to offer that it may have helped. No Baseball team could undo the damage of 9/11. No one person could heal the broken families or dreams. However, two victories in the month of November, two games that will go down in the City’s history, and two teams that delivered spell binding athletic performances, would perhaps allow a small, tempting thought to sneak into our minds: We can make it through this. Hope lives in possibility.
Andy Pettite had come up big for the Yankees before, pitching unbelievable post-season games that will be the staple of his career long after it’s over. On the night of Game 6 however, Andy picked the wrong evening to have his worst stuff. Pettite and the Yankee bullpen was flogged for over 10 runs, as the Diamondbacks feasted on terrible New York pitching. On a sour note for the Yanks, it wasn’t until the Series’ conclusion that they realized Pettite might have been tipping his pitches. Whether or not the element of surprise would have helped his hanging breaking balls is a matter still open to discussion.
It was inspiring win for the D-Backs in their own right, as they refused to back down against a team that had nearly concocted World Series heist. Randy Johnson pitched brilliantly yet again; there would be no revenge exacted by the Yankees against their long time post-season nemesis.
There would be a Game 7.
It would be Roger Clemens against Curt Schilling.
As Curt Schilling endured hard times early in his career, exhibiting little control over his fastball or self, he happened to meet a mentor in the gym one fateful day. On Schilling’s best starts he could vaguely assume the form of the very individual that personally sat down and gave him some much needed advice, about working the corners, staying in shape and maintaining focus. That individual was Roger Clemens. Schilling often credits that conversation as the singular reason why his career path shifted route, from vagabond to upper echelon. After pitching wonderfully for inconsistent Phillies teams through the 1990’s, Schilling finally received his long overdue wish for a trade. The team that netted him was the Arizona Diamondbacks, who couldn’t pass at the proposition of pairing him with Randy Johnson. The two fully gelled during 2001, as they carried Arizona to the Playoffs. The two names became synonymous with each other: Schilling and Johnson. Johnson and Schilling. Schilling was far more talkative of the two, and many wondered whether they actually had a working relationship. There indeed may have been a bit of a rivalry between the two aces, although any traces of that story are for the most part unsubstantiated.
Curt solidified his decidedly non-cerebral approach by launching into a controlled yet stinging tirade during a Press Conference before Game 4 of the Series. The issue regarded whether Yankee Stadium had any aura or mystique.
“ To me, aura and mystique or dancers at night club.”
The comments appeared foolhardy after the game 4 and 5 results, but it was just Schilling being Schilling. That personality made him the perfect pitcher for a Game 7.
Emotion swirled before Game 7. It would be Paul O’Neill’s final game wearing a Yankee Uniform. There is no measure to determine how much O’Neill meant to the franchise. His fits of fury, feats of strength, kept his fellow teammates sharp, always giving their maximum effort, since they could be **** sure that Paulie was giving his.
How much did the fans love Paul O’Neill? During his last turn as Right Fielder in Yankee Stadium, a game the Yankees were trailing 2-0, 57,000 people began to chant the name of their beloved warrior.
The chant echoed for the entire inning, and nearly bought Paul to tears as he headed back toward the dugout after it’s conclusion. It was a nod of appreciation for a man who had left it all out on the field. In the end, it’s all we really ask for.
Bernie Williams often sinks quietly into the tapestry of Yankee lore, despite the fact he deserves every right to be mentioned as one of the franchise’s all time best players. He has recorded the most home runs in post-season history. He has won multiple gold gloves. Bernie’s tendency to be overlooked can be partially blamed on his largely aloof personality. Perhaps that is why he underestimated the security concerns around Bank One Ball Park, causing him to be late to Game 7 of the World Series. Emotions were heightened around the clubhouse for good reason as it was, but no one was more furious at Bernie than Derek Jeter. He berated Bernie for being late, screaming at the top of his lungs that a more important place for Williams to be simply ceased to exist. Derek Jeter did not want anything to threaten the Yankees attempt to win the 2001 World Series. He leads the way.
Game 7 lived up to it’s billing as a classic pitcher’s duel. Clemens and Schilling traded zeroes until Danny Bautista’s double into the left center gap. The blow gave the Diamondback a 1-0 advantage. Bautista would be thrown out by an eyelash, sliding vainly into third, thanks to a perfect relay throw by Derek Jeter, who was only able to attempt the play because of an equally impressive toss by the weak armed Bernie Williams. Any sore feeling between the two Yankee stalwarts had surely vanished by than.
The Yankees would tie the game up on a Tino Martinez single to right field in the seventh. Schilling persevered, outlasting Clemens, pitching into the eighth inning. For the Yankees, with the game tied at 1, a debate was surely brewing as to whether Mariano Rivera should make an eighth inning appearance. The argument raged as Alfonso Soriano stepped up to the plate.
As Yankee Manager, Joe Torre had made a living out of these types of decisions. With dependable bench coach Don Zimmer at his side, Joe had navigated the Yankee ship to 4 world championships in five years. The fact that he was soundly butchered upon his arrival to New York by the media must have made it all the more sweeter for Joe, as he carved his name into the Mount Olympus of Yankee managers, along with Casey Stengel and Joe McCarthy. Dubbed “ Clueless Joe” before even managing his first game, Torre’s even handed style was the perfect fit for both the Yankee clubhouse and it’s Owner, who was better seen and not heard. It was a perfect formula, just another piece of the puzzle.
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