'You've gotta believe!' The Diamondbacks did just that during the 2001 World Series
Randy Johnson celebrates after beating the Yankees in Game 7 of the World Series in Phoenix, AZ.
“You’ve gotta believe!”
That was the Diamondbacks’ rallying cry over and over throughout a mildly chilly evening on Nov. 4, 2001, at Bank One Ballpark. It was Sunday, Game 7 of the World Series against the 26-time world champion New York Yankees, the Pinstripes were hungry for a fourth straight title, and they were closing in on it.
The mood turned almost surreal in the top of the seventh inning when a dust storm suddenly blew into the stadium, blowing trash around and momentarily darkening the field. As a light rain followed and suddenly stopped, Diamondbacks players kept telling each other the same thing.
“We can do this! We can!” left fielder Luis Gonzalez remembered imploring his teammates.
“You’ve gotta believe!”
This Diamondbacks team believed all year, starting way back at the beginning of spring training in Tucson. They were assembled for just this kind of occasion, this type of moment – a veteran band of players from different teams – coming together to win as one and bring Arizona its first major sports championship.
“In spring training, our goal wasn’t to get to the World Series, it was to win the World Series,” Gonzalez said. “And we believed in our hearts that we could do that.”
Though they were known to joke and clown around like college boys, the 2001 Diamondbacks played harder than they ever partied. For many of them, such as infielders Mark Grace, Matt Williams and Jay Bell to outfielders Steve Finley and Reggie Sanders and their ace pitcher, Randy Johnson, they knew this might be their last chance at World Series glory.
They weren’t about to spit it away.
As Finley said earlier in the season: “Everybody came to camp this year healthy and in some of the best shape I’ve ever seen these guys. We know we have a golden opportunity here and we want to be ready to take advantage of that.”
A pair of 18-win months in May and June helped solidify their expectations. Winning eight of their final 11 games, they captured their second National League West Division title, going 92-70 to finish two wins ahead of the second-place Giants.
Upon dispatching both the Cardinals and Braves in the NL divisional and championship series, it was time to put the Diamondbacks’ belief to the ultimate test by facing the vaunted Yankees in the Fall Classic. Given the backdrop of the September 11 attacks and the grief and fatigue that swallowed all of New York, the Yankees were the sentimental favorites.
And really, who could argue that?
Flash back to Game 7 after the almost-apparitional swirling wind and rain appearance, and the Yankees found themselves just six outs away from winning it all. Alfonso Soriano had just golfed an 0-2 pitch from Curt Schilling over the left field wall to lead off the eighth inning to give New York a 2-1 lead.
Schilling struck out Scott Brosius and allowed a single to David Justice, but the Diamondbacks managed to get out of the inning. Miguel Batista, Arizona’s Game 5 starter, came in to relieve Schilling and record the next out. Manager Bob Brenly then called upon Johnson, his Game 6 starting pitcher, to get the final out of the eighth, which he did.
But the Diamondbacks’ backs were squarely against the wall as Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, who hadn’t blown a save since 1997 – a full year before Arizona ever played its first major-league game – slowly and coolly strode to the mound. It didn’t look good for the home team.
The Yankees, after all, hadn’t lost a game they had led after eight innings in the postseason since dropping Game 4 of the 1947 World Series to the Brooklyn Dodgers. And on this night, they had the “Sandman” on the hill with his devastating slider, ready to put the Diamondbacks to bed.
It was time to believe. “You’ve gotta believe!”
“We were all in the dugout saying, ‘We believe. You’ve gotta believe,'” Grace said at the time. “We weren’t just thinking it. We were saying it out loud.”
They believed in Game 1 and the result was a dominating, almost too-easy 9-1 victory over the Bronx Bombers. Craig Counsell and Gonzalez each homered, Sanders reached base three times and Grace drove in a pair of runs. Schilling, meanwhile, pitched seven low-stress innings, which including having to throw only 18 total pitches to the final 14 batters he faced.
After the game, Finley gave the baseball he caught for the final out to Jerry Colangelo, the team’s managing general partner.
“I was happy to do it,” Finley said.
As a certified Yankee hater, this was a pleasure to watch back almost 20 years later.
But even now, knowing the result, it seems impossible.
Arizona manager Bob Brenly let Curt Schilling go out for one inning too many — simple as that. Schilling, who started on three days rest, was untouchable through six innings (albeit with the benefit of umpire Steve Rippley's absurdly wide strike zone), but showed signs of slowing in the seventh. He escaped with just one run allowed in the seventh, but Steve Finley needed to race into left center field to catch a hard-hit fly ball from Shane Spencer to avoid a complete blowup.
In the eighth, a very young Alfonso Soriano golfed a Schilling pitch over the left-field wall to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead, and Schilling finally got the hook.
Miguel Batista and Randy Johnson recorded the last two outs of the inning, but based on what we knew was coming, the game was over. It had to be.
Mariano Rivera would pitch the last two innings of the game. He came in with a 0.70 ERA in his postseason career, and had converted 24 of his 25 playoff save opportunities.
And Rivera summarily struck out the side in the bottom of eighth.
Done. No chance. Another revolting Yankees celebration for this young Orioles fan to watch.
But Brenly turned out to be Nostradamus. During his mound visit to remove Schilling, he made a prediction, presumably to relieve the pitcher's frustration for being in line for the loss.
"That ain’t going to beat us," Brenly said. "We’re going to get that back and then some."
After Johnson cruised through the top half of the ninth inning, everything came together in the bottom half.
The 37-year-old Mark Grace singled up the middle, then Damian Miller got a bunt down, in an attempted sacrifice to move the tying run to second. Rivera fielded the bunt, but instead of getting the sure out at first, he chucked the ball into center field, in an attempt to get the lead runner at second.
Pinch hitter Jay Bell put down another bunt, but this time Rivera gunned down the lead runner at third. Now, with a runner at first and second with one out, a double play could end it.
Tony Womack had other ideas. The shortstop whacked a double down the right field line to tie the game.
Rivera hit Craig Counsell with a pitch to load the bases, and the infield was in to face Luis Gonzalez.
Rivera struck out Gonzalez in the eighth, but the outfielder got just enough of the ball in the ninth. The jam-shot bloop over shortstop Derek Jeter's head would have been easily fielded if the infield wasn't in, but it landed softly, a step onto the outfield grass, to score Bell and give the Diamondbacks their only World Series victory.
The Yankees dynasty that began in 1996 was mercifully over.
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