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Bottom of ninth belonged to Arizona when it counted



Published: Tue, November 6, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



In the end, it all came down to every baseball-playing kid's dream: to come up to bat in the bottom of the ninth, with the score tied in game seven of the World Series -- against the New York Yankees, of course -- facing Mariano Rivera, arguably the best closer in the game. Get a hit, you're a hero, your name goes in the record books, and countless babies will be named for you. Hit into a double-play, giving the Bronx Bombers their fourth championship in a row, and your name is banished to ignominy, a dark spot forever on the family escutcheon, the sins of their father to be visited upon your children.

Choices: For Luis Gonzalez, that was the choice. It was crystal clear. There was a right way and a wrong way; success or failure; the trip to Disney World or a winter in seclusion watching Disney reruns with the kids.

Gonzo was no inexperienced rookie; he'd played for years with Houston, put in a season and a half with the Cubs, and a season with Detroit before coming to Arizona and was regarded as a solid hitter. But he'd been hitless in his first four at bats in game seven, despite a .325 average in the regular season. Still at 32, he had the kid's dream of bottom-of-the-ninth heroics.

The Arizona Diamondbacks were an unlikely World Series contender: an expansion team in only its fourth year with a coach, Bob Brenley, in his first year. Somehow, they'd managed to capitalize on home field advantage and beaten the Yankees in the first two games. But in the next three, back home in Yankee Stadium, the hope of New Yorkers showed the young upstarts from the desert just how the game was played -- stealing games three and four with home runs to tie in the bottom of the ninth and going on to win in extra innings.

But game six was another story. Like the Phoenix namesake of their city, the Diamondbacks arose from the ashes and soared above the Yankees, 15-2, with every player getting a hit, even pitcher Randy Johnson.

What a game: The seventh game was about as pure baseball as the game can be. Arizona's Curt Schilling starting for the third time in a do-or-die rotation that would have killed a lesser talent in the regular season, was up against the Yankees' Roger Clemens.

Five and a half innings of scoreless ball. Bottom of the sixth: one run scores. Top of the seventh: the game is even. Top of the eighth: Soriano homers to put the Yankees ahead 2-1, and Randy Johnson, with less than 24 hours since his dominating victory in game six, is called to pitch in relief. Bottom of the eight: in comes Rivera, and so much for the Diamondbacks.

It should have been over then, with the Yankees ahead going into the ninth, with the had-to-be-exhausted Johnson against the ace reliever Rivera, the 1999 Series' MVP.

But somebody forgot to tell the Diamondbacks that the Series was over. Someone forgot to tell them that bottom-of-the-ninth heroics were reserved for the Yankees. And somebody forgot to tell Gonzalez that World Series dreams were only for little kids.

And Johnson got win number three, Schilling and Johnson shared the Series' MVP, and Gonzalez got to reassure every Little Leaguer in the world that dreams really can come true.




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