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World Series 2001
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10/28/2001 03:09 AM ET
Bauman: Yankees didn't look like champions
David Justice's two-base error in the third was just one of several mistakes by the Yankees.
Game highlights: 56k | 300k

PHOENIX -- Weren't the people wearing the road gray uniforms supposed to be the New York Yankees?

If you wanted to believe that one of these teams Saturday night was the three-time defending champion, not to mention a World Series perennial, you would have picked the other guys, the Series newcomers, the Arizona Diamondbacks.

It took less than three innings for faith to be replaced by confusion. David Justice dropped that fly ball in the third. True, it was a well-struck fly ball, to the warning track. But it was eminently catchable. Two unearned runs. Maybe Paul O'Neill should have started in right.

And then Scott Brosius managed to avoid that ground ball in the fourth. Three more unearned runs.

But for the most part, the New York Yankees could not catch the ball because the ball was hit to some place where it could not be caught. Starter Mike Mussina was hit early and often. Two home runs in three innings, one by Mr. Autumn, Craig Counsell, and the other by the D-Backs' most reliable run producer, Luis Gonzalez.

How many times does a Yankee starter get hammered in the World Series? Roughly three times in the last four Series. But on this night, two times through the Arizona Diamondbacks order and the only guy who didn't hurt Mussina was the pitcher, Curt Schilling.

Of course, Schilling did plenty of damage to the Yankees in the other half of the game. He simply overmatched many of them. He continued to be the best pitcher of the 2001 postseason. When you say something like that, you have to pause and note that the best postseason pitcher hasn't been employed by the Yankees.

By the fifth inning, the confusion was replaced by resignation. That was when Enrique Wilson pinch-hit for Randy Choate. Both of these people play for the New York Yankees. Think about what that might mean.

Meanwhile, back in the semi-desert, the other guys, the World Series rookies, the D-Backs, were playing with the poise and precision that are usually hallmarks of the Yankees' October work. Arizona Manager Bob Brenly, for three straight days, had been relentlessly characterizing his team's mood as "relaxed and confident." He apparently was correct. His team played as though it had been here before, even though it clearly had not. His team played as though it belonged here. Evidently, it does.

This defeat, even though it was 9-1 and was draped in elements of embarrassment for the Yankees, will not unhinge the New Yorkers. They have been behind before and come back to win. They were down, 0-2, as recently as the ALDS against Oakland.

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No, this outcome and the nature of this contest will have more impact on the other side. For all the talk about "relaxed and confident," the Arizona franchise and many of its key players have never come this far before. This lets them know not only that they belong, this lets them know that they can win. National League teams aren't the only ones Curt Schilling can beat in the postseason. And the D-Backs hit considerably better here than they had against NL postseason competition.

So in the home clubhouse at Bank One Ballpark some of the old-timers were having a good time describing what this was like.

For instance, Mike Morgan, 42, pitched a perfect relief inning in his first World Series performance. Twenty-three years in professional baseball and finally he gets a taste. He said he was usually hunting in Utah during this time of the year. This experience beat a sleeping bag for him, but it did not exactly intimidate him.

"I'm not naive to the fact that this is the Fall Classic," Morgan said. "No, I am not naive to the Fall Classic. But as far as what we do for a living, it's one, two, three outs, the inning's over. Twenty-seven outs, nine innings. In a way, it's just another baseball game."

Meanwhile, Mark Grace, the 37-year-old first baseman who had a double and two RBIs, was delivering something of a monologue in front of his locker. He was a bit further down Excitement Boulevard than Morgan.

"It was better than anything I could ever imagine," Grace said of his first World Series game. "It was better than sex. But then again, I'm kind of lousy at that, so this would have to be a little better.

"But yeah, it was everything that I've ever dreamed about and more, especially the first World Series game I ever play in, you go out and win it like that. It's going to be fun to sit on this one for a while. I'll just sit around here and enjoy it for a while. But by the same token, we've got work to do tomorrow."

Thanks, Gracie. It was with this combination of enjoyment and professionalism that the Arizona Diamondbacks emerged from their first World Series experience. It's a different group, some of them with so many years in the game, coming to this moment nevertheless as World Series rookies.

But the D-Backs looked like the Series veterans in this one, all poise and purpose. No, this showing, this defeat, won't sink the Yankees. But this victory will give the Diamondbacks a lift. They arrived at a World Series and they started out by playing their best game. This kind of thing can remove lingering doubts and in their place put something much more like: "OK, maybe we can really do this."

Mike Bauman 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.