I can remember the 2001 postseason as if it were yesterday. Like most people of that era, you tend to have a vivid memory of where you were and what your were doing during those months. After September 11th, New York City and its surrounding areas were in this combination of high alert, deep mourning, and trying to find hope in anything. If you couldn’t find hope, you would search for a distraction from the live reports, the funerals, and the politics.
The 2001 Yankees gave us that distraction. Each game showed that sports couldn’t heal our hurt and fear, but it could certainly give us a brief respite from it all. Those memories are now intertwined with our collective consciousness where we can simply utter phrases and instantly transport back.
The Flip. The President’s first pitch. Mr. November.
The Yankees’ postseason filled each night with a few hours of baseball, giving us the hope to see this group make one final run.
The 2001 Yankees gave us one last thing: finality.
Game 5 of the 2001 World Series would give us so many baseball memories. While it wasn’t the final game of the World Series, finality permeated each pitch of the game.
It would be the last game played in New York in 2001. It would be Paul O’Neill’s last game in New York. Scott Brosius would retire after the season. Tino Martinez would head to St. Louis to make room for Jason Giambi. 2001 would mark the end of the era when the Yankees made winning postseason games and championships seem inevitable.
Game 5 would be that one final time.
Final Score: Yankees 3, Diamondbacks 2
Game MVP: Scott Brosius
Game 5 started on the same day Game 4 ended. The Yankees were coming off of one of the most dramatic comebacks in Major League Baseball history after Martinez homered in the bottom of ninth off of Diamondbacks closer Byung-Hyun Kim with two outs to tie the game. Derek Jeter would finish it off after the clock struck midnight to be dubbed “Mr. November.”
While Curt Schilling would make the infamous remarks about aura and mystique being stripper names, the Yankees were hoping for the same magic in Game 5 to win one more game at Yankee Stadium and head back to Arizona with a 3-2 series lead.
That magic would appear once again.
The game began with Don Mattingly, wearing a leather USA jacket, throwing out the first pitch. Always a crowd favorite, Mattingly would exit to thunderous applause. The old stadium was, as always, electric. The distraction of baseball was on as the parade of first responders and the beefed up police force flanked each nook and cranny of the stadium.
Mike Mussina took the mound in what would be his final start of the year. Mussina was the prize free agent acquisition of the offseason and he didn’t disappoint. He led the 2001 team in starts, ERA, shutouts, complete games, strikeouts, ERA+, and FIP. Like he would show throughout his Yankees tenure, Mussina was the most consistent, most dependable pitcher on the staff.
Mussina was dominant in the first two innings, striking out three batters without allowing a hit. Meanwhile, the Yankees would threaten in the bottom of the first against Miguel Batista, a surprise starter for the Diamondbacks. At the time, Batista was pitching for his sixth team in seven major league seasons. He pitched well enough during the ‘01 campaign for the Diamondbacks, making 48 appearances and pitching to a 3.36 ERA.
It was a somewhat controversial call by manager Bob Brenly and it certainly wouldn’t be his last, but this one worked out. Batista would throw 7.2 shutout innings. The Yankees never seriously threatened other than the first inning when O’Neill walked and Martinez lined a shot down the right field line. O’Neill got to third and was visibly upset he didn’t score.
Mussina kept the Diamondbacks at bay for the first four innings, but the Diamondbacks made him throw 60 pitches in the process. In the fifth, Mussina would get ahead of Steve Finley on a 1-2 count. He would throw a flat breaking ball and Finley made him pay with a solo home run. Moose responded with two quick outs and would get to 1-2 on Rod Barajas, the catcher who was only playing because of an injury to starting catcher Damian Miller. Mussina went to his knuckle curve, and it hung — Barajas added another solo home run to put the Diamondbacks ahead 2-0.
Mussina wouldn’t give up anything else. He’d stick around for 126 pitches to complete eight innings, while allowing five hits, three walks (two intentional), and striking out 10. The Yankees couldn’t score in their few opportunities, although Brosius came up with two outs in the seventh with runners on second and third; he would fly out to right field against Batista. The Yankees had another chance in the eighth after O’Neill walked and Bernie Williams singled to left field, moving O’Neill to third. Martinez flew out against veteran lefty Greg Swindell.
Maybe the magic was gone.
Yankees fans decided that if the magic was indeed gone, they would at least say thank you to one who provided so many moments since he put the pinstripes on in 1993. The ninth inning would be uneventful in the scorebook, but will forever go down in Yankees lore as fans began chanting Paul O’Neill’s name. It was a goodbye and a thank you; “The Warrior” was retiring. If you believe that a player can be the heart and soul of a team, you would think that of O’Neill. He showed his emotions each day, he played hurt, and seemingly got the best of his abilities. We loved him for that. We loved that he cared as much as we cared. He would tip his cap as he went in the dugout for the bottom of the ninth.
Brenly would make the debatable decision to bring in his closer, Kim, to finish off the game despite having thrown 66 pitches less than 24 hours before. Once Kim was on the mound, we sensed something.
Could it really happen again in less than 24 hours? Movie scripts would be rejected for this cheesy storyline:
Jorge Posada doubled.
Maybe it’s happening. You could almost feel it.
Shane Spencer grounded out. Chuck Knoblauch struck out.
In steps Scott Brosius.
After taking a pitch, Brosius made contact. The camera panned away too quickly, but replay would show that Brosius knew it, putting his arms in the air.
Magic. One last time, when we needed it most.
Paul O’Neill would get a couple more innings in right field at the stadium.
He was needed. In the 11th, Bautista singled in the gap, but O’Neill made a great play to keep it from being more. It made the difference as Erubiel Durazo broke his bat for a hit, and Matt Williams would bunt them over. But, Mariano Rivera held firm and got the final two outs to keep the game tied, with second baseman Alfonso Soriano lending a key assist to strand the bases loaded in the 11th:
The bottom of the 12th started with Chuck Knoblauch singling to center off former Devil Rays right-hander Albie Lopez, who had been booted from Arizona’s playoff rotation. Brosius bunted Knoblauch over the second, setting the stage for the rookie Soriano to play hero with a single to right field that scored his predecessor at second base to complete the comeback.
The team that kept us distracted during one of the most difficult times in our history gave us one last magic moment in New York. In less than 24 hours, they came back from certain defeat twice. While they may not have gone on to win the World Series, it felt like they did on this night. For the moment, it was all that we could hope for.
We’d say goodbye to Scott Brosius and “see you later” to Tino Martinez. But, it was our final farewell to Paul O’Neill, the guy who was here for the start of this Yankees’ rebirth in the mid-1990’s. He walked off a winner. That seems pretty fitting. Afterwards, he was interviewed and asked how he felt.
“This is it. I wish I could stay here awhile,” he said.
So did we, Paul. So did we.