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World Series 2001
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10/31/2001 12:34 PM ET
Soriano, Spencer save game with defense
By Spencer Fordin
MLB.com
Alfonso Soriano's diving stop of Erubiel Durazo's hot grounder kept Reggie Sanders from scoring the go-ahead run in the sixth.
  • D-Backs' defense has night to forget
    Game 3 highlights: 56k | 300k
    More video highlights ...

    NEW YORK -- Consider this: Without two defensive gems on Tuesday night, the Yankees would be down to their last gasp. Alfonso Soriano and Shane Spencer made two huge plays in the sixth inning of Game 3, perhaps saving the game and the Series in the process.

    Think that's an overstatement? Look at it this way -- the Yankees were down two games, tied with two outs and Arizona's go-ahead run on second base. Without Soriano's diving stop and Spencer's sliding catch, the Diamondbacks squeeze into the driver's seat.

    Instead, the Yankees scored in the bottom of the sixth and hung on to win their first game of the Series.

    "Maybe it charged us up a little bit," Spencer said. "Then (Scott) Brosius came up with the big hit."

    "Those are usually the plays that win ballgames," said Yankee reliever Mike Stanton. "In no-hitters, there's always one play. And these games are like that -- they're so close."

    A 2-1 win can turn on so many small things -- a called strike here or a dropped ball there. Arizona kicked the ball around with distressing frequency on Tuesday night, but none of their miscues came back to hurt them.

    Ultimately, what damaged the D-Backs is the fact that the Yankees saved their best defense for when they needed it most.

    "This is more like us," Joe Torre said after the game. "Of course, with the conditions tonight, you never know. The wind was swirling and it was not an easy game to play."

    No, it wasn't. Soriano and Spencer just made it look that way.

    With two outs in the sixth and Reggie Sanders on second, Erubiel Durazo rifled a ball toward right field. Soriano took a few steps to his left and dove for the ball, spearing it before it could get past him.

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    Without time to stand up and gather himself, Soriano threw from his knees. The throw was wide of the bag, though, and Durazo safely cruised into first. If Soriano hadn't been able to snare the ball, Sanders would've scored easily.

    "It was a very important run for our opponent. It would've put them ahead," said Soriano, via an interpreter. "I'm very happy I was able to keep that ball in the infield, even though I didn't get the out."

    "Huge play by Soriano, just to knock the ball down," Spencer said. "And he almost made a great play to get us out of the inning."

    Since he didn't, that responsibility fell on Spencer's shoulders. Matt Williams, who is playing in his third World Series with his third different team, sent a hard liner into left field.

    Spencer didn't have far to run, but he didn't have much time either. He ended up making a fine reaction play, sliding and stealing the ball before it hit the turf.

    "I wasn't sure if it was going to get to me," Spencer said. "The way we've been scoring runs -- we haven't -- I gotta go get it. We can't afford to give up that run right there."

    It was that awareness, that special instinct that allowed Soriano and Spencer to make their key plays. They both knew they had to get to the ball -- or bust their butt trying.

    "In the instant the ball hit the bat, I knew it wouldn't be a routine play," Soriano said. "I knew that I had to give my all to at least get to the ball. Maybe in the regular season, it's a different atmosphere and I don't get to it. In the playoffs, I know I have to give my all, because every play is really important."

    Their teammates knew it, too. Roger Clemens, who earned the win in Game 3, pumped his fist repeatedly after Spencer made the game-saving catch. The Rocket, who has some other nicknames on this team, waited for Spencer by the first-base line. When Spencer sprinted in, Clemens gave him a huge handshake as they walked to the dugout.

    "That's the most exciting part, coming in and seeing the Hoss there," Spencer said. "You gotta make sure you slap him hard -- otherwise he'll break your hand."

    Go easy on those hands, fellas. You still have a lot of work to do, if you expect to win another World Series.

    Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com.