The ninth inning: 56k | 300k
|The Yankees thought there were home free with Mariano Rivera in the game.
PHOENIX -- When Alfonso Soriano's eighth-inning home run gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead, everyone in the New York dugout figured the game was over. After all, with Mariano Rivera taking the mound in the bottom of the inning, a fourth consecutive title was just six outs away. A mere formality.
The first three outs came easily, as Rivera struck out three batters in the eighth. Unfortunately for New York, the ninth inning didn't go exactly as planned.
"It was a high to a low," said Scott Brosius. "It was an unbelievable game, an exciting game. It must have been amazing to watch, much less play in. They just made it happen and one big inning put them over the top."
Mark Grace led off the ninth with a single, and Damian Miller tried to bunt him over to put the tying run in scoring position. Rivera fielded the bunt and threw to second base to get the lead runner, but his throw was wide of Derek Jeter, rolling into center field. Arizona had runners on first and second with no outs.
"I think if I had made that play to second base, that was the whole game right there," Rivera said. "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. It was the right play, the guy wasn't even halfway there when I threw to the base."
Jay Bell tried to bunt the runners over, but Rivera fielded the ball and threw to third, forcing out pinch-runner David Dellucci. Tony Womack doubled to right field, bringing home pinch-runner Midre Cummings to tie the game 2-2. Rivera then hit Craig Counsell, loading the bases for Luis Gonzalez, who blooped an 0-1 pitch over Jeter's head, giving Arizona its first World Series title.
"With Mo out there, you think he's going to pitch his way out of the jam," Brosius said. "One mistake changed the complexion of the inning, and to their credit, they got a couple of big hits and took advantage."
After the game, the mood in the Yankees clubhouse was one of stunned disbelief, as everyone tried to digest what had happened.
"You knew it was going to come down to a dramatic finish like that, a real tight game," said Tino Martinez. "Obviously we would have liked to have come out on top, but we played as well as we could. I thought Rivera did a great job, you have to tip your hats to the hitters. The only way you beat him is to get jam shots, bloop hits here and there. You have to credit their hitters for shortening their swings, putting the ball in play and finding holes."
"I'll tell you what, I did everything," said Rivera, who suffered his first career World Series blown save. "I left everything on the mound. 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."
Joe Torre, who said his players should be proud of what they accomplished this season, said that disappointments like this are part of playing the game.
"You realize how close you are, but on the other hand, we realize how many times we snatched it away from people when they were close," Torre said. "I certainly am proud of the way my ballclub responded to the pressure. We were not hitting but they got in a situation that put us with a lead and we put Mo in the game and that's all we really wanted."
Paul O'Neill, playing the final game of his 16-year career, said that a fourth straight title seemed like a lock when Rivera entered the game, but the Yankees simply got a taste of their own medicine on Sunday.
"Soriano hits that huge home run to give us a lead late in the game, and we're accustomed to winning those games," O'Neill said. "It just wasn't meant to be tonight. I'm sure we broke a lot of people's hearts tonight in New York, a lot of our fans. You just can't fight hits like that. He made his pitches, what can you do? Luis will tell you the same thing -- it wasn't the prettiest hit, but I'm sure it's the most enjoyable of his career."
"Rivera had been dominating us, the one guy we wanted to stay away from the whole World Series," said Gonzalez. "They got our ace reliever twice, but we got theirs the one time that it counted. So we consider it even."
O'Neill said that the defeat was not Rivera's fault, but that the Yankees had been outdone on this night.
"Everybody hurts for him, because Mariano's the best in the game that ever was," O'Neill said. "They had some balls fall in, a freak bunt play, then we get a big out and a couple of bloopers end it. Those are the things you can't defense. Those are the breaks of the game. We've had plenty of breaks over the years to help us win huge games. We didn't get them tonight. He didn't get hit hard, it was just bad, bad luck tonight. I hope the fans enjoyed it, it was a great series."
For the Yankees, it was their first postseason series defeat since they dropped the 1997 ALDS to the Cleveland Indians, and their first World Series loss since 1981. Brosius, who had won three championships in his first three years in pinstripes, was one of many Yankees to feel the sting of a Fall Classic defeat.
"It's no fun to be on this side of the dugout," Brosius said. "We've been pretty fortunate to get the chance four years in a row, being in the World Series. It's my first taste of being on this side, and it's not very much fun."
Mark Feinsand is the site reporter for Yankees.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.