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20 years ago today: “Floater! Center field! The Diamondbacks are World Series champions!”

Honk your horns, stamp your feet...

Luis Gonzalez celebrates a series-clinching, walk-off hit against the Yankees’ Mariano Rivera in the 2001 World Series Photo credit should read -/AFP via Getty Images

After the events of the previous night, we were back at Farrelli’s Cinema Supper Club for Game 7. I guess, now, I would have sold a minor organ to buy tickets to the game, but at that point, I didn’t realize just how rare Game 7’s are for any city. In the twenty years since this contest, there have only been six World Series games. At that rate, with 30 major-league teams, the average franchise will get to experience one about every half-century or so. [Roll on 2051!] I won’t make that mistake again. But in 2001, it was Farrelli’s, and we recognized quite a number of other people, who had also returned after the events of Game Six.

As you’d expect, it was a tense affair, with every pitch watched with the utmost attention, especially as the game remained scoreless through the first 512 innings, so every swing could be the go-ahead run. Curt Schilling was pitching his heart out; but so was Roger Clemens. Both teams had chances, of which they were unable to take advantage. Paul O’Neill being thrown out at third trying to stretch a double with one out in the first. The D-backs had two on with one out in the second, and stranded two more in the third inning. But they were finally able to get their noses in front in the bottom of the sixth, after Steve Finley led off with a single.

As the above video documents, everyone was expecting Danny Bautista to bunt. But manager Bob Brenly opted to give Game 6’s star one swing. Bautista did not disappoint, driving the ball to left-center. Though Danny was thrown out at third, it allowed Finley to motor all the way round, giving the Diamondbacks a 1-0 lead. It was a short-lived advantage, as the Yankees got three singles off Schilling in their half of the seventh, the last a game-tying RBI by Tino Martinez. Worse was to follow leading off the eighth, Alfono Soriano somehow reaching down and golfing a Schilling pitch over the fence in left for a 2-1 Yankees’ lead. One out and a single later, Schilling was done: 7.1 IP of two-run ball.

Batista got the second out, becoming a trivia answer in the process, then the doors to the bullpen opened, and Game 6 starter Randy Johnson strode out. If Game 5 was the only sporting event ever to provoke a genuine, negative physical reaction in me, this moment was the polar opposite. Goosebumps. Goosebumps everywhere - and till this day, any time I see that. He got the final out of the top of the eighth, but with the inevitability of death and taxes, Mariano Rivera came out of the Yankees’ bullpen to protect the one-run lead. Here’s his career post-season line as he took the mound:

Rivera: 77.2 IP, 48 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 12 BB, 60 SO, 2 HR, 0.70 ERA - 6-0, 24/25 in saves

More men had walked on the moon than had driven in playoff runs off Rivera. And 14 pitches later, the D-backs’ eighth was done, as he struck out the side around a Steve Finley single. Johnson retired the Yankees in order in the ninth, but the Yankees - despite being outscored by 21 runs - were three outs from their fourth World Series in a row. But there would be a final twist, one which would be rejected by Hollywood as implausible. Mark Grace singled. Damian Miller’s bunt was misfielded to put two on. Though Jay Bell’s led to an out at third, Tony Womack tied the game up, whacking the ball into right field for an RBI double. Craig Counsell then took one for the team, hit by a Rivera pitch.

That brought Luis Gonzalez to the plate, with the bases loaded and one out. He’d had a quiet series, hitting .231, and had been Rivera’s first strikeout victim in the eighth. But after his season, the D-backs wanted no-one else at the plate. We all know what happened. We’ve discussed it as recently as last June, when his bloop single was chosen - unsurprisingly - as the #1 Diamondbacks’ moment of all time. I refer you to that article for the story of where the SnakePitters were, including myself. Here? Let’s go in a different direction. I was sent the following poem - obviously, inspired by the classic Casey at the Bat - which I reckon is as fitting a memorial to the event as you can hope to find.

Arizona Diamondbacks left fielder Luis Gonzalez hi MIKE NELSON/AFP via Getty Images

“Gonzo at the Bat”

The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Phoenix Nine that day
The score stood 3 to 2 with but one inning left to play
And with Rivera pitching for the Yankees at the time
The Diamondbacks had not much of a chance in inning nine

A few unreal fanatics got up to depart. The rest
Clung to the hope that springs eternal in the human breast
They thought if only Gonzo could take his turn at the plate
We’d put our best foot forward, and we’d leave the rest to fate

But Gonzo was preceded by Mark Grace and several others
And it did not seem like the hometown crowd would have its druthers
Upon that purple multitude, grim melancholy sat
There seemed but little chance of Gonzo’s getting to the bat.

But Mark Grace smacked a single just above the pitcher’s box
And Dave Dellucci pinch ran because Grace had had his knocks
And then when Miller’s sacrifice was misplayed by the Yanks
Dellucci stood at second, safe, with Miller at first base

From 40,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell
It rumbled through the valley clear, it rattled in the dell;
It climbed upon the mountain and then rose up toward the sun
The Diamondback fans now believed their season wasn’t done

Jay Bell, the grizzled veteran now walked up to the plate
To bat for Randy Johnson, who had done his job first-rate
And when Rivera sent the first delivery a-rushin’,
Jay bunted rather badly with enormous repercussion

Rivera pounced like a gazelle and fired to third base
The umpire ruled out and so Dellucci lost his place
And when the dust had settled and all saw what had occurred
D. Miller stood at second base with guilty Bell at first

Bob Brenly was a rookie but one thing he knew, indeed
He didn’t want the tying run to have ol’ Miller’s speed
So, realizing that all of his strong hitters were a-coming,
He pulled out catcher Miller and inserted Midre Cummings

Then Tony Womack strode up to the batter’s box. His gait
Showed that he wasn’t nervous as he stepped up to the plate
And when he turned on Mariano’s cutter, riding in
He slashed it over first base knocking Midre Cummings in

Jay Bell now stood at third base, happy that he’d been absolved
While Womack was at second, thinking he’d the pitcher solved
But they still had not reached the Gonz. His turn it wasn’t yet
Before him banjo-hitter Counsell had to pass the test

The very first pitch thrown to Craig was hardly near the plate
And it was quickly clear that a called strike was not its fate
Yet when the ball bounced off the batter’s elbow, let me say
The time had come for Gonzo; no more teammates blocked his way

Some 80,000 eyes did follow Gonzo’s batting quirks
Some 40,000 tongues did yell when he tucked in his shirt
Rivera blew into his fist. The crowd began to yell
The Arizona Faithful prayed that this would all end well

And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Gonzo took a whack at it, but it was not hit fair
And so the pitcher and the batter, both of them intense
Now readied for the moment when their battle’d recommence

And once again Rivera threw the ball, not yet defeated
And once again Gonzalez swung his bat to try and meet it
And this time when the off-white bat made contact with the ball
The spheroid flew into the air and spelled the end of Fall

Oh somewhere on this wondrous Earth there must be children crying
And somewhere there is sorrow, and unhappy people sighing
And somewhere there’s a city without smile, laugh or grin
But there is joy in Phoenix - for Gonzalez drove Bell in
Shlomo Morgulis

As for the full video of the game, we’ll be having a watch party for that, beginning at 7 pm tonight. So I’ll be posting it there, and we can relive the entire experience collectively! Hope to see you in the Gameday Thread.