Little things, big man
Counsell provides something special for D'backs
Updated: Saturday October 20, 2001 3:19 AM
By Dan George, CNNSI.com
You know him. The guy with the funny, puffed-up-chest batting stance. The guy who looks like he should still be worrying about wedgies in junior high. The guy who was in the middle of both Diamondbacks' scoring flurries, as well as a couple of near misses.
Counsell went a hustling 3-for-4, scored a run, stole a base and laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt during a three-run fifth inning that gave Schilling all the cushion he needed for his third consecutive playoff victory.
"This guy has been truly amazing for us all year long," Arizona manager Bob Brenly said of the 31-year-old Counsell, who batted .275 with four home runs, 38 RBIs and 76 runs scored this season while filling in at every infield position.
"He gives you a good at-bat every time he goes to the plate. You can be pretty sure you're going to see a full count. He's not afraid to hit with two strikes. He may be one of the best two-strike hitters in baseball. He's the smartest player I've ever had the fortune to be around. He's always in the right place at the right time."
In the first inning, Counsell -- sure enough -- worked the count to 3-and-2 before whacking a single to left field, then dashed to third on Matt Williams' two-out double into the right-field corner before Finley flied out to center.
"I feel more comfortable the deeper I get into the count," Counsell said. "The more pitches I see, I feel comfortable. That's always been my approach to hitting. It's the way I've had the most success."
Two innings later, Counsell chopped a 2-2 pitch between first and the mound, sliding headfirst into the bag just ahead of first baseman Julio Franco, who had to make the play when pitcher John Burkett was slow covering first.
"Burky was kind of in no-man's land," Counsell said. "He didn't know whether to get it or go to the bag. You just try to beat him there, and I was able to beat Julio to the bag."
Moments later, Counsell scrambled safely to second on Luis Gonzalez's hit-and-run groundout to short, keeping the inning alive for a two-out walk to Williams and a two-run double by Finley.
"He's our sparkplug. He's our unsung hero on this team," Gonzalez said. "He creates a lot of opportunities for us in the middle of the order. He's done that all year. He doesn't get a lot of notoriety but, believe me, everybody in here knows how valuable he is to our ballclub."
In the fifth inning, after Schilling and Tony Womack led off with hits -- Womack's a bunt to Burkett in which second baseman Marcus Giles was tardy to first -- Counsell laid down a perfect sacrifice, setting the stage for an intentional walk to Gonzalez. Williams then followed with a high hopper to third baseman Chipper Jones, whose throw skipped off Javy Lopez's glove, allowing Schilling and Womack to score. Finley made it 5-1 with a single to right.
Counsell got his third hit in the seventh, another single on a 3-2 count, then swiped second base, setting up another intentional walk, this one to Finley, before Reggie Sanders ended the inning with a strikeout.
"You just try to do your job," Counsell said with a shrug. "I don't do anything different here than I do during the regular season. I just try to contribute to win. That's my approach during the regular season, and that's my approach now: Do something to contribute to a win."
Counsell came into Friday night's game batting a meager .208 in the 2001 playoffs, but he is no stranger to postseason heroics. Despite going 3-for-16 in the NL Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, one of those hits was a three-run homer that clinched Arizona's 5-3 victory in Game 3.
And in the 1997 World Series, while playing for Florida, he drove in the tying run in the ninth inning of Game 7, then scored the winning run in the 11th inning.
"Any time you've been in a situation like this and had success, you're going to carry that confidence with you. It's always in your back pocket," Counsell said. "You've been there, you've had the same feeling. Of course, that makes it easier."