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WORLD SERIES GAME 7 / Arizona 3, New York 2 | BILL
PLASCHKE

Diamond Rings

A Series That Never Slept

November 05, 2001|Bill Plaschke

PHOENIX — One brief journey. One enduring message.

The ball floated into shallow left field at 9:17 p.m. here Sunday, through swirling dust and disbelief, suspended in the desert air as the raucous crowd fell momentarily silent.

The ball dangled above the browning grass for a moment, solitary, but not alone.

Within its white shell were the lessons of parents, the urgings of coaches, the cliches of childhood.

Never give up. The ball fell into an unoccupied patch of earth, the Arizona Diamondbacks stole a world championship from the New York Yankees, and now those words have a face.

It is the shock of Luis Gonzalez as he grabbed his helmeted head with both hands. It is the wonder of Tony Womack as he pointed to the sky.

It is the stony stare of Mariano Rivera as he walked off the mound. It is the wounded grimace of Joe Torre, who was waiting for him.

It was seen in the Diamondback fans weeping in the aisles, the concessions workers dancing on their tables, nearly 50,000 people who sat in the rain to sing.

It is the face of what will be remembered as an Out Of This World Series, completed Sunday with Arizona's comeback, ninth-inning, 3-2 victory in Game 7 at Bank One Ballpark.

Look familiar, did it? Remember, the Yankees won twice in New York after identical two-run comebacks in their last at-bat.

Payback was a stitch.

"Did we just win a World Series?" asked Mark Grace, standing amid the infield celebration, laughing. "Somebody tell me. Are we really the world champions?"

A nutty question, but a legitimate one.

The Diamondbacks did more than simply bring this town its first major sports championship.

They scaled baseball's Everest to get it.

In the 58th inning of a 58-inning series, they beat arguably the best dynasty in baseball history.... while facing arguably the best postseason pitcher in baseball history.

Mariano Rivera had not blown a postseason save in four years. The Diamondbacks tied the score against him in four batters, then won it in six.

"They got us in New York, but now we got 'em back," said Grace, who started the ninth-inning rally with a single. "Somehow, some way, we got 'em."

After watching Tino Martinez and Derek Jeter and Scott Brosius all hit comeback homers last week through the chilly Yankee Stadium mist, we thought it couldn't get any better.

It just did.

After watching the Yankees take a 2-1 lead here entering the ninth inning with closer Rivera and his record 0.70 postseason ERA, we thought the season was finished.

We were wrong.

"I looked over at Grace and said, 'Man, it's time for us to create out own magic,"' said the Diamondbacks' David Dellucci. "The fans believed it. We believed it."

Now, the rest of us must believe it.

If this was not one of the best World Series ever, has there been one with better final scenes? Of the seven games, only two were truly decided before the ninth inning.

After a depressing regular season in which two of its brightest stars retired while one of its most prickly personalities broke the home run record, the lucky baseball world woke up in a series that didn't sleep.

"[I] didn't sleep for the last week and a half," said Gonzalez, who had the game-winning hit against unhittable Rivera. "And probably won't sleep for another week and a half now."

In a week dominated by the likes of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling and Derek Jeter and Roger Clemens, the theme was best expressed by a postseason star of another era.

Yeah, Yogi Berra.

The part about it ain't being over until, well, you know.

Of course, in the final moments Sunday, nobody even believed Yogi.

"Did I think we had a good chance of winning with Rivera on the mound? Absolutely," said New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, watching from the box seats. "The game was virtually over."

The Yankees had taken a lead in the eighth inning with Alfonso Soriano's leadoff homer against tiring Schilling.

Bob Brenly, Diamondback manager, had seemingly blown it again by allowing Schilling to bat for himself in the bottom of the seventh even though Schilling had given up five hard-hit balls to six batters in the top of the inning.

A sudden wind swept dust and trash into the partially covered stadium. Torre summoned Rivera, who struck out three batters in the eighth. It was finished.

But then the loudspeakers blared a recording, and the fans started inexplicably singing.

"We will, we will, rock you ... "

Soon, the players caught on.

"Everybody in the dugout started saying, 'We believe, we believe,"' said Grace, who stepped up to start the inning.

Not that, um, he completely believed. "Actually, considering this was Rivera, I thought, just survive," he said. "I thought, don't embarrass yourself."

He took a 93-mph ball, then knocked a single up the middle, and was replaced by pinch-runner Dellucci.

Damian Miller laid down a bunt, and another hero appeared when Dellucci knocked the ball out of Jeter's glove on Rivera's wide throw to second base.

"I was just thinking, stay alive," said Dellucci.

Two batters later, Womack's thoughts were even simpler.

"I said to myself, see ball, hit ball," he said.

He did both, lining a double down the right-field line, setting up Craig Counsell to be nicked with a pitch, bringing up Gonzalez.

The same, 57-homer Gonzalez who had come up twice with runners on base in this game and couldn't get the ball out of the infield. But this wasn't just any at-bat, or any game, or any series. "We found a way," Counsell said.As this Out of the World Series taught us, champions always do.

*

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com.

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