PHOENIX In celebrating with his teammates in the champagne-soaked Arizona Diamondbacks clubhouse Sunday night, Mark Grace was in a state of shock.
“Somebody told me we just beat the New York Yankees and Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the ninth inning,” Grace said. “I still don’t believe it. But here I am, wearing this shirt that says ‘World Series Champions.’ So it must be true.”
It was true. Grace himself was a part of it, leading off one of the most memorable ninth innings in baseball history with a single that jump-started the Diamondbacks’ game-winning rally.
It only seemed too incredible to be real. Much like the entire 2001 World Series.
The greatest ever? Those who were there for Bill Mazeroski in 1960, Carlton Fisk in 1975 or Jack Morris in 1991 may have an argument.
The latest version of the Fall Classic, which the fourth-year Diamondbacks captured with a dramatic 3-2 victory over the Yankees in Game 7, will certainly take its rightful place among the best Series of all time, and in due time could wind up at the top of the list.
“I just hope that was as fun to watch as it was to play in,” Arizona’s Curt Schilling said. “Because that’s got to be one of the greatest World Series ever played.”
It wasn’t just the fact that the Diamondbacks came back to score two runs in the bottom of the ninth against Rivera, the most dominating closer in postseason history. That was merely the icing on the cake of a World Series dripping with gooey drama from the start.
Never has a Series been so rich with theater, been filled with so many story lines, seen two teams experience such a range of emotions in such a short amount of time.
The 1960, ‘75 and ‘91 World Series had great moments. This one had plenty of those, but it also had context.
Like the Yankees’ quest for a fourth straight title, something that hadn’t been done since the Bronx Bombers won five in a row from 1949 to 1953. Or the fact that, given recent world events, manager Joe Torre’s team was playing for a cause more meaningful than a simple trophy.
“We represented more than just baseball fans,” Torre said. “The people that needed a lift, I think we entertained them.”
There were heroic pitching performances from both teams, each one more impressive than the previous. From Schilling starting three times in nine days to Roger Clemens finally erasing any doubt that he is a big-game pitcher to unsung outings by Arizona’s Brian Anderson and Miguel Batista.
And above all, there was Randy Johnson, retiring four straight batters out of the bullpen in Game 7, one night after throwing 102 pitches.
“When people got wind that maybe I would be in the bullpen today, they said, ‘Are you kidding? I mean, you pitched yesterday,’” said Johnson, who earned co-MVP honors with Schilling. “But this is the World Series.”
There were seemingly more clutch hits than most major league teams get in an entire season. Tino Martinez, Derek Jeter and Scott Brosius homering with the game on the line at Yankee Stadium. Backup Danny Bautista making beleaguered Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly look like a genius each time he stepped to the plate. Tony Womack and Luis Gonzalez coming through for Arizona with everything on the line in Game 7.
More than any individual performance, though, this series was about two teams that never stopped battling back from whatever knockout punch the other tried to deliver.
Arizona wins Games 1 and 2 at home by a combined 12 runs? New York comes back to take Game 3 at Yankee Stadium, 2-1.
The Diamondbacks threaten to take a commanding series lead by taking a two-run lead into the ninth innings of both Games 4 and 5? The Yankees rally as only they can, hitting three dramatic home runs and making a household name out of Byung-Hyun Kim.
New York returns west looking to shut the door on its record 27th World Series title? The Diamondbacks show their resiliency, pounding the ball into every cranny of Bank One Ballpark during a Game 6 blowout of epic proportions.
And then, a decisive Game 7 that lived up to every ounce of its pregame hype.
Said Arizona general manager Joe Garagiola Jr.: “If they had taken my pulse tonight, it would have looked like the Richter Scale in the 1989 World Series.”
The BOB shook as though an earthquake hit when Gonzalez blooped a bases-loaded single to shallow center field in the bottom of the ninth, scoring Jay Bell with the winning run. While the Diamondbacks celebrated on the field and their fans rejoiced in the stands, Rivera and his Yankees teammates trudged back to their clubhouse, not fully able to comprehend the sudden turn of events that may have ended a dynasty.
“They took it away; that’s the hardest part,” New York catcher Jorge Posada said. “We did it to them, and then they did it to us.”
And baseball may never experience another World Series like it.