In celebration of Arizona's centennial, the Star is featuring our picks for the 100 best athletes, moments and teams. Throughout the summer, we have been showcasing our list. Here is the last of Greg Hansen's top 10.
At 11 a.m., on Nov. 4, 2001, I stood next to the old Southern Pacific railroad tracks adjacent to Bank One Ballpark. It was a Sunday morning, unseasonably warm, and it would be the most extraordinary day in the history of Arizona sports.
The first pitch of Game 7 of the World Series was seven hours away. I positioned myself next to the players' parking lot, on the Southern Pacific line, intent on determining if the magnitude of that day's events, Yankees vs. Diamondbacks, would lure the players to the ballpark before their customary, post-lunch arrival.
The answer was immediately apparent: Luis Gonzalez's imposing black Hummer was already in the lot. He would later admit to arriving at 10:30 after a failed night's sleep.
By 2 p.m., the press box and both dugouts were teeming with baseball people. I took the elevator to ground level, walked slowly through the Yankees' clubhouse and remembered what Diamondbacks' 42-year-old relief pitcher Mike Morgan had told reporters after Arizona won Game 1 a week earlier:
"I've been playing this game for 23 years, and here I am with the whole world watching. What a feeling."
Before Game 7, a stealth bomber seemed to stand still as it flew over the opening in the ballpark's roof, almost disguised in the autumn dusk. The setting was absorbing.
D-backs pitcher Curt Schilling got a lot of mileage for his attempt to make human the Yankees' "mystique and aura" - "they are just dancers in a nightclub," he said before Game 3 in New York - but the 2001 World Series began a mere 46 days after the World Trade Center tragedy, and the first six games of the Series were so theatrical that the whole thing seemed like something out of a movie.
After the D-backs swept Games 1 and 2 in Phoenix, D-backs owner Jerry Colangelo asked if pitcher Randy Johnson might surrender the ball with which the game's final out was recorded.
"My first World Series start? A shutout? Against the Yankees?" Johnson would later tell Sports Illustrated. "No way."
President George W. Bush threw out the first pitch in Game 3 at Yankee Stadium, nine miles north of ground zero. The atmosphere was one of both desperation and history. The Yankees rallied to win Games 4 and 5 after trailing going to the bottom of the ninth.
Only 15 times in 564 previous World Series games had the home team overcome a deficit as it began what would've been its final at-bat. No World Series had two of those games. The 2001 World Series would have three, including Game 7.
In Game 7, Arizona trailed 2-1 going to the bottom of the ninth. The clock on the Bank One Ballpark outfield wall read 9:11. Amazing.
Despite batting just .183 and scoring a meager 14 runs in the World Series, all the Yankees had to do, in retrospect, was to get out the Nos. 7-8-9 spots in Arizona's lineup to win it all.
But against Mariano Rivera, the game's most feared closer, a throwing error and hitting Craig Counsell, who was 2 for 24 in the Series, ultimately brought Gonzalez to the plate with the bases loaded.
The man who hit 57 home runs that year had so much respect for Rivera that he choked up 2 inches on his bat. "It's the only time I choked up all year," Gonzalez said later.
His 140-foot blooper bounced onto the edge of the outfield grass. The Diamondbacks won it all.
Until that instant, the most memorable sports moments in the history of this state had been played in somebody else's time zone.
Gymnast Kerri Strug's enduring Olympic gold medal somersault came in Atlanta. The Suns' two unforgettable NBA Finals games, triple-overtimes in 1976 and 1993, were played in Boston and Chicago, respectively. Jim Brock, Bobby Winkles and Jerry Kindall won their biggest games in Nebraska.
And when Lute Olson cut down the nets at the Final Four, he stood on a ladder in Indiana.
Just after 9:30 p.m., on Nov. 4, 2001, Jay Bell touched home plate in downtown Phoenix and the Arizona Diamondbacks were champions.