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World Series 2001
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10/22/2001 05:40 AM ET
Durazo delivers series-winning homer
By Ian Browne
MLB.com
Durazo went the other way on his two-run, pinch-hit homer.
Durazo on MLB Radio
Durazo's two-run homer: 56k | 300k
Press conferences (Durazo and Johnson): Video |Audio
Transcript of Durazo's postgame press conference
Transcript of Brenly's postgame press conference

ATLANTA -- There's a difference between liking your role and performing in it. Don't be fooled into thinking Erubiel Durazo enjoys the unglamorous life of coming off the bench, even if he happens to be one of the best in the game at it.

So when it came time for the fifth inning of Sunday night's Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, the Diamondbacks reserve first baseman could have easily been wallowing on the bench. He could have been miffed that he wasn't in the lineup. That's what a lot of people who aren't happy about their jobs do, no matter what the profession happens to be.

But Durazo -- the unlikely hero of the Diamondbacks' pennant-clinching 3-2 victory -- was in the clubhouse riding an exercise bike. If his name was called, he wanted to be ready.

Turns out Mark Grace, the venerable first baseman, had to come out of the game with a tight right hamstring.

The winner that almost wasn't

Erubiel Durazo's pinch-hit home run almost didn't happen.

Diamondbacks Manager Bob Brenly -- who did a masterful job of pushing the right buttons in this series -- almost called on Greg Colbrunn so he could have a righty-lefty matchup.

"After we talked it over with the coaches, we decided we'd better stick with defense," Brenly said.

Instead, Durazo supplied the punch of instant offense that was needed to help Randy Johnson's gritty effort stand up.

It wasn't Brenly, but Colbrunn who served as the messenger to Durazo.
-- Ian Browne, MLB.com

Thanks to Durazo's preparation, his legs were nice and loose. And his bat -- despite the inactivity -- was primed and ready as well.

In just his third at-bat of these playoffs, the left-handed swinging Durazo fell behind tough Braves lefty Tom Glavine before working the count to 2-2. Then he saw an outside pitch he liked, and went with it, lofting it down the line and just over the left-field fence. The two-run pinch-hit homer snapped a 1-1 tie and held up as the game-winning hit.

"Well, I was riding the bike getting ready," Durazo said. "You never know being a pinch hitter. (Colbrunn) said, 'You got to get in the game'. I was getting ready, stretching to hit. That's what I do."

Pinch hitting is clearly not as easy as riding a bike, even if that's what you have to do to prepare for such a role. And Durazo is the first to admit it isn't his preferred line of work.

Really, what kind of player would be happy about coming off the bench? When youngsters are playing in their backyards growing up, the fantasy isn't, "I want to be a pinch hitter." Everybody wants to play. Still, some players sulk when they don't. So much so that it hinders their performance.

After the game, Brenly was asked how pleased he was with the way Durazo has accepted his role.

"I don't know necessarily that he's accepted it," Brenly said. "But he understands it and he wants to be the best pinch hitter he can be."
    Erubiel Durazo   /   1B
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 240
Bats/Throws: L/L

More info:
Player page
Stats
Splits
Hit chart
Athletics site
etopps

At 26 years old, Durazo isn't pigeonholed into pinch-hitting duty forever. But to prove he should be in the lineup as much he'd like, he needs to maximize the precious opportunities he does get.

Never was there a more golden one than this at-bat against Glavine. Though Durazo had never faced Glavine before, he had a definite plan when he strode to the plate with two outs and Luis Gonzalez on first.

"I was watching the game on TV, and live. So I was looking for something outside because they've been pitching to a lot of lefties outside," Durazo said. "I was looking for a pitch I could drive to the opposite field."

Bingo. He got it and lined it with just enough might to clear the fence.

It is a memory that will probably haunt Glavine for much of the winter.

"It was a fastball up, probably one of the only pitches I left up all night," Glavine said. "He hit it in probably the only place it was going to go out."

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Suddenly, any pent-up anger Durazo might have had about his role on the Diamondbacks was gone. He's going to the World Series.

In truth, this wasn't the most enjoyable of seasons for Durazo. He sustained a Grade 2 concussion in a home-plate collision with Colorado's Terry Shumpert on June 24. Though it only sidelined him for a week, he didn't feel right for months. In 175 at bats this season, Durazo supplied Arizona with 11 homers and 38 RBIs.

"I had a lot of frustration during the year," Durazo said. "I didn't play for a long time. I had a concussion. I think this (homer) is paying for the whole year."

And it is a payoff that an entire franchise will feel en route to the World Series.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com.