Diamondbacks had a plan on how to get to Rivera
Updated: Monday November 05, 2001 12:37 PM
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
The Arizona Diamondbacks, though, don't go for that "practically" stuff. The Diamondbacks had a plan for Rivera. A couple of them, in fact.
Well, Plan No. 1 was to stay away from him at all costs.
But if that failed, they had another plan. Simply enough, it was to get the bat on the ball -- don't try to pull Rivera's famous cut fastball under any circumstances -- and don't worry about hitting it hard.
"That was the first time I choked up all season," said Arizona slugger Luis Gonzalez, who came up with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday and flared a game-winning single to left off Rivera, giving the Diamondbacks a 3-2 win in the seventh and deciding game of the 2001 World Series. "I was just trying to loop a ball. I saw they had the infield in. I didn't have to hit it hard. I just had to put it into play and not hit into a double play."
Rivera, a hard-throwing right-hander with a reputation for sawing off hitters at the hands with his cut fastball, came into Sunday's game with a string of 23 consecutive postseason saves. Not since he gave up a game-tying solo homer to Sandy Alomar of the Cleveland Indians in Game 4 of the American League Division Series in 1997 -- the last time the Yankees had lost a postseason series -- had Rivera blown a save.
The Yankees had used him for five innings in three games in this World Series. He had given up two hits. He had not allowed a run. For the 2001 postseason, he was 2-0 with an 0.61 ERA in 14 2/3 innings.
Sunday, after striking out the side in the bottom of the eighth inning -- he got Gonzalez to start the inning with a nasty down-and-in cutter -- Rivera stepped onto the mound in the ninth with his team ahead, 2-1.
Plan 2 kicked in at that point.
Mark Grace, the veteran third baseman, was first up.
"There are no surprises with him. He's firing a cut fastball at you at about 140 mph," Grace said. "I hit it with the bat because if I hadn't, it would have hit me right in the chest." Grace singled to center.
Catcher Damian Miller did the smart thing next, laying down a bunt to try to push David Dellucci (pinch running for Grace) to second. The bunt bounded toward Rivera, who wheeled and tried to get Dellucci at second.
But the throw sailed between Dellucci and shortstop Derek Jeter, who was covering at second, and bounded into center field. Suddenly, the Diamondbacks had runners on first and second with no one out.
Jay Bell bounced to Rivera on the next pitch, and Rivera got Dellucci at third for the force. But then Tony Womack came up and broke the plan. He pulled a fastball down the right-field line for a double, scoring pinch-runner Midre Cummings with the tying run.
Second baseman Craig Counsell was hit by a pitch to load the bases, bringing up Gonzalez. The lefty-swinging Gonzalez, playing with a sore wrist he hurt when he was hit by a pitch in Game 2, fouled the first pitch back.
And then the going-the-other-way soft single that scored Bell with the winning run.
"I took a pretty good hit in Game 2. I was coming in for treatment every day," Gonzalez said. "I just needed to keep my hands in and make sure I got through the ball."
With the hit, the Diamondbacks won their first Series title in only their fourth year of existence, making them the youngest expansion team ever to win the title.
The fact that it came against the Yankees -- who have 26 Series titles -- and Rivera made it even sweeter.
It was practically unbelievable.