The Arizona Diamondbacks won the National League West, advancing to the playoffs for the second time in their brief history. However, they were still seeking their first bit of post-season success. Despite winning 100 games in 1999, their previous playoff run had been brief, managing only one victory in the NL Division Series that year against the New York Mets. Their opponents in the same round this time, would be wild-card winners, the St. Louis Cardinals. Despite that position, they had actually one more regular season victory to their name than Arizona, having only lost the NL Central to Houston on a tie-breaker. Still, that meant the D-backs would have home-field advantage for the series.
Game 1: Cardinals 0, Diamondbacks 1
The series opened in Bank One Ballpark on October 9, and Curt Schilling delivered what remains one of the greatest post-season performances in franchise history. He tossed a complete-game shutout against a line-up which had averaged over five runs per game to that point, holding the Cardinals to three hits and a walk, with nine strikeouts. Schilling needed just 101 pitches in the outing. The D-backs spurned a whole host of scoring opportunities on the night, going 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position. But that hit (above) proved to be all they’d need, Steve Finley driving in Damian Miller for the only run of the game - one of this three hits in the game.
Game 2: Cardinals 4, Diamondbacks 1
The Diamondbacks turned to Randy Johnson, 21-6 in the regular season, for Game 2. But rookie Albert Pujols took the Big Unit deep in the first inning (above), to give the Cardinals a lead they would never relinquish. Woody Williams took a shutout into the eighth inning, when the D-backs mounted their biggest challenge. Despite trailing 3-0 at that point, they got the tying run to the plate with no outs, but could only get one run across. Johnson took the loss, going eight innings and giving up three runs on six hits and two walks, as St. Louis evened the series and took home-field advantage away from Arizona.
Game 3: Diamondbacks 5, Cardinals 3
The D-backs came from behind here, a four-run seventh inning turning the game, and the series, back in their favor. They had trailed 2-0 after five, on a Jim Edmonds home-run off Miguel Batista, but had got one back in the sixth, on a solo shot by Luis Gonzalez. They chased Darryl Kile in the seventh, and reliever Mike Matthews melted down. He let Arizona tie the game on a Greg Colbrunn single, then Craig Counsell, of all people, smacked a three-run homer to put the Diamondbacks ahead to stay. [The only video of that home-run I could find, was on the 2001 World Series DVD!] Byung-Hyun Kim put the first two he faced on base in the ninth, but got Mark McGwire to hit into a game-ending double-play.
Game 4: Diamondbacks 1, Cardinals 4
Arizona spurned a chance to clinch the first post-season victory in team history, as the offense faltered. They took the lead in the top of the first, on a Finley single, but that was all the scoring they would manage. St. Louis scored off Albie Lopez in each of the first three innings, to take a 4-1 lead, Jim Edmonds and Fernando Vina going deep. The D-backs bullpen performed admirably, with six shutout innings led by three from Brian Anderson. But the hitters, couldn’t get going. A Tony Womack double to lead of the third was their only extra-base knock of the night, and the Cardinals held on, to set up a winner-take-all contest back in Arizona on October 14.
Game 5: Cardinals 1, Diamondbacks 2
The contest took place in front of a packed house at Bank One Ballpark. Pitching-wise, it was a rematch of the Game 1 contest between Schilling and Matt Morris. Through the first seven innings, it was equally dominated by the men on the mound. Arizona took the lead in the bottom of the fourth, with a home-run by Reggie Sanders (above). But that was all the scoring either side would manage. As club talisman Jessie McGuire played God Bless America during the seventh inning stretch (below), a repeat of the opening game’s 1-0 win for Arizona was still on the cards. Schilling had hit for himself in the bottom of the seventh, so it was clear Bob Brenly was going to ride his horse further.
The script, however, changed in the eighth, J.D. Drew connecting on an 0-1 pitch from Curt (below) to tie the game up. Steve Finley and Sanders reached base with two outs in the Arizona half of the inning, but Mark Grace took a full-count strike three to end the inning. With the scores and the series tied, in a “win or go home” game, we were effectively in sudden-death baseball, with the next team to score all but certain to go on to the Championship Series. Jim Edmonds led off the top of the ninth for St. Louis with a single, and a bunt put the go-ahead run in scoring position, before Schilling buckled down,. Edgar Renteria and Mike Matheny struck out swinging, and we went into the bottom of the ninth.
Virtually forgotten is it was almost Matt Williams who got the glory. He had been 0-for-15 to that point, and was hearing the boo birds at BOB. But he narrowly missed a home-run off reliever Dave Veres, clanking the ball off the visitors’ bullpen fence in right for a lead-off double. Pinch-runner Midre Cummings advanced to third on a Miller bunt, and southpaw Steve Kline came in, walking pinch-hitter Greg Colbrunn to set up the double-play and get the platoon advantage as that brought left-handed hitting Womack, 2-for-12 over the first four games but with two hits already, to the plate. Brenly called for a suicide squeeze, reasoning “Kline is death on left-handers and I thought we could take them by surprise.”
It didn’t work. The pitch was a breaking ball, down in the dirt, and Tony was unable to make contact. Cummings, going on the pitch, was a dead duck at home for the second out and a collective groan went round the ballpark, as well as from the millions watching at home, including myself. However, another oft-forgotten element was Colbrunn taking second base on the play - he was run for there by Danny Bautista. Said Womack. “This guy made one of the toughest pitches I’ve seen to squeeze, so I just put it away. I had to put it away real quick and try to do what I do best.” And after a pair of fouls around a ball, in a striking omen of walk-off bloops to come. he dunked the ball into shallow left.
With the runner on second, there was a chance of a play at the plate, but Bautista was not hanging about, and motored around from second to score the winning run. Womack raised both arms and pointed to the sky as he stopped on second, clearly thinking of his father, who had passed away earlier in the year (as mentioned earlier in this series). The Arizona Diamondbacks had one their first post-season series in dramatic fashion, setting up a Championship Series clash against the Braves. And while Schilling, with two wins, two complete games and an 0.50 ERA, was likely the series MVP, it was Womack who provided the exclamation point on its end.
“When you believe in yourself, things can happen, and I think [Williams and I] both believed in ourselves. We took the long road, but we believed in ourselves.”