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World Series 2001
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11/07/2001 06:43 PM ET
Browne: Rivera suffers rarest of losses
Mariano Rivera lost the first World Series game of his career Sunday.
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PHOENIX -- When rookie Alfonso Soriano smashed a solo shot off Arizona ace Curt Schilling in the top of the eighth inning of Sunday's Game 7 of the World Series, there were three immediate thoughts that came to the Yankees and their legions of fans.

The first was they had the lead, if only a slight one at 2-1. The second was that it was Mariano Rivera time. The third was that the World Series was over, the Yankees were going to win their fourth straight.

That is the ridiculous standard Rivera has set while developing into the game's premier closer the last four years. Considering that the eerily calm righty from Panama was probably the key reason the Yankees had won it all the last three seasons, it was only fitting that he would supply the knockout punch in this riveting finale.

This is why it was all so utterly shocking for the Yankees by the time it was over and they weren't the world champs. It wasn't so much that the Diamondbacks won the game by a 3-2 score.

It was how they won. They beat Rivera. In the postseason, especially the World Series, that just doesn't happen. But it did.

"I'm not perfect," said Rivera, not long after his heart and his team's championship hopes were broken. "I was trying to do my best. Unfortunately it didn't happen today. I just couldn't finish it off."

And it's hard to know who was shocked the most by it.

"When the (Soriano) home run goes out, the game is over as far as we're concerned," said Yankees lefty Andy Pettitte. "Mariano's been that great. It's a shame that there is that kind of expectation on anyone, but he's automatic. All he showed tonight was that he's a human being and bad things can happen. He gave up one hard-hit ball and got the loss. That's baseball."

And such a cruel and wildly surprising sport it can be.

"It's 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth with Mariano on the mound, most teams would give up," said Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.

Jeter wasn't being outrageous. Look it up in recent history.

For these Yankees, it's been Rivera and rings.

But what do you know? The man is human. After baffling the D-Backs in the eighth, it was all but assumed he would do so again in the ninth.

OK, nothing is automatic. But Rivera had given that theory a severe test. He had converted all eight of his save opportunities in World Series play. In fact, he was perfect in his last 23 save opportunities in the postseason.

The last time Rivera had coughed one up in the playoffs was Game 4 of the 1997 Division Series, when Sandy Alomar took him deep. That was also the last time the Yankees had gone home without a World Series ring. Until now.

It all happened so fast in that bottom of the ninth, it's hard to know just where to begin.

There was the leadoff single up the middle by Mark Grace to get the ball rolling. Then came what was the key play of the game.

Damian Miller laid down a bunt toward Rivera, and it wasn't a good one. Without hesitation, Rivera picked it up and fired it to second. Unfortunately, it was the worst peg he made all night. It hopped into center field. A sure out was lost. The Diamondbacks had first and second with no outs. For the first time, there was actually a feeling that the Yankees might not win.

But Rivera remained calm. There was no sweating. No look of worry. He looked as determined and confident as ever.

"I don't second guess anything I threw," said the 31-year-old Rivera, who had a career high 50 saves this season. "I think if I had made that play to second base, that was the whole game right there. If I had made that play to second base, we would have had a good chance. I didn't have a good grip on the ball and it just took off."

Then there was another bunt by Jay Bell. Again, Rivera hopped off the mound quick as a cat. This time he got the lead runner at third. But still it was first and second with one out. Tony Womack was up.

Rivera jammed Womack enough to break his bat. But not enough to keep him from causing all kinds of trouble. It was a double inside the first base line and down to the right field corner. Midre Cummings scooted home, and it was tied at two. The save had been blown.

The rest of it seemed inevitable. Craig Counsell was hit by a pitch to load the bases with one out. Then Luis Gonzalez hit a little bloop that landed just behind shortstop and popped into center field. That plucky little single scored Bell and ended the World Series. Not since the Yankees of 1949-53 had anyone captured as many as four consecutive world titles.

They came so close, these Yankees. But Rivera finally found a game he couldn't finish.

The Diamondbacks were a little stunned too. Pleasantly so, of course.

"Mariano Rivera is the best reliever in the game," said Grace. "In order to beat him, you have to get a little lucky. And we got a little lucky. Beating Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the ninth inning is unbelievable. It's like winning in the bottom of the ninth against God."

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In actuality, Rivera's stuff wasn't much less Godly than usual. He had that nasty cutter. He had that rising fastball that the Diamondbacks were taking feeble cuts at. And he was hitting the corners. Sometimes the other guys just beat you. It's just that Rivera hasn't experienced it very often.

That said, he faced the music with class. He made no excuses.

"I'll tell you what, I did everything, I left everything on the mound," said Rivera. "I'm not going to second guess myself. I was feeling good. I couldn't finish it up. I threw the pitches that I wanted to throw. They hit it."

The feeling in the Yankees clubhouse was a strange one. Yes, they were disappointed. But they put the ball exactly where they wanted it. In Rivera's trusty right arm.

He had been such a machine that there was no way they could be down on him after one mishap. Even if it was Game 7 of the World Series.

"You feel good having (Rivera) on the mound," Yanks third baseman Scott Brosius said. "He's the best there is. He's the best in the business. You just have to tip your cap. They beat our best. That's what it should come down to."

"He made his pitches," said Yanks first baseman Tino Martinez. "You have to tip your hat to their hitters. Anything can happen, it's baseball."

And on this night, that theory was stretched to the limit. The ultimate "anything can happen" did happen. Rivera coughed up Game 7 of the World Series.

It's going to take a while for it to sink in for the Yankees.

Ian Browne is a columnist for MLB.com. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.