- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 27, 2001

PHOENIX One is the undisputed team of the century, the proud owner of a seemingly permanent World Series reservation and the most hallowed ballpark in the world.

The other has existed for less than half a decade, has exactly one player on its roster who owns a Series ring and is the proud owner of the only major league stadium with a swimming pool beyond the outfield fence.

Calling the New York Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks polar opposites is too kind. If the Yankees are the North Pole, the Diamondbacks are the South Pole on Neptune.

That doesn't mean this relatively unknown group from the Arizona desert, National League champion in its fourth season, is intimidated by the prospect of facing the 26-time champions in the World Series.

"We can't even come close to laying claim to the postseason experience they have," said Diamondbacks pitcher Curt Schilling, who takes the mound against Mike Mussina for Game 1 tonight at Bank One Ballpark. "But when you use the words 'mystique' and 'aura,' those are dancers in a nightclub. Those are not things we concern ourselves with on the ballfield."

If Schilling comes across as a light-hearted and unassuming character, he's only mirroring his teammates' demeanor. The Diamondbacks are a loose, happy-go-lucky bunch that is ready to introduce itself to the world and take on the Bronx Bombers and all their glory.

"We've got a team full of guys who have been looking forward to the next week their whole lives, and I want them to enjoy it," said Bob Brenly, who takes a decidedly laissez-faire approach to managing. "The last thing in the world I want to see is a bunch of tight butts out there. I want them to go out there and enjoy this, win, lose or draw. This is what they have played their whole careers for, and I want them to milk it for everything it's worth."

Phoenix as a major league city may be short on experience, but on an individual level, these Diamondbacks are loaded with veterans reveling at the chance to make their first World Series appearance.

Only five roster members have been here before (Schilling, second baseman Craig Counsell, third baseman Matt Williams, outfielder Steve Finley and left-hander Brian Anderson), and only one owns a ring (Counsell, in 1997 with the Florida Marlins).

Luis Gonzalez, who led the Diamondbacks with 57 homers, is in the World Series for the first time in an 11-year career. Jay Bell, Mark Grace and Randy Johnson are in their 13th seasons, Bobby Witt his 14th, Greg Swindell his 15th. And reliever Mike Morgan, at 42 and pitching for his record 12th organization, has waited 19 years for this.

"I really defy anybody to try to wipe the smile off my face because it's been a long time coming," said Grace, who spent 12 years with the Chicago Cubs before taking a pay cut to sign with Arizona this season. "This opportunity has presented itself, and now we can't be happy just being here. We have to kick the door in and go and win this thing because this opportunity unless you are with the Yankees may not present itself again."

Easier said than done. The Diamondbacks faced stiff competition in the Cardinals and Braves to get to this point, but they've never faced anything like the Yankees, winners of 16 of their last 17 World Series games and seeking a fourth straight title.

Since dropping the first two games of the American League Division Series to Oakland, New York has breezed past the A's and Mariners and once again enters the World Series as a prohibitive favorite. The Yankees boast a more consistent lineup, a deeper bench and a much more reliable bullpen.

And, of course, there's that whole experience factor.

"What we have accomplished over the past few years has been nuts, it really has," manager Joe Torre said. "There's no way you could ever foresee that or understand why it happens, because you really have to be efficient so consistently. And we have been able to do that."

For the Diamondbacks to end the Yankees' reign, conventional wisdom says their 1-2 pitching punch of Schilling and Johnson are the keys. As it stands, the two are scheduled to make four combined starts (Games 1, 2, 5 and 6), though there is speculation that Brenly would start both on three days' rest if his team is trailing in the Series.

"Conventional wisdom is wrong," said Schilling, who has thrown three complete games in this year's postseason. "It's not going to be [Johnson and I] winning the World Series. It has not been Randy and I winning this whole thing anyways. It's been 25 guys, and it's going to take the entire roster to win four games from the New York Yankees."

For three years, no club in baseball has been able to do that.


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