MICHAEL: Baseball in 2001 will always be remembered, not for the games that took place during the regular season, but for the patriotism and heroic tributes that took place in the wake of the 9/11 terrorists attacks. On September 11th the world changed forever, as two hijacked airplanes were flown into the World Trade Center twin towers and a third airplane hit the Pentagon in Washington DC. A fourth plane was brought down by a heroic group of passengers, in a field in western Pennsylvania, before reaching its intended target. In the end, over 3,300 innocent people were killed and the United States along with a coalition of over sixty countries declared war on terrorism.
Major League Baseball rose to the occasion as part of the post 9/11 healing process. After taking center stage with patriotic tributes throughout the remainder of the regular season, the national pastime returned to the Big Apple to host the World Series. With the city’s emotions running high and the American flag that was pulled from the wreckage of the World Trade Center flying overhead, President George W. Bush threw out the first pitch, symbolizing the unwavering strength of America.
It somehow seemed fitting that the city of New York, led by Mayor Rudy Giuliani, would show immeasurable strength and host the event, after suffering such devastating losses a few months earlier. As usual, the Yankees remained on top of the American League as baseball’s most storied franchise and prepared to face one of the newest, as the National League’s Arizona Diamondbacks had just won their first pennant in the fourth year of their existence. Many fans felt that this was the year to beat the perennial champions and as a banner hung at Arizona’s Bank One Ballpark stated, “YANKEES = History – DIAMONDBACKS = Future”
The simple, yet bold statement was well written and foretold the future, as the youngest expansion team in Major League history would come from behind during the ninth inning to dethrone the kings of baseball.
Midway through Game 1 it was difficult to tell who were the three-time defending champions and which was the franchise making its classic debut. Arizona ace Curt Schilling continued his remarkable postseason with seven superb innings and Luis Gonzalez homered, drove in two runs and scored twice, as the Diamondbacks stunned the Yanks, 9-1. Taking advantage of a rough start by New York’s Mike Mussina and some sloppy defense, the Diamondbacks seized the opening advantage that resulted in titles nearly sixty percent of the time.
Nothing changed the following day, as Randy Johnson tossed a three-hitter and Matt Williams added a three-run homer in the seventh for a 4-0 victory. The Big Unit was dominant from the start, allowing just a walk and a single over the first seven innings. He struck out eleven and improved to 3-1 in the postseason. In his last three outings, he allowed just two runs and thirteen hits in twenty-five innings.
New York finally bounced back in Game 3 as Roger Clemens and Mariano Rivera combined on a three-hitter and Scott Brosius snapped a sixth inning tie with an RBI single for the 2-1 triumph. Leading two-games-to-none, Arizona had a chance to put a stranglehold on the series with a win. The Diamondbacks got a great outing from starter Brian Anderson, but committed three crucial errors, three wild pitches and ran themselves out of the opening inning. Despite the win, the Yankees continued to struggle offensively. They got only seven hits, including a home run by Jorge Posada in the second, but the 1-2 combo of Clemens and Rivera prevented an Arizona attack that scored thirteen runs in the first two games. Shutdown by the return of Schilling (on three days’ rest), the defending champions were staring at the possibility of a three-games-to-one deficit in Game 4.
With one out, Paul O’Neill shot an opposite-field single in front of left fielder Luis Gonzalez and after Bernie Williams struck out, Tino Martinez hit the first pitch he saw from reliever Byung-Hyun Kim over the wall in right-center field. As the ball cleared the outfield barrier, the hometown crowd of 55,863 erupted, as the invigorated Yankees spilled out of the dugout. The stadium that had fallen deadly silent after the Diamondbacks scored two runs (in the eighth) was deafening now and would not stop celebrating until Martinez came out on the deck for a curtain call. Rivera (1-0) cruised through the tenth and improved to 2-0 with five saves and a 0.71 ERA in nine postseason appearances. Derek Jeter completed the cycle, in what had evolved into one of the most memorable games of all time, by lining a 3-2 pitch over the right-field wall for the game-winner.
Game 5 looked to go the distance as well with Mussina returning to save face against Miguel Batista. The veteran right-hander improved greatly and allowed only five hits (including a pair of solo home runs in the fifth) while walking three and striking out ten. One of the two solo homers hit in the fifth came off the bat of little-used backup Rod Barajas (a .160 hitter in the regular season) who was in for starter Damian Miller (a late scratch with a strained calf). With the Diamondbacks holding a 2-0 lead, Arizona manager Bob Brenly returned to Kim to start the ninth. Jorge Posada opened the inning with a double but the Korean sidearmer easily retired the next two batters. With one out to go, things finally appeared to go in Kim’s favor, but Scott Brosius begged to differ with a clutch two-run blast that tied the game at two apiece. The repentative reliever was removed immediately in favor of Mike Morgan, who lasted two-innings himself before being replaced by Albie Lopez in the 12th.
Despite Arizona’s fresh arm, the Game 4 finale was replayed, after Alfonso Soriano singled (with one out) scoring Chuck Knoblauch with the 3-2, game-winning run. After sprinting to a two game lead, the National League champs were now forced into a do-or-die situation for Game 6. Once again, Johnson returned for Arizona to extend the race and responded with a brilliant six hitter that was sweetened with seven strikeouts. At the plate, Johnson’s teammates dominated as well, scoring fifteen times over the first four innings for a shocking 15-2 massacre.
Game 7 looked to extend the Yankees consecutive-win streak, but the “never-say-die” Diamondbacks rose to the challenge and put together one of the greatest late-game comebacks in World Series history. After Kim had surrendered the trio of heartbreaking home runs in New York, the Diamondbacks returned home and rallied against the incomparable Rivera, who had converted twenty-three straight postseason saves and struck out the side in the eighth (with a 2-1 lead). As Luis Gonzalez stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth, the Yankees infield moved in to prevent base-runner Jay Bell from scoring. The positional strategy proved disastrous as “Gonzo” connected for a shallow looping single (that just cleared the infield in center) sending home the winning run and sealing the World Series title. The Diamondbacks (many of them veterans getting their first taste of the World Series) exploded from the dugout as the “neighborhood bully” Yankees had finally fallen to the “new kids on the block.”
The biggest story of the 2003 World Series may not have been the actual Fall Classic, but more so the dramatic pennant race that led up to the Series itself. After years of less-than-stellar ratings, record audiences finally tuned in to the Major League Baseball postseason, making it the most-watched playoffs ever on cable. Fans also flocked to the ballparks setting a new attendance mark with over 1,858,979 tickets sold. Many attributed this renewed interest to the playoff’s storybook backdrop that featured two of baseball’s most beloved underdogs, the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs.
Both teams had surprised the experts by making the postseason and each continued to shock their opponents by battling back in their respective leagues time and time again. After surviving the Divisional round, generations of long-suffering fans from both ball clubs reveled in the possibility that the curses of both “The Bambino” and “The Goat” were finally coming to an end. The baseball gods apparently had other plans and both teams fell just five heartbreaking outs short of making it to the Series.
Unlike the similarities shared between their tragic opponents, both league champions were as diametrically opposed as two teams meeting on the same diamond could be. On the American League side, the New York Yankees, recently nicknamed “The Evil Empire,” surprised no one after posting the best record in baseball en route to their thirty-ninth Series. The National League champion Florida Marlins however, had managed to sneak undetected under everyone’s “radar” after falling ten games under .500 on May 22nd.
Amazingly, the moderately popular Florida franchise was making its second Fall Classic appearance in only its tenth year of existence. After the emotionally exhausting playoffs, in which almost every game literally came down to the final pitch, many fans believed that the Series was a foregone conclusion and could not possibly live up to the drama of its predecessors. Little did they know that another battle of “David vs. Goliath” was about to unfold and that neither team would ever be the same again…
In Game 1, the Yankees opened the Series in the same fashion that they had opened both the American League Divisional Series and America League Championship — with a loss. The 3-2 decision snapped the Yankees’ ten-game-home winning streak (in the World Series), dating back to Game 2 of the 1996 Fall Classic. Despite the setback, the pinstripe faithful refused to panic, as the Bronx Bombers were 7-1, in which they had lost Game 1, under manager Joe Torre. Starting pitcher David Wells had surrendered a run in the first inning after Florida’s Juan Pierre laid down a perfect bunt single that was followed by Luis Castillo’s flare single to right, putting runners at the corners. Ivan Rodriguez lifted a sacrifice fly to center, scoring Pierre and giving him a playoff-best seventeen runs batted in.
The Yankees tied the game in the third against Brad Penny after Derek Jeter came up clutch with an RBI single to center, scoring Karim Garcia from second and injecting some life into the crowd of 55,769 that was still suffering from an ALCS “hangover.” Pierre later put the Marlins back on top in the fifth with a two-run single to left, giving Florida a 3-1 lead, but Bernie Williams answered back with a solo home run with one out in the sixth. It was the eighteenth post-season home run of his career and tied him with fellow Yankees Mickey Mantle and Reggie Jackson for the most round-trippers in Major League playoff history. Taking no chances, Florida pulled Penny in favor of closer Ugueth Urbina, who struck out Jorge Posada and Alfonso Soriano before inducing Nick Johnson to pop out to center, nailing down the win.
Game 2 evened the score as Andy Pettitte brought the Yankees back to life (for the third consecutive series) with a near-perfect 6-1 outing. Pitching on three days of rest, Pettitte allowed only one unearned run over 8 2/3 innings for his ninth consecutive win. Japanese import Hideki Matsui gave the pitcher all of the offensive support he would need, belting a three-run homer in the first inning. Alfonso Soriano, who had been struggling at the plate throughout the playoffs, added a two-run shot in the fourth that sealed the deal. Marlins right-handed prodigy Josh Beckett was given the start for Game 3 and the twenty-three year-old Texan worked through a lengthy rain delay and an imposing lineup, striking out ten while giving up three hits and two runs.
However, Yankees starter Mike Mussina proved better, giving up a single run in seven innings. After one hundred eight pitches, through 7 1/3 innings, Beckett was pulled in favor of the left-handed Dontrelle Willis, who struggled with his control due to the wet weather. Once again, Matsui came up big at the plate, snapping a tie with a two-out RBI single in the eighth. From there, ALCS Game 7 hero Aaron Boone and Bernie Williams both added home runs in the ninth capping off another 6-1 decision over the Marlins.
The fourth game in the Series held a special significance, as the fans in attendance witnessed the final appearance on the mound by one of baseball’s greatest pitchers, Roger Clemens. The future Hall of Famer came on strong sitting down the first two Marlins in the opening frame. However, things quickly turned sour after Ivan Rodriguez’s two-out single sparked an early Marlins rally. Following Rodriguez’s lead, Miguel Cabrera, a twenty year-old rookie, drilled a 2-2 pitch the opposite way from the forty-one year-old Clemens, deep into the right-field seats, giving Florida a 2-0 lead.
Jeff Conine and Mike Lowell followed with singles, putting runners at the corners. Derrek Lee then scored Conine, putting the Yankees in a three-run hole after only one inning. Taking their turn, New York rallied around their struggling pitcher and responded by loading the bases with three singles to open the second. Aaron Boone kept their drive alive with a sac-fly to center that scored Bernie Williams cutting the lead to 3-1. Determined to “save face” for his forty-two pitch first-inning debacle, “The Rocket” settled in, needing just fifty-four pitches to get through the next five innings.
Clemens returned for the seventh to face Luis Castillo, as cameras in the stands began to flash sporadically with each pitch. Falling behind on the count 1-2, Castillo battled the Yankee ace for five more pitches before looking at strike three on a fastball that tailed over the inside corner. The 65,934 in attendance gave Clemens a standing ovation as he walked off the field for the last time, honoring him for his twenty seasons of pitching supremacy. As the Marlins took the field to start the eighth, some of their classier players tilted their caps to the Yankees dugout. Clemens, who came back on to the field for a curtain call, returned the gesture by waving to the fans and to his opponents. Once again, Ugueth Urbina was summoned from Florida’s bullpen but the Marlins reliever stumbled and surrendered two tying runs after Ruben Sierra lined a pitch down the right-field line for a triple, scoring both Williams and pinch-runner David Dellucci.
Jose Contreras tossed two scoreless innings of relief for New York, while Florida’s Chad Fox, after getting through the tenth, ran into trouble in the eleventh. With runners in scoring position, and Juan Rivera sent in to pinch-hit for Contreras, Braden Looper took the mound. After intentionally walking Rivera, Looper proceeded to strike out Aaron Boone and force John Flaherty to pop out to third leaving all runners stranded on base.
As the Yankees prepared to take the field, Torre made a call to his own bullpen that would prove both controversial and costly. The Yankees skipper elected to go with Jeff Weaver in the eleventh, despite the fact that he had not appeared on the mound in twenty-eight days. Weaver, who had been demoted from a starter to a relief role, held the Marlins at bay with a series of well-placed fastballs. After Looper tossed a scoreless top of the twelfth, Alex Gonzalez worked the count full to lead off the Marlins’ half of the twelfth. Swinging for the bleachers, the shortstop drilled the payoff pitch down the left-field line, barely clearing the 330-foot sign on the wall, nailing a 4-3 win and setting off a celebration both on the field and in the stands. In retrospect, many fans felt that Torre’s gamble on Weaver had not only cost the Yankees Game 4, but in the end, the Series.
New York caught another bad break in Game 5 after losing starting pitcher David Wells to a “freak” back injury after just one inning. Florida went on to hit reliever Jose Contreras for four runs in three innings, after clearly taking control in the second. Things then went from bad to worse as the Yankees struggling bullpen allowed six runs from the second through the fifth. Marlins starter Brad Penny took care of the rest while holding the Bombers to only one earned run over seven innings. Once again Florida had defeated the mighty Yankees and moved within one win of a second World Series championship. Game 6 maintained the Marlins’ momentum as Josh Beckett, starting on three days of rest for the first time in his young career, dominated the Yankees with a complete-game, five-hit shutout.
His rival, Andy Pettitte, who had won eleven consecutive games following Yankees losses, gave New York a valiant effort, holding the Marlins to two runs (one earned) over seven innings. Pettitte sat down the first two Marlins in the fifth, but Alex Gonzalez and Juan Pierre put together consecutive singles to keep the inning alive. Pettitte got ahead of Luis Castillo, 0-2, but the second baseman worked the count to 2-2 before lining a single to right field. Outfielder Karim Garcia fielded the hit and went for home, but his throw was slightly up the first-base line, allowing Gonzalez to score with a heads-up slide, avoiding the tag and touching the plate with his left hand.
Beckett remained focused and sat the Yankees down in order in the sixth, striking out Bernie Williams (looking) and Hideki Matsui (swinging) to put the Marlins nine outs away from the championship. Jorge Posada led off the seventh with a double to left, but Beckett got Jason Giambi to ground out to third before striking out Garcia and pinch-hitter Ruben Sierra.
As a testament to Florida’s defensive play, New York remained 0-for-7 on the night with runners in scoring position. After Yankees closer Mariano Rivera came in to prevent any additional runs, Beckett returned to the mound to finish the job, forcing both Williams and Matsui to fly out to left. He then got Posada to squib an inside pitch down the first-base line, which he appropriately, fielded himself tagging the catcher for the final out.
The routine play almost seemed anti-climactic as one of baseball’s most dramatic post-seasons abruptly came to an end. While Marlins players mobbed each other on the field in celebration, the stands of Yankee Stadium remained silent as fans were coming to grips with another World Championship lost. Much like the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks, Florida had managed to beat the odds and the favored Yankees to become the best in baseball. Unlike the ‘97 franchise of free-agent “mercenaries,” the ‘03 Marlins boasted a young team that looked to remain intact for future seasons. Things did not look as bright in the Big Apple however, where a defeated dynasty was about to see several changes…