Baseball: Arizona dethrone Yankees

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The Independent Online

No comeback was more unlikely, and perhaps no World Series more dramatic. The New York Yankees had won four out of the last five Series, while five years ago the Arizona Diamondbacks did not exist. Yet amid the patriotic ceremonies in the wake of 11 September, the 97th World Series – and the first that went into November – that was full of twists climaxed in the bottom of the ninth inning of the deciding Game Seven on Sunday night with the old guard dethroned by the new boys.

A rare desert rain was falling in Phoenix when the Yankees' rookie Alfonso Soriano hit a eighth-inning home run that looked likely to secure the Yankees' 27th championship, especially with the game's best closing pitcher, Mariano Rivera, coming on to protect the 2-1 lead.

But the rain stopped and the Diamondbacks dug deep. Mark Grace got things started with his third hit of the game, the usually unflappable Rivera made a throwing error and Tony Womack batted in the tying run. Then Luis Gonzalez capped a season of 57 home runs with a shot that barely made it out of the infield. But it went far enough to allow Jay Bell to score the winning run.

The Yankees had also produced ninth-inning miracles, particularly in Games 4 and 5 when Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius, Yankee heroes of past Series, hit game-tying home runs. "This is probably going to go down as one of the best World Series ever," Gonzalez said. Bell said: "I go from goat to hero in a couple of seconds."

New York were denied the opportunity to join the 1949-1953 and 1936-1939 Yankees as the only teams to win four straight titles. In contrast, Arizona now has its first major professional championship in any sport.

The 38-year-old left-hander Randy Johnson and 34-year-old right-hander Curt Schilling established themselves as one of the all-time great pitching duos, rounding off their dominance in the regular season with stirring displays in the post-season. The pair shared the World Series Most Valuable Player award. It was pitching that stopped the Yankees, whose team batting average of .183 (less than a hit in every five at-bats) was a record low in a seven-game World Series and they were outscored 37-12.

In his third start of the Series, Schilling started Game 7 on only three days' rest while Johnson, the day after winning his second game of the Series, threw one and a third innings – faultlessly. He became the first pitcher to win as a starter in Game Six and as a reliever in Game Seven since 1946.

"He's a warrior, Schilling said of Johnson. "And that relief appearance is everything you ever need to know about Randy Johnson. What he's done for us this year and what he's done for me on a personal level is something that I don't know that I'll ever be able to repay him."

Games 3, 4 and 5 in New York were part of the city's healing process, and many could not remember Yankee Stadium, scene of more World Series celebrations than anywhere else, rocking and swaying as much.

After the government warned of possible new terrorist attacks, and with the city worrying about anthrax, President George Bush threw the ceremonial first pitch at Game 3, which was played under the heaviest security ever seen at an American sporting event. The Yankees wore caps honouring New York rescue workers and put singing firemen and policemen at home plate to give performances of national anthems official and unofficial. But the final act of the World Series belonged to Arizona.

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