2001 Diamondbacks-Yankees: The Mismatched Series

PHOENIX, AZ - SEPTEMBER 10: Detail of a throw back helmet of the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks World Series team before the Major League Baseball game against the San Diego Padres at Chase Field on September 10, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Diamondbacks are celebrating the 10th anniversary of their World Series title. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

A World Series is often remembered for moments that actually defy the larger story.  A single game or play can define a Series for time immemorial, to that point that even those who witnessed it originally forget the truth.  These countervailing narratives are illusions that are passed down in the oral history of the game.  In 1986 the Red Sox are victim of the Buckner play, but this goes against the truth that Boston still had another whole game to lose.  The 1975 World Series is defined by the walk-off Carlton Fisk home run, but rarely mentioned is that the Reds not only won the series but did it with their own 9th inning come-from-behind win.  

These altered versions don't represent an alternate or parallel reality; the team that won still won, but the value of it becomes lessened in favor of some larger narrative.  It is more like a train that has had its track changed, and now it travels along to a new destination.  The original route is still part of its track, but it has been left behind.  This new story might seem like an illusion.

But remember, there is only one reality.

The Diamondbacks were a few moments of bad luck from winning a laugher of a World Series in 2001.  It's only remembered as a close series, and one of the best of all time, because of some strange games in the Bronx.  Imagine if the Diamondbacks had lost the series; the "what ifs" would be astounding.

First of all, when the Diamondbacks won in the series it was almost always a decisive win.  The run differential was +21 in favor of the Diamondbacks.  They won 3 of their 4 by an average of 8 runs.  In contrast they lost their 3 games each by 1 run.  As a team they batted .264 with 6 home runs, while the Yankees batted .184 and 6 home runs.  

The Diamondbacks dominated with pitching as well.  Beyond the obvious holding the Yankees to only a handful of runs, the D-backs also had a series WHIP of .892 to the Yankees 1.295.  If you remove Albie Lopez and Byung-Hyun Kim, the only D-backs pitcher with an ERA above 3 was Brian Anderson.  Miguel Batista had 8 innings of shutout ball in Game 5, and Anderson was serviceable in his call for Game 3.  

The gap in play between the two teams is reminiscent of the 1960 World Series that featured the Yankees facing the Pirates.  It was another series that went the distance, yet also featured a startling gap between the teams.  The Yankees would ultimately lose that series to the Pirates, despite outscoring the Pirates by 28 runs in the Series.  The Pirates average margin of victory?  1.25 runs a game.  And if the Yankees had pulled out a win in 2001, their average margin of victory would have been only 1 run a game.

Of course, the 1960 World Series is remembered in some ways more for the loser simply because of who the loser ended up being.  The Yankees still had the core of a team that won more Championships than anyone else in the 50's, so to lose to the upstart Pirates was unthinkable.  

Some other World Series that featured an outscored winning team:

 

  • 2002: Angels were outscored by 3 runs to the Giants in the series, but this was largely from 16-4 blowout loss in Game 5.
  • 1997: Marlins were outscored by 7 runs to the hard hitting Indians.
  • 1991: Blue Jays had a -5 run differential to the Braves.
  • 1975: Reds squeeze by the Red Sox with a -1 differential.
  • 1973: Athletics win their second straight World Series off a -3 differential over the Mets.
  • 1972: Athletics were outscored by 5 runs to the Reds.
  • 1971: Pirates overcome the Orioles despite a -1 differential.
  • 1964: Cardinals beat the Yankees, but were still outscored by 1 run.
  • 1957: Braves of Milwaukee surprise the Yankees with a -2 run differential.
  • 1940: Reds overcome the Tigers with a -6 run differential.
  • 1931: Cardinals were outscored by 3 runs to the Philadelphia Athletics
  • 1925: Pirates pip the Senators despite -1 run differential.
  • 1924: Senators get Washington's only baseball championship after beating the New York baseball Giants despite -1 differential.
As you can see, when a Series goes 7 games, most of the time there won't be a negative differential (has happened 14 of 34 times).  Further more, even if the winning team has a negative run differential, it's almost always by a fairly slim margin.  Only once, 1960 has a series had the victor win in spite being outscored by more than 10 runs.  If the Yankees had somehow won in 2001, it would have been the second time, and both times would have had a run differential of over -20.  The likelihood of this happening very often seems to be exceedingly rare.

It's already bad enough that most World Series retrospective focus on the Yankees losing, as if this was a shock, but the official narrative also ignores just how much better the Diamondbacks played in the series.  Thankfully Arizona won, or boy would I have written an angry letter to the editor 10 years ago.
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