December 17, 2001

Say It Ain't So Mo
by Steve Lombardi

Being a Yankee fan, I must confess that I was just a tad distressed (to put it mildly) with the final outcome of the seventh game of the 2001 World Series.

In fact, after the events of that fateful bottom of the ninth inning in Arizona on November 4th, I could not tolerate watching one single replay of the World Series.  For days, I avoided all my usual cable haunts, such as ESPN and FOX Sports, in order to ensure what I saw that evening would not be repeated before my eyes.

No matter, I remained terribly vexed.  Many questions remained in my mind.  Most specifically:  “Just what the hell happened?”  It all seemed so fast.  I never did get the number of that Diamondback bus which had flattened me ugly that Sunday. 

So, finally, very late on the night of December 16, 2001, six weeks to the day after the hardball heartbreak, it was time to “suck it up” and I popped in the videotape.  Clearly, more than a thousand hours now past, I was strong enough (fingers crossed) to reexamine the horror.  Heck, at the least, perhaps it would be therapeutic?

In case the latter applies, to fuel any possible healing, I am herein documenting the findings of this gonfalon post-mortem.

Mariano Rivera had entered the game to start the bottom of the eighth inning and gave no indication with his performance there that Yankee fans should be concerned.

With the Yankees leading 2-1, Rivera’s disposal of the Diamondbacks in the eighth was replete with apparent precision - - 14 pitches (of which only three were called balls with the rest either being strikes, fouls or hits).

Luis Gonzalez struck out on a 2-2 pitch.  Matt Williams struck out on a 0-2 pitch.  And, Danny Bautista struck out on a 0-2 pitch in an At Bat that followed a single by Steve Finely.  (The latter single, which followed Williams’ whiff, was landed on a 1-0 pitch.  Finley had delivered a line drive between first and second base.)

Vintage Rivera:  Four batters, three strikeouts, and no damage whatsoever.

Onward, we advance to the epicenter of my lamentation, the bottom of the ninth inning.

In order to provide some drama and excitement for those who chose to reside under a rock during the series, the narrative from this point will be primarily present tense.

Yankees still cling to a 2-1 lead.  Mark Grace is the first batter for Arizona.  He takes the first pitch from Rivera, which is inside for a ball.  On the 1-0 pitch, which was a high strike, he laces a clean single to centerfield.  Without haste, David Dellucci replaces Grace as a pinch runner.

No one out and runner on first.

Damian Miller is the second batter to face Rivera.  Mariano’s first offering is bunted foul by Miller, straight down into the ground.  After a throw to first to check the runner, the 0-1 pitch from Rivera (which was high and inside) is bunted fair by Miller.

Rivera fields the ball, directly in front of the pitcher’s mound, approximately 20 feet away from the rubber, and throws to Derek Jeter covering second base in an attempt to force Dellucci for an out.

However, Rivera’s throw is approximately 6 feet wide of the bag, to Jeter’s left (the right field side of the diamond), and Dellucci was safe at second base.  (Still photographs of this play confirm that an accurate throw would have resulted in the force, retiring Dellucci at second.)

Two batters into the inning, no one out and runners now on first and second.

Jay Bell steps to the plate to pinch-hit for the pitcher, Randy Johnson. 

Bell bunts the first pitch from Rivera.  Mariano fields the bunt almost midway between the pitcher’s mound and the third base foul line, approximately 30 feet from home plate, and throws to Scott Brosius covering third base - - effectively forcing David Dellucci at third.

At this time, the broadcast announcers for FOX Sports questioned as to whether or not Brosius settled for the one out when he may have had a play at first base as well, retiring Bell. 

On the replay, it is clear that Brosius never looked at Bell or first base.  Immediately after catching the throw from Rivera, Brosius looked towards second base, checking the incoming base runner Miller. 

Upon my examination of the same replay, it was unclear as to whether or not Brosius would have been able to retire Bell with a throw to first.  Therefore, my conclusion is that Brosius’ cautious play was the smart move - in that situation.  No need to risk the throw unless it was certain you could retire the runner.

At this point, Bob Brenly elected to pinch run for Miller at second with Midre Cummings.

Runners now on first and second with one out.  Yankees still lead by one run.

Tony Womack is the fourth batter of the inning.  He quickly gets ahead of Rivera - -  taking the first pitch low and inside for a ball and the second offering inside for ball two.  However, Rivera comes back with two quick strikes to even the count - - the third pitch of the At Bat was a high strike and the fourth serve was high strike, fouled off.

The 2-2 pitch to Womack appeared to be heading inside before Tony lines it cleanly into right field for a single.  It was sent safely over the head of Tino Martinez at first base (by a wide margin) and it lands approximately 10 feet within the right field foul line.  It is fielded by Shane Spencer at the foul line and he throws over Martinez to home plate. 

Rivera cut the ball off approximately 10 feet in front of home plate as Midre Cummings scored easily from second base to tie the game.  Jay Bell advanced to third and Womack to second on the play.  (Spencer’s overthrow of Martinez had no impact on Bell and Womack advancing the extra bases.  Given the placement of the hit, and Womack’s speed, both would have reached even if Martinez were able to cut off the throw.)

Four batters into the inning, it is now a tie game with runners on second and third with one out. 

At this point, the Yankees elect to play with their infield in and their outfield shallow.

Craig Counsell is the next batter to face Rivera.  Mariano’s first pitch is fouled downward for strike one.  On the 0-1 pitch, Counsell is hit on the right hand by a pitch up and in.  (On replay, to the naked eye on normal replay slow motion, it could have been construed that the pitch did not hit Counsell.  However, on videotape, with the assistance of magnification and super-slow-mo single frame advancement, I can verify that the pitch did indeed strike Counsell, albeit barely glancing.)

Tie game.  Based loaded.  One out.

Luis Gonzalez, who struck out against Rivera to start the eighth inning, was now the batter.

Rivera’s first pitch to Gonzalez was a high strike - which Luis fouled back.

On the 0-1 pitch from Rivera, which appeared to be another high strike, Gonzalez delivers an inside-out swing yielding a soft liner, over the head of shortstop Derek Jeter (who was positioned at the inner edge of the infield grass approximately 15 feet to the left of second base).  The ball drops in safely, landing just past the outer edge of the infield skin.

Jay Bell scores from third base to win the game, and the World Series for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

In the ninth, as he did in the eighth, Rivera threw fourteen pitches.  Much like the eighth inning, his ability to throw strikes was evident. In facing six batters in the final frame, only four of the fourteen pitches from Mariano were called balls or resulting in a hit batter with the rest either being strikes, fouls or hits. 

Amazingly, from the first pitch to Grace (to start the inning) to the last pitch to Gonzalez (to end the game), only ten minutes in time elapsed.  The damage occurred that quickly.  It truly was a blur to me.  This is why “it all seemed so fast” in my memory all this time.

Having witnessed it all again, closely, I no longer had any doubt as to “just what the hell happened.”

This all said, even as a Yankee fan, I have to objectively admit that the Diamondbacks out hit, pitched and fielded New York during the overall series and deserved to win. 

However, that still does not ease my sorrow over the fact that, even while out played, the Yankees were two outs away from winning game seven (and the series).  This is further amplified by the closeness of many events in the ninth - - - the throw to second on Dellucci, the inability to finish off Womack on a 2-2 count, Counsell’s extending the inning by getting nicked with a pitch, and Gonzalez’ hit that would have been an out (if not for the runner on third necessitating bringing in the infield).

To quote Dr. Zachary Smith (a.k.a. Jonathan Harris):  “Oh, the pain, the pain...the pain of it all!”

In closing, while it is fortune cookie philosophy, some like to offer in situations like this that: “The onion you are eating is someone else's water lily.”

Whatever.  Enjoy the bloom Arizona. 

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