The ninth inning: 56k | 300k
|Luis Gonzalez celebrates on his way to first base after driving in the game-winning run.
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Exclusive: WorldSeries.com Report
PHOENIX -- Bottom of the ninth. Bottom of the order.
Mariano Rivera on the mound. The three-time defending World Champion Yankees on the field.
"It couldn't have been scripted better," said Luis Gonzalez.
Well, that wasn't exactly the initial reaction in the dugout of the Diamondbacks on Sunday night, considering the task at hand.
Manager Bob Brenly had sent Curt Schilling out for the eighth inning on three days rest and he followed up the tying run he allowed in the seventh by serving up a go-ahead homer on an 0-2 splitter golfed into the seats by Alfonso Soriano in the eighth.
So the D-Backs trailed, 2-1, in Game 7 of the most exciting World Series in recent memory. Rivera struck out the side in the eighth and the Diamondbacks had three more outs left against a reliever who had converted his last 23 postseason saves.
"My first reaction was, 'Uh, oh, just don't embarrass yourself,' " said Mark Grace, who led off the bottom of the ninth. "But then the guys kept saying, 'You've got to believe, you've got to believe.' You know, the way things went in New York, we figured we owed those guys. They did it to us twice, why couldn't we do it to them? Even to Rivera."
So Grace, batting .133 in the Series entering the game, led off the ninth with a single to center, his third hit of the night.
"The key to Rivera is you can't try to pull it. You have to stay inside the ball, and Gracie is the best at that," said Steve Finley, who had two hits and scored Arizona's first run. "A base hit is your only chance, because he only gave up five homers all year, all to right-handers."
Dave Dellucci ran for Grace and Brenly had catcher Damian Miller, who struck out his three earlier at-bats, bunt.
It wasn't a good bunt, because it went straight back to Rivera fast enough that he had a play at second, but Rivera's throw was worse than the bunt and sailed into center field as Dellucci slid hard into shortstop Derek Jeter's ankle.
With Midre Cummings running for Miller, Brenly had Jay Bell hit for relief pitcher Randy Johnson. Bell bunted no better than Miller, this time Rivera throwing a strike to third base and forcing Dellucci.
"I'm mad at Brenly for running for me, I could've gotten thrown out at third," said Grace.
Tony Womack, who sparked the Game 6 onslaught with three hits and delivered the clutch two-out game-winning hit in Game 5 of the NL Division Series against St. Louis, stroked a stunning double down the right-field line, Cummings scoring to tie the game and put runners at second and third. Rivera said the pitch was inside enough to break Womack's bat, but not enough to get him out.
"At the last second, I get called up to bunt, end up laying down a terrible bunt back to Rivera. I'm on first base kicking myself when Tony comes through with a huge base hit," said Bell. "I know Curt and Randy were the co-MVPs but as far as I'm concerned there was a third one. Tony Womack was an MVP of this World Series."
Craig Counsell, a veteran of Game 7 heroics -- having knocked in the tying run and scoring the winning run for the Florida Marlins in 1997 -- loaded the bases when he was hit by a pitch.
"It started to look like it was happening the same way as '97," he said.
That brought up Luis Gonzalez, who hit 57 home runs during the year but was struggling in the postseason even before he was hit on the wrist by an Andy Pettitte pitch in Game 2 and lost the ability to pull. The most famous play in Phoenix sports history was, in the words of its star, "ugly."
With the infield playing in, Gonzalez flared a Rivera 0-1 pitch off the handle and it sailed almost in slow-motion over the mound, past second-base umpire Dale Scott, landing barely on the grass in center field. The ball seemed to die there -- along with the Yankees dynasty, aura and mystique -- as Bell scored the run that made the D-Backs champions.
"When I was going to the plate, I kind of choked up," said Gonzalez. "I was thinking, this is every kid's childhood dream, coming to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series with a chance to be a hero and win the game. It doesn't matter how it looked, it goes as a hit and a game-winning run. I couldn't believe it. I was running to first numb.
"They beat us twice back there and left us scratching our heads. We consider it even now."
Said Bell: "Once I saw Derek backpedaling, I saw they had no chance. I'm going home thinking, 'good gracious, this is it.' It's a great thrill and a great privilege to be in this position."
Three left-handed hitters got hits off Rivera in that inning, leading Counsell to imply that familiarity might have helped.
"We had already faced him three times in the series, so maybe our left-handed hitters had more of a plan against him," said Counsell. "I know you have to be aggressive when you get a ball out over the plate, because you don't get many. And for Womack to pull him down the line, that's unbelievable. It just doesn't happen."
Many things happened in this World Series that just don't happen. The final two innings, along with the postgame trophy presentation and celebration, took place in the rain on a field in a stadium with a roof that was open because, well, how often does it rain in Phoenix in November?
Probably about as often as the city celebrates a sports championship.
"Things were looking pretty bleak there, but strange things happened," said co-MVP Johnson, one of three starting pitchers used by Brenly in the game. "It was a very surreal situation."
Said Grace: "When Gonzo's ball fell in, the feeling that went through me was like I've never felt before. Did we just win the World Series? I think we did. It feels good to know I wasn't good enough to play first base for the Cubs, but I'm good enough to play first base for the world champions."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com