-- In the end, it did come down to the bullpens.
The Arizona Diamondbacks rallied in the bottom of the ninth inning against the greatest postseason reliever of all time and stunned the three-time defending champion New York Yankees, 3-2, in Game Seven of the World Series.
After closer Byung-Hyun Kim surrendered a trio of heartbreaking home runs in New York, the Diamondbacks rallied against the incomparable Mariano Rivera and became the fastest expansion team to capture baseball's ultimate prize.
Luis Gonzalez capped the two-run rally with a bloop single into center field that scored Jay Bell with the winning run. As Bell crossed the plate, the Diamondbacks, many of them veterans getting their first taste of the World Series, exploded from the dugout.
"Stepping up to the plate there in the ninth inning, that's what everybody dreams about," Gonzalez said. "A key situation to drive in the winning run in the World Series, against one of the best relievers in all of baseball. I choked up (on the bat) and to be honest with you that was the first time I did it all year."
Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams seemed to swipe at the ball while sighing.
"I told the players that we're disappointed in the outcome, but they should be very proud of what went on here," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "I congratulate the Diamondbacks organization, they earned it doing it off our best guy."
Rivera (0-1) had converted 23 straight postseason saves and had struck out the side in the eighth, looking as untouchable as ever.
But the Diamondbacks got to the Yankees closer in nearly as dramatic fashion as Tino Martinez, Derek Jeter and Scott Brosius got to Kim in Games Four and Five. Kim never got a chance to protect a lead in Games Six or Seven, but Gonzalez was quick to point out that the team was thinking of him.
"They got our ace reliever twice and we got theirs the one time it counted, so we'll consider it even," he said.
Curt Schilling, who started Game Seven, and Randy Johnson, who finished it, split the Most Valuable Player award. Neither was beaten in the series, with Johnson winning both Games Six and Seven.
"That relief appearance is everything you need to know about Randy," Schilling said. "He's a warrior."
"Randy told us he was good for an inning tonight and we got a 1 1/3 innings out of him," Arizona manager Bob Brenly said. "This is the seventh game of the World Series, he's not going to play winter ball this year, so there is nothing to save it for."
Johnson became the first pitcher to win as a starter in Game Six and as a reliever in Game Seven since Harry Brecheen of St. Louis did it against Boston in 1946.
"It was all adrenaline out there," Johnson said. "This is what everyone in this clubhouse has played for, going back all the way to spring training. ... It was fitting, if you are going to be the champions, you want to face the best, and we did."
Mark Grace opened the ninth with a single and Rivera committed an error as he inexplicably threw to second on a bunt by Damian Miller.
Bell bunted and this time, Rivera did get the lead runner at third. But Tony Womack knotted the game with a double down the right-field line.
Craig Counsell was hit by a pitch to load the bases, bringing up Gonzalez, whose only contact in four at-bats was a broken bat. With the infield drawn in, Gonzalez looped a single into short center field for the game-winner.
Rivera (0-1) is the all-time postseason leader in saves. He had not blown a postseason save since Game Four of the 1997 American League Division Series against Cleveland.
As he did in the 1995 postseason against the Yankees, Johnson got the clinching win in relief and finished 3-0 with a 1.04 ERA in the World Series. He also became the first pitcher to win five postseason games in one year.
Schilling was brilliant over 7 1/3 innings, although he was on the hook for the loss after allowing rookie Alfonso Soriano's go-ahead homer in the top of the eighth. He became the first pitcher since Minnesota's Jack Morris in 1991 to start three times in a series and went 1-0 with a 1.69 ERA against the Yankees.
In six postseason starts, Schilling was 4-0 with a 1.12 ERA.
Yankees starter Roger Clemens went 6 1/3 innings, allowing a run and seven hits. He walked one and struck out 10, his second-highest total in 21 postseason starts. The veteran righthander actually lowered his ERA in six World Series starts to 1.56.
"Roger was gutsy," Torre said. "He had good stuff. I don't think he threw enough strike ones, but he still managed to dance around it and be effective."
It is the first major professional sports championship for the state of Arizona. The Diamondbacks won in just their fourth year and denied the Yankees their 27th world championship.
The classic series, which saw the home team win each game for only the third time, was capped by a nip-and-tuck seventh game. Schilling won 22 games during the regular season and Clemens won 20 so, as expected, runs were at a premium.
The game was scoreless when Arizona's Steve Finley opened the bottom of the sixth with a single to center. Danny Bautista crushed Clemens' next offering to the wall in left-center, easily scoring Finley. But Bautista tried to go for third on the hit and was cut down by a strong relay from Jeter.
Bautista's ill-fated decision proved costly in the top of the seventh as Jeter and Paul O'Neill opened with singles. A forceout by Williams put runners at the corners, but Martinez singled sharply into right field to tie the game.
The Yankees took the lead in the eighth with another dramatic home run as Soriano golfed one of Schilling's few mistakes over the left-field wall, snapping a 1-1 tie.
"The pitch Soriano hit was a split finger that nearly bounced in the dirt," Brenly said. "(Catcher) Damian Miller was going down to block the thing and he just golfed it out of there."
It appeared Soriano was headed for glory when Rivera struck out three of the four batters he faced in the eighth. But the 31-year-old righthander faltered and New York was denied an opportunity to join the 1949-1953 Yankees and the 1936-1939 Yankees as the only teams to win four straight titles.
There were not many scoring opportunities early.
O'Neill playing in perhaps his final game, doubled into the right-center field gap with one out in the opening inning but was thrown out trying to stretch it to a triple.
Arizona left a runner on in the bottom of the first and had two aboard with one out in the second when Clemens struck out Miller and Schilling.
After O'Neill's hit, Schilling set down 16 in a row. He may have been at his best in the sixth, striking out Soriano and Brosius before retiring Clemens on a lineout to right field.
Over the first five innings, Clemens was not as efficient but just as effective. He used eight strikeouts to help overcome his inability to get a 1-2-3 inning.