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Counsell's HR let D-backs keep pace with Yanks

Versatile infielder a key performer throughout 2001 campaign
September 25, 2018

PHOENIX -- When the subject of the 2001 World Series comes up, the hit that everyone remembers is the Game 7 ninth-inning bloop single to left field by Luis Gonzalez that clinched the championship for the Arizona Diamondbacks."Obviously, Gonzo will get all the recognition -- because a game-winning hit in

PHOENIX -- When the subject of the 2001 World Series comes up, the hit that everyone remembers is the Game 7 ninth-inning bloop single to left field by Luis Gonzalez that clinched the championship for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
"Obviously, Gonzo will get all the recognition -- because a game-winning hit in Game 7 is as good as it gets," said Bob Brenly, the D-backs' manager at the time.
Hit the rewind button a bit, though, back to the first inning of Game 1 and you'll come upon a big home run hit by one of the smallest players on the field.
The Yankees had scored a run off Curt Schilling in the top of the first to take an early lead.
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In the bottom half, Craig Counsell homered to right off Mike Mussina. The blow tied the game on the scoreboard, but it had an even greater impact on the D-backs' frame of mind -- which is why, in Brenly's mind, it was the second-biggest hit of the series for Arizona, behind Gonzalez's.
"They were the Yankees," Brenly said. "They had won three titles in a row and they [came] in here, and in the first inning against a four-year-old organization, and immediately [got] on the board. It would have been very easy for guys to panic a little bit. But when Counsell hit that home run, it was like you could almost feel the dugout go, 'OK, we can do this. We can play with these guys.'"
When Spring Training opened in 2001, Brenly, who was in his first year managing, sat down with his staff and looked at his roster -- which included Gonzalez, Matt Williams, Mark Grace, Jay Bell and Steve Finley among a group of veterans looking for their first championship.
They knew they had the talent to compete, but they also had to make some accommodations for the age of the roster.
"We knew we had an older team and we wanted them to be productive late in the season -- and we expected to be playing into the postseason," Brenly said. "So we know we needed to rest them."
When it came to the infield, Counsell's versatility played a big part in achieving that.
Counsell wound up seeing time at shortstop (54 games), second base (51), third base (33) and first (one) during the regular season.
"He could play anywhere you asked him, and would do it well and look like a natural there," Brenly said. "I never had to worry about it -- and that's a relief for any manager to have a player like that, that you can plug in anywhere on the field and know that he knows what he's doing and he'll get it done."
Counsell stepped up when the D-backs needed him most in the postseason. Before his homer in Game 1 of the World Series, he delivered a three-run homer in the seventh inning against the Cardinals in a pivotal Game 3 of the NL Division Series -- which the D-backs won, 5-3.
Counsell put up an OPS of .905 to capture the Most Valuable Player Award for the NL Championship Series in which the D-backs swept the Braves.
It was during the NLCS when it came out that ace Randy Johnson had once called Counsell, "Greg."
After the D-backs swept the Braves, Johnson had T-shirts made up that said, "Official Member Greg Counsell Fan Club," and distributed them to his teammates.
Jerry Colangelo, who owned the D-backs at the time, presented Counsell with his NLCS MVP Award in front of 20,000 fans during a workout at Chase Field prior to the World Series and admitted that he, too, had once called him, "Greg."
And what does he call him now, Colangelo was asked?
"Now, I call him Mr. Counsell," he said drawing laughs from the crowd.

Steve Gilbert has covered the D-backs for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB.