One warm, clear thought came to Luis Gonzalez as he floated
joyfully around the bases last Saturday night upon hitting a home
run in his first World Series game, a game he didn't reach until
he was 34 years old and had played 11 full major league seasons:
backyard Wiffle ball. It occurred to Gonzalez, the Arizona
Diamondbacks leftfielder, that he had done this before, though as
a kid in Tampa he had used a plastic bat and his imagination to
hit his Series home run.
To the New York Yankees the World Series may seem like air or
water, just another staple of life. The Diamondbacks, however, a
team loaded with aging players who needed patience and Celebrex
to finally reach the Fall Classic, remind us that the World
Series is as precious as a boy's dream. The World Series is a
'Twas the night before Game 1 when Gonzalez, nestled in his bed
in his Scottsdale house, awoke and looked at his digital clock,
certain he'd been asleep for two hours or more. The clock mocked
him. Only 10 minutes had passed since he last had checked. "It
was like that all night," Gonzalez said after Game 1. "Not
because it was a matter of being nervous. It was a matter of
being excited. I wound up getting only a couple of hours of
A wired Gonzalez reported to Bank One Ballpark at 10:30
a.m.--nearly seven hours before the first pitch. First baseman
Mark Grace had already been there for a half hour. "Had to,"
Grace said later that day. He explained that he had been so
jumpy, "my old lady kicked me out of the house." Gonzalez and
Grace were two of nine Diamondbacks who had spent at least 10
years in the big leagues without getting to the World Series.
November 5, 2001
Grace is 37, stocks Celebrex (an arthritis pain reliever) in his
locker and spent 13 years on rock-pile duty with the Chicago Cubs
before signing with the Diamondbacks as a free agent last
December. He normally spends October playing golf in Arizona with
former big leaguers like Vince Coleman, Chili Davis and Bob
Melvin, who are happy to have his company. ("They know I write
big checks after the 18th hole," Grace said.) On Saturday night
he stood on the third base line and felt the hair on his arms
stand up and a chill shoot through his body as Jewel sang The
Star-Spangled Banner to the accompaniment of fireworks.
"'The rockets' red glare'--that's when it really hit me," Grace
said. "I thought, You know what? This is pretty damn exciting.
This is pretty damn cool. It was a better feeling than I ever,
The 97th World Series, which started later in the year than any
other, will go down as one worth waiting for. It wasn't only that
you'd have to go all the way back to the third World Series, in
1906, to find more brilliant pitching over the first two games of
a Fall Classic than that provided on Saturday and Sunday by
righthander Curt Schilling and lefthander Randy Johnson, the
Diamondbacks' version of Drysdale and Koufax. It was also because
almost everywhere you turned, another wrinkled Arizona elder who
had seemingly driven up in an Airstream was fulfilling a lifelong
The Yankees may have had a 58-to-1 edge in world championship
rings owned by players on the Series' rosters (second baseman
Craig Counsell, who homered in Game 1, had the Diamondbacks' lone
ring, won as a member of the 1997 Florida Marlins), but Arizona,
with 9-1 and 4-0 victories, ended the weekend with a
two-games-to-none lead. (Games 3, 4 and, if necessary, 5 were
scheduled for Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.)
The Diamondbacks accomplished their weekend sweep using only one
player younger than 31--outfielder Danny Bautista, 29, who drove
in Game 2's first run with a second-inning double.
No moment better captured what the World Series meant to the
National League champions than when righthander Mike Morgan
entered to pitch the eighth inning of Game 1. Morgan, 42, is so
old that he and Warren Spahn have a common teammate, Rico Carty.
(No, not at the same time.) "I want to be the white Satchel
Paige," says Morgan, who made his major league debut in 1978, one
week after graduating from high school. Paige was also 42 when he
appeared in his first World Series, in 1948.
Morgan typically spends his Octobers running a hunting expedition
company outside Ogden, Utah. Last Saturday, though, Doc, Cal,
E-man, Z-man and the rest of his Lost Creek Outfitters brigade
kept an empty bunk for him on the Green River and watched on a
borrowed TV hooked up to a generator as Morgan inherited a 9-1
lead from Schilling. Morgan hurried excitedly through his warmup
pitches, only to have home plate umpire Steve Rippley tell him
play would be held up until a typical World Series extra-long
batch of between-innings TV commercials had run its course. With
time on his hands Morgan peered into the stands behind home
"I never do that, but I did this one time," Morgan said. "I got a
peek at my wife, my two little girls, my mom and an empty seat
for my dad, whom we lost last November. He was watching from a
better seat upstairs. My mom, Nellie, is 60 years old and about
four feet tall. I caught a peek of her crying. Her boy's out
there still pitching. I'm in the Fall Classic. I've been playing
this game for 23 years, and here I am with the whole world
watching. What a feeling."
Morgan retired, in succession, Paul O'Neill, Chuck Knoblauch and
Derek Jeter, who have 13 world championship rings among them.
Lefthander Greg Swindell, making his World Series debut at the
tender age of 36, took care of the final three outs of the
three-hitter. The 34-year-old Schilling (102 pitches) had hardly
broken a sweat, leaving him available to start twice more in the
Gonzalez had snapped a 1-1 tie in the third inning with his
two-run homer, the result of a misplaced pitch by New York
righthander Mike Mussina that illustrated Mussina's lack of
command on this night. Though catcher Jorge Posada had called for
a 1-and-2 fastball away, Mussina, working on eight days of rest,
threw one that tailed over the inside half of the plate. "It felt
like high school," Mussina said about throwing balls where they
could be readily hammered, "but in high school they don't hit
them as hard. Having so much rest affected me. I got on the mound
four times in between starts, but it's not the same as throwing
in a game."
Not since the 1961 Yankees boasted Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle
has a team with a 50-home-run hitter won a world championship.
Gonzalez is trying to end that streak. He smashed 57 dingers
during the season and through Sunday had tacked on another three
in the postseason--this from a former lightweight hitter whom the
Detroit Tigers traded to Arizona after the 1998 season for
outfielder Karim Garcia, a prospect who never panned out. "And,"
Gonzalez emphasized, "the Tigers kicked in half a million dollars
to get rid of me."
In Arizona, Gonzalez adopted a wide-open batting stance, a
weight-training regimen borrowed from former Houston Astros
teammate Jeff Bagwell, a heavier (33-ounce) bat recommended by
Yankees Hall of Famer Yogi Berra and the patience required of a
father of three-year-old triplets. "I used to stress out more,"
Gonzalez says. "Now I have three little ones to chase around. You
learn what's really important."
With those changes he blossomed into a power hitter. "The best
part," says Grace, who played with Gonzalez on the Cubs in 1995
and '96, "is he's become a superstar and he's stayed one of the
nicest guys in the game. He's the same guy he was when he was a
After Gonzalez's homer the Diamondbacks broke open Game 1 with
five unearned runs stemming from errors by rightfielder David
Justice and third baseman Scott Brosius. Grace delivered the
final two runs with a double in the fourth inning. "We spread the
wealth," Grace said. "A lot of dreams came true tonight."
Game 2, on Sunday, was Johnson's turn to realize his dreams of
glory. The 38-year-old Big Unit, who spent most of his career
scowling even at his own teammates on the days he pitched, was so
relaxed before his first World Series start that he joked with
fellow Diamondbacks about their picks for that day's NFL games.
"He's not the mummy he used to be when I got here," said
Schilling, who was acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies in a
trade last season.
"Shhhh," Johnson said to a reporter. "I'm supposed to be mean and
nasty. Don't let the word get out."
So at ease was Johnson that, after pitching the seventh inning of
a tense 1-0 game, he walked into the clubhouse office of director
of team travel Roger Riley and joked, "Well, I didn't think we
were going to score nine runs again." Third baseman Matt Williams
soon made the rest of his night more comfortable by blasting a
three-run homer off gallant lefthander Andy Pettitte.
Johnson became the oldest pitcher to throw a shutout in the World
Series. He gave up only three hits and one walk while striking
out 11, tying a record set by the Los Angeles Dodgers' Sandy
Koufax in 1963 of 411 strikeouts in the regular season and
postseason. New York's righthanded hitters jackknifed in fear as
Johnson pounded the inside corner with 93-to-96-mph fastballs on
many of the 25 pitches called for strikes. "You give up on that
ball inside," New York rightfielder Shane Spencer said after the
game, "because he can throw 89-mph sliders that keep running in
at you. He kept hitting his spots."
"He was so good I thought he was going to throw a no-no,"
Schilling said of Johnson. "When they got a hit in the fifth"--a
single to right by Posada--"I turned to somebody in the dugout and
said, 'That's when you know you're facing a stud: when an
opposite-field single in the fifth qualifies as a rally.'"
Until last weekend the Yankees hadn't been held to three hits in
a World Series game since 1963, when the Dodgers' Don Drysdale
shut them down in Game 3. In throwing back-to-back three-hitters,
the Arizona staff became the first to allow only six hits over
the first two games of a Series since the 1939 Yankees shackled
the Cincinnati Reds behind Red Ruffing and Monte Pearson. Only
Three Finger Brown and Ed Reulbach of the '06 Cubs did better,
permitting the Chicago White Sox five hits.
Just call the Diamondbacks' duo Schilling and Thrilling. Arizona
moved to within two wins of a world championship because its two
aces--"1A and 1A," Morgan calls them--this year were 50-13 through
Sunday. (The rest of the staff was 51-60.) After Schilling won
Game 1, centerfielder Steve Finley gladly turned over the
baseball he'd caught for the final out to Jerry Colangelo, the
Diamondbacks' managing general partner. Following Game 2,
Colangelo approached Johnson about obtaining the souvenir of that
final out, which Counsell had given Johnson after catching
Jeter's soft liner. Johnson had waited too long for this. He
wasn't about to relinquish the ball. "My first World Series
start? A shutout? Against the Yankees?" he said. "That's pretty
Johnson took home the ball, along with something else that seemed
almost as tangible for him and his teammates. "When I'm done with
my career," he said, "I'll always be able to look back and say I
played in the World Series. I made it. That's all any player
would want to say."
"This is pretty damn exciting," Grace said. "It was a better
feeling than I ever, ever imagined."
"That's when you know you're facing a stud: when an
opposite-field single in the fifth qualifies as a rally."