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World Series 2001
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10/15/2001 04:37 AM ET
Renck: D-Backs' win ranks with city's biggest ever
The Diamondbacks celebrate their Game 5 victory.
PHOENIX -- Up with Purple. The dream lives on.

The Arizona Diamondbacks finally won a playoff series. They are in Major League Baseball's Final Four. Let that roll off the tongue Diamondbacks fans. Get used to the sound.

Your sleepy little team is eight wins away from the sport's holy grail. They are National League Division Series Champs -- whatever that means -- with only the vulnerable Atlanta Braves standing between them and the World Series.

This in itself, given that the club hatched from its egg just four years ago, is remarkable. Expansion outfits are supposed to be the professional sports equivalent of homecoming teams -- humble overachievers who spend their Octobers lowering their handicaps.

Instead, the Diamondbacks have clearly outplayed their expansion twin Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who haven't had a winning season yet. The D-Backs have two playoff appearances in four years, and have a chance to match another recent startup -- the Florida Marlins -- who won the World Series in their fourth year, in 1997.

Though a bit unfair given the absence of the Wild Card, the Chicago Cubs' can barely match Arizona's success if they go back over box scores from the last half century.

"Yep. No question. This is the best moment of my career. I'm sorry, you need to give me a second," said Diamondbacks first baseman Mark Grace, fighting back tears in the jubilant clubhouse that was soaking and reeking of Martinelli's sparkling apple cider. "I'm a little emotional. To do this? Wow, wow, I'm just drained. It means so much."

Grace could be excused for drowning in hyperbole. As a Cubs lifer until this Spring, he has long been identified with lovable losing. But what he said, if only by accident, applied not only to his career but the jersey he now wears.

It's impossible to overestimate the impact of Arizona's 2-1 win Sunday, which will cling to brains long after the players involved disappear.

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This Game 5 -- accompanied by drama straight off the Silver Screen -- was nothing short of a watershed moment for the Diamondbacks. And the win, if you follow the confetti trail, was one of the biggest in the state's professional sports history -- by any franchise.

Oh sure, a compelling argument could be made that the Phoenix Suns breaking through into the 1976 NBA Finals was comparable. As longtime local columnist Joe Gilmartin pointed out, "you never forget your first. When that team played the (Boston) Celtics everybody was talking about them."

But let's be honest, the NBA Finals -- unless Michael Jordan is playing -- aren't the World Series. The scope and magnitude of baseball's title event draws even leisurely fans into the tent. People who don't know a foul ball from a fowl meal willingly elbow their way onto the National Pastime's bandwagon.

Yet what really made this win, this ulcer-spawning, heart-exploding clincher so significant were the stakes. The Diamondbacks are, in many ways, at a forked tongue in the road. They are hemorrhaging red ink, the byproduct of signing pricey free agents and trading for star talent since their inception.

Worse, their fans, while solid in core, aren't getting loopy about this group (though that might change now that the Snakes have taken that next step, particularly given the passion and decibels present at The BOB Sunday). Unless bobbleheads are involved, a sellout is generally impossible.

In this series' three home games, the Diamondbacks didn't draw more than 43,000. To be fair, some of that has to do with the strange climate we live in. There's trepidation about being outside in a public venue and more hesitation to spend freely in a sagging economy.

And what would happen, some have whispered, if the Diamondbacks weren't winning? If luring folks into the Comb-over Dome is hard now, what would it be like if the club sliced payroll? No one knows if that's in the plans.

Even if the budget remains constant, the age issue can't be overlooked. Third baseman Matt Williams, one of Sunday's stars, suggested that Arizona's motto should be "Anyway We Can."

But "Going for the Old" might be more appropriate for this Centrum Silver collection of veterans. If the Diamondbacks lost, it might've been easier to pull the plug and thank this band of graybeards for all the memories.

This victory provides staying power. Cities grow up with wins like this as do teams. The Diamondbacks aren't just a baseball team. They just came one step closer to being an institution.

"It's another milestone, no question," said Managing General Partner Jerry Colangelo. "These players had the ability to stick with it, not through harsh criticism, but just dealing with constant comments like the window is closing. I don't know what house they are talking about with this group, because the window is still wide open and they believe they can keep winning."

Troy E. Renck is a columnist for MLB.com.