ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

As D-backs host Yankees, memories surface of 2001 World Series

Apr 29, 2019, 6:45 PM
4 Nov 2001: The Arizona Diamondbacks stream onto the field after beating the New York Yankees in ga...
4 Nov 2001: The Arizona Diamondbacks stream onto the field after beating the New York Yankees in game seven of the Major League Baseball World Series at Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix, Arizona. The Diamondbacks won 3-2 to capture the World Series title. (Harry How/ALLSPORT via Getty Images)
(Harry How/ALLSPORT via Getty Images)

PHOENIX — As the Arizona Diamondbacks were on the road last week, the team held a press conference at its home ballpark. It was a chance for media to speak with two of the team’s greatest ambassadors, a duo that was part of the 2001 World Series win over the New York Yankees, who will visit Chase Field on Tuesday.

In a chair to the left was Luis Gonzalez, the walk-off hero who now works full-time for the D-backs. And on the right was Randy Johnson, the series co-MVP and current part-time D-backs employee who travels and shoots photography on the side.

This week will mark the fourth time since ’01 that the Bronx Bombers have visited Phoenix. The Yankees of today are long removed from the teams led by Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera and Mike Mussina. Heck, they’re pretty different from even the team they expected to have just a couple months ago; arguably, the 2019 Yankees have been bit by the injury bug worse than any other team in baseball.

But the timeless Yankee logo and pinstripes are unmistakable, as is the play-by-play call from Greg Schulte when Gonzo hit his famous walk-off single. Gonzalez and Johnson were part of the only professional championship in Phoenix sports history, and one of the most memorable World Series in MLB history.

“It was a great group of men in that room. We went through some ups and downs a little bit early, spring training,” Gonzalez said. “You could tell in our locker room for the last couple years before that moment that we had a great group of guys. We were all on the same page. We were the oldest team in baseball at the time. And we all got along. Every day was a joy to come to the ballpark.”

But just as the players remember what it was like to beat a dynasty, those on the outside remember it for something more. It was a World Series remembered for its drama and its context; As New York’s first responders helped a city reeling from tragedy, the local baseball team helped distract grieving New Yorkers.

“It went from being pretty calm here in Arizona to all of a sudden just things kind of going to the next level being in New York,” Johnson said. “Outside the lines, when we went to New York, being asked of the people, whoever wanted to attend to go to Ground Zero and meet the workers who were working there, that put things into perspective and really what life is all about.

“As players and people here witnessing that, we had the opportunity to go entertain our country and the world, if you will, but put New York, for however many hours, at ease a little bit or be entertained with the World Series.”

(Al Bello/ALLSPORT via Getty Images)

President George W. Bush threw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium for Game 3, the first of three games to be played in New York. Gonzalez recalled heightened security for the nation’s leader, including a faux umpire and snipers up above.

“We were like, ‘Man, we don’t recognize that umpire over there,'” Gonzalez said. “‘He’s not one that we’ve had all year long.'”

The Yankees won all three games in New York, coming back from down 2-0 to up 3-2. Games 4 and 5 went to extra innings as closer Byung-Hyun Kim blew the save in each of those games. Back to Phoenix they went. The Diamondbacks walloped the Yankees 15-2 to force a Game 7 at Bank One Ballpark in only the team’s fourth season of existence.

“We were up two games to none,” Gonzalez said. “And if we went over there and if we swept, we were going to be very respectful about the situation. These were the biggest games in our career but we realized there was something even bigger going on. And for us to say, ‘Hey, if we win this in four or five games, whatever it was, we’ll take it in the locker room, we’ll celebrate in there.’ Because of the simple fact that we were doing it in New York.

“But the way the scenario played out, it was perfect.”

Perfect it was.

On Nov. 4, 2001, Bank One Ballpark watched as Curt Schilling took the mound for his eighth inning of work in a 1-1 game. Alfonso Soriano led off the inning and went down 0-2 in the count. He fouled off two more pitches. Then launched one into left field for a home run. 2-1 Yankees.

Miguel Batista came on in relief of Schilling and pitched a third of an inning, then Johnson, who went 7 innings the night before, entered to pitch the rest of the game.

We all know the rest of the story.

(Harry How/ALLSPORT via Getty Images)

“Here we are, 18 years later and people are still talking about that team,” Gonzalez said. “People come up to us almost daily to say they remember where they were at. So it was a pretty special moment in not just our lives but other’s people’s gatherings and family things that were going on. To be a small part of that is really special here in the state. We hope all the teams start winning championships, but we have something that no one can ever take away from us, which is the first.”

Arizona has something it never had before that November night: a championship. And the players will forever have an inseparable bond with one another over accomplishing an unlikely victory over the back-to-back-to-back World Series winners.

“We all have a group chat that all the 2001 team is involved in,” Gonzalez said. “It gets pretty comical and classic sometimes with some of the guys, because we had a strange bunch of characters on that team. But it took a unique bunch of guys.

“Everybody’s different traits and characteristics that we had and awkwardness that we all had, we all came together as one and knew how to go out there and play the game the right way.”

Penguin Air

Comments

Comment guidelines: No name-calling, personal attacks, profanity, or insults. Please keep the conversation civil and help us moderate comments by reporting abuse.
comments powered by Disqus

Arizona Diamondbacks

Joe Mantiply #35 of the Arizona Diamondbacks throws a pitch during the ninth inning against the Mil...
Jordan Leandre

Assistant GM Mike Fitzgerald says D-backs need to build better bullpens

Arizona Diamondbacks assistant general manager Mike Fitzgerald emphasized the team's need to construct better bullpens moving forward.
1 day ago
Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Merrill Kelly throws during the first inning of a baseball ga...
Kellan Olson

Merrill Kelly reaches 200 IP in D-backs’ season finale, win vs. Brewers

Diamondbacks pitcher Merrill Kelly reached 200 innings pitched in Wednesday's season finale against the Milwaukee Brewers, a 4-2 win.
1 day ago
New York Yankees' Aaron Judge connects for a solo home run, his 62nd of the season, off of Texas Ra...
Jordan Leandre

By the numbers: Putting into context Aaron Judge’s historic season

Aaron Judge's 2022 season is forever cemented in baseball lore. However, how does it measure up against the best seasons ever?
1 day ago
Zac Gallen #23 of the Arizona Diamondbacks checks a runner at first base during the first inning ag...
Associated Press

D-backs blanked by Brewers in Zac Gallen’s final start of season

D-backs Zac Gallen stuck out six and allowed three runs over 5.0 innings in his final start of the season on Tuesday night.
2 days ago
Corbin Carroll #7 of the Arizona Diamondbacks advances to third base on a single by Carson Kelly #1...
Jake Anderson

D-backs rookie Corbin Carroll paces fastest home-to-3rd time since 2020

Arizona Diamondbacks rookie outfielder Corbin Carroll has hit the ground running since making his MLB debut on Aug. 29.
2 days ago
Joe Mantiply #35 of the Arizona Diamondbacks throws a pitch during the ninth inning against the Mil...
Associated Press

Diamondbacks bullpen blows 2 late leads in extra-inning loss to Brewers

The D-backs bullpen blew a three-run lead in the 9th inning and a one-run lead in the 10th in Monday night's 6-5 loss to the Brewers.
3 days ago
As D-backs host Yankees, memories surface of 2001 World Series