World Series was one for the ‘ageless’

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 7, 2001

Sports Columnist

This year’s version of the World Series is one that I’m sure will be described as "one for the ages", and rightly so.

Those of us who stayed up late enough to see the final innings of the last few games were treated to one of, if not the greatest, World Series’ ever played. So many factors combined to enhance the drama and excitement of this year’s Fall Classic.

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Some of the factors involved had very little to do with the game of baseball itself. Because one of the cities represented this year was New York, the Series took on special meaning. We’ve all grown accustomed to seeing the Yankees take the field year after year in late October to play for a world title, yet in light of the events of September 11th, they found themselves playing as much for community spirit as anything else. It was even stated more than once that it would be very difficult to root against the Yankees this year because of what their hometown had suffered through.

Also, because of the terrorist attacks and the resulting resurgence of patriotism in America, we were all treated to stirring renditions of "God Bless America" during the seventh inning stretch of each game, besides the customary National Anthem. Some of the biggest stars in the music business today were called on to sing each night, but to be honest, for my money, none were more impressive and as touching than the Harlem Boys Choir.

The two teams involved were enough to make even the most casual baseball fan interested in tuning in. On one hand you have the New York Yankees, who have become a fixture lately in the Series. They sport a roster consisting of perennial all-stars such as Jeter, Clemens, and Williams, and a manager who is widely considered the best in baseball in Joe Torre. And laboring in possibly the greatest media market in the world keeps them in the spotlight year-round.

On the other hand you have the Arizona Diamondbacks. If that name doesn’t roll off your tongue as easily as New York Yankees, it’s because you haven’t had enough time to practice it yet. The team has only been in existence for 4 years. (It’s kind of like trying to train yourself to say St. Louis Rams or Indianapolis Colts ­ it takes a while.) While the Yankees have been a power in Major League Baseball for most of the last century, the D-Backs introduced their first team logo in the 90’s. You aren’t supposed to be able to advance to the big dance that soon after your birth, but they showed all their doubters, including the mighty Atlanta Braves, themselves a fixture in recent years. Their lineup consists largely of cast-offs from other teams, future stars and a rookie coach.

As the Series began, speculation arose about the Diamondbacks two pitching aces, 34-year-old Curt Schilling and 38-year-old Randy Johnson. Schilling was considered by most to be the stud of the pitching rotation, and rumor was that he would be called upon to pitch games 1, 4 and 7 if necessary, going on three days rest twice even though he had never done so. It was also assumed that Johnson would follow suit in games 2 and 5, and that if they were to have any hope of being world champs, both pitchers would need to have enough success to keep New York from getting to the Arizona bullpen.

Well, it didn’t take very long for the "old guys" to assert themselves. As hoped, both Schilling and Johnson dominated on the mound in the first two games, pushing Arizona to a quick 2-0 lead in the series. Suddenly the numerous experts who were predicting a Yankee sweep or "Yankees in 5" were nowhere to be found. In the meantime, wily old veteran infielders Matt Williams and Mark Grace, both of whom had long since made their marks with other teams early in their careers, were easily sucking up everything that was hit or thrown their way. And speaking of Grace, I distinctly remember commentator Tim McCarver openly criticizing the Yankee outfielders for playing Grace "too deep" in one of the early games. Of course, when he sent a Yankee pitch soaring into the upper deck in the next game, the placement of the outfielders was left to the more qualified coaches.

In yet another tribute to one of the veterans of the game, the Yankee fans gave a wonderful send-off to outfielder Paul O’Neill. One of the classier and most consistent players in the game, he had indicated that this would be his final season. As it was apparent that game 5 would be the last time the hometown fans would see him in pinstripes, they showed their appreciation with standing ovations and the chanting of his name. He was noticeably moved by the gesture, and was truly deserving of it.

After back-to-back ninth inning heroics in games 4 and 5 that were straight out of a Hollywood script, the ball was in the hand of one of the "old guys" again, and Randy Johnson pitched seven innings of a 15-run blowout of the Yankees to even the series at three games apiece. So who would the D-Backs run out to the mound for game 7? Was there ever any doubt?

Curt Schilling started his third game of the Series in a dream matchup against fellow veteran Roger Clemens, for a second time on just three days rest. The veteran showed absolutely no signs of fatigue into the seventh inning when the decision was made to pull him. Don’t you know the jaws of the Yankees players dropped in unison when 6’10" Randy Johnson once again trotted to the mound? This after throwing over 100 pitches in seven innings the day before. Well, ole Randy mowed down the Yankee lineup as if he had unfinished business, and after the scrappy D-Backs were able to put together a few hits against "unhittable" New York reliever Mariano Rivera, Arizona had its first World Championship. And although I’m generally against giving an MVP to a pitcher as opposed to an everyday player, no one was as deserving as co-MVP’s Schilling and Johnson.

So when you’re telling your grand kids someday about the greatest World Series you ever saw, don’t forget to mention the contributions of the old guys.