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|Luis Gonzalez's RBI single put the final touch on a memorable season.
The ninth inning: 56k | 300k
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PHOENIX -- The whole season flashed before our eyes.
Luis Gonzalez had just made contact against Mariano Rivera, sending a potential World Series-winning hit to the cushy grass in shallow center.
"It was a moment that was etched in time," Jerry Colangelo, founder and Managing General Partner of the Diamondbacks, says. "The ball didn't seem to want to drop, and this wasn't just my moment. This was for every person associated with our franchise -- the players, the coaches, our city, our state, you have no idea."
The moment lingered, and we loved every fraction of every second.
Unforgettable still images of 2001 filled this particular writer's head. Barry Bonds' 70th, 71st and 73rd home runs. Click. Ichiro and the Seattle Mariners' 116th victory. Click. Cal Ripken's All-Star Game-winning homer. Click. Derek Jeter soaring into the stands to record an out. Click. Rickey Henderson's 3,000th hit and Ty-breaking career run total. Click. Jeter's flip to home on a desperate option-quarterback relay. Click. The first games after Sept. 11. Old Glory everywhere. Click.
And it all came down to this, to a Fall Classic that might as well be recalled as Fall Class.
It was a seven-game World Series played by two outstanding teams, a fairy tale ending without a single villain in sight.
So there Gonzalez was, supplying the at-bat that stood still, the exclamation point on a year that has amazed and inspired.
"You dream about it as a little kid," Gonzalez says of the situation, of stepping into the batter's box in the ninth inning with the championship-clinching runner on third base. "As a 34-year-old, you're walking up there and it's real life now."
Gonzalez's mind went all over the map.
"Just seeing the fans on their feet, showing they believed in us," Gonzalez says: "That was special."
Fans at home sent e-mails to MLB.com and, in those notes, shared that they were in tears as Arizona rallied.
Gonzalez was choked up himself, literally, close to four inches on the bat.
"That's the first time I've choked up all season," Gonzalez says. "I was just trying to loop the ball, trying to stay out of a double play."
He also was trying not to show his weaknesses. Gonzalez, truth be told, was playing in some serious pain. He didn't look like Kirk Gibson up there, but he has dealt with more-than-nagging wrist and foot injuries from earlier World Series games, from hit-by-pitch damage.
So Gonzalez put that out of his mind. Or tried. A lot more was occupying that space. Mariano Rivera, for example, had converted 23 consecutive saves in postseason play, never blowing one in eight Fall Classic tries.
"Our goal going into this series was to stay away from him," Gonzalez says.
Becoming childlike again, like Boo in Monsters, Inc., Gonzalez adds: "We had to go through his door."
Teammates also weighed on Gonzalez's mind, especially one: Byung-Hyun Kim, the reliever who was on the mound when Yankee magic occurred back in New York.
"It was a perfect fit," Gonzalez says of his ninth-inning confrontation with Rivera. "They got our reliever twice. But this team rallied around him. It shows the type of character, the type of guys we have."
Gonzalez wanted so deeply for his one-out at-bat to trigger something unforgettably positive.
"In the back of our minds and in our hearts, the Yankees were the team we wanted to play," he says, intending no disrespect toward American League runner-up Seattle. "To be the best, you have to go through the best."
The Arizona left fielder also had thoughts of Bob Brenly dancing around in there, somewhere, partly because the manager had caught severe second guesses in the aftermath of consecutive Wednesday and Thursday ninth-inning losses.
"What Bob has done all year didn't surprise any of us," Gonzalez says. "Games 4 and 5, those were two tough losses for all of us."
Shift gears, for a moment, to the other side of this equation.
Gonzalez is up there. Ninth inning. The Yankees and all of New York have won back-to-back-to-back titles. The city they call home has endured, and so has the country, since the Sept. 11 terror attacks and subsequent uncertainty.
Look to Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who provides an exceptional snapshot of the biggest picture, of how he saw things no matter what Gonzalez's swing produced.
"Step back from it as a Yankee fan," Giuliani says. "This is as great a World Series as I can ever remember having."
New York won the three games played in New York, he mentions.
"They gave us a great October, and we needed a great October," Giuliani says. "We got to think about something innocent and beautiful, baseball, as a metaphor for life. People in New York are trying to send a message: We're back. The Yankees personified that. The (New York City) Marathon (which he also attended Sunday) personified that."
Gonzalez, standing there in that batter's box, demonstrated something the country understands now as much as ever.
"The Diamondbacks never gave up," Giuliani says. "I like the people of Phoenix, the people of Arizona. They have handled themselves very well. I've never heard a ballpark as loud as this."
That's saying something.
Gonzalez sees similarities between the D-Backs and the Yankees.
"We feel like we have the Steinbrenner of the National League," he says, talking about Colangelo. "This guy wants to win."
Imagine that ball Gonzalez has hit still moving through the sky, a gentle rain falling.
Fast-forward to the Arizona locker room. That ball, after all, is going to drop. It's going to have D-Back personnel soaking in bubbly.
"It sure burns the eyes," Colangelo says as champagne is poured over his head.
"I'm very, very grateful," Colangelo tells reporters. "This will be cherished. I've appreciated every moment of it."
The man who brought baseball to Phoenix, Colangelo, is drenched, still fit to run a board meeting in his gray slacks and white-collar shirt with -- egads -- those are pinstripes!
Manager Joe Torre, General Manager Brian Cashman and Giuliani deliver personal messages of congratulations into the D-Backs' clubhouse.
Arizona players Mark Grace and Matt Williams embrace the way people do in hospital waiting rooms when the news is wonderful.
Across the way, Curt Schilling autographs a couple of programs. "I can't describe it," he tells the 118th reporter who asks what it's like to have a ring on the way.
Gonzalez is interviewed in Spanish, asked which of his teammates is the MVP.
"From one to 25, the whole team," is his reply.
That whole Diamondbacks roster will be invited to the White House, and Gonzalez can savor the memory of finalizing that trip, of hitting the ball that sent Jay Bell toward home plate.
"It's going to be awesome," Gonzalez says of shaking President Bush's hand, whenever that time comes. "We can't wait."
In the New York locker room, again, postgame, Derek Jeter is talking.
"The whole year comes down to one game, one inning, one hit," the shortstop says, recalling how he was playing in, helpless, hurting, as Gonzalez's game-winner floated by. "It's a huge disappointment."
Mayor Giuliani walks into the training room to shake Mike Stanton's hand. Back in the Yankee clubhouse, he spots Tino Martinez and pats the first baseman on the shoulder. Then he approaches Scott Brosius and Paul O'Neill.
He tells them something that sums up 2001 in two simple words.
You know what they say about all great things. And ending as they must, they might as well close this way, with nails bitten, with the best reliever in baseball on the mound.
"The run took forever to cross the plate," Colangelo recalls. "When the hit actually landed, it was slower than slow motion. It was tremendous."
"This is probably going to go down as one of the best World Series ever played," he says. "Unbelievable. It's part of history now."
As a current event, it lasted delightfully long, extending New York's season and allowing Arizonans to anticipate in awe.
Flash back to the trajectory of Gonzalez's hit.
As he heads up the first-base path, Gonzalez knows the 2001 season is almost over, knows his victory in the Home Run Derby was microscopic.
"Tonight, we're the city that's not gonna sleep," Gonzalez promises.
For that matter, this was the Series that didn't sleep.
The beast is a beauty. The frog is a prince. Shrek gets the girl.
Baseball has completed a season for the ages.
Not lost on the game-winning hitter is the wounded-duck highlight that -- thanks be to Gonzo -- dragged on and on and on.
As he put it:
"The storybook ending is a bloop single."
Dinn Mann is editor-in-chief of MLB.com. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.