Snakebitten in the Desert

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October 1, 2014 by NowhereButPop

by Andrew Doscas

They say that time heals all wounds, but “they” couldn’t be any more wrong.  Time may close the gaping hole in your chest, but it still leaves a scar right where your heart was torn out from.  It’s been 13 years now and my heart is still broken, but what’s more is that I’m not the only one who’s been heartbroken for so long.

Besides two or three girls, my heart aches for the 2001 World Series more than anything else.  It was the first time in my life, and the lives of many boys my age, where we had felt disappointment and loss from sports.  We grew up with the Yankees winning all the time, the very notion of them losing wasn’t unfathomable, it was impossible.  Waking up Monday, November 5, 2001 to hear that the Yankees, my Yankees, had lost the World Series was a sobering moment when the invincible armor of my team had been pierced and shattered like humpty dumpy.  What was even worse was listening to all the sports pundits laud this World Series as being one of the greatest of all time, a true battle with no quarter being asked, nor none given.  To a 10 year old, I could only ask “How could it have been one of the greatest ever played, if the Yankees had lost?”.

Over the past 13 years I’ve accepted that the Yankees lost to the Diamondbacks, I’ve answered the “How”.  Randy Johnson singlehandedly beat us three times, none of our pitchers besides Roger Clemens worked, and Mariano lost his cool in the bottom of the 9th in game seven.  If you think this has quelled the fury and satiated the fires of rage that burn within me, you’re sadly mistaken.  Luis Gonzalez is my most despised baseball player, and anytime I see a New Yorker wear a 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks championship cap, I’m tempted beyond the point of reason to go over and punched them out.[1]

What I haven’t, and most likely will never understand, is why we lost.  Why did the Yankees lose the 2001 World Series?  It’s a question that drives me mad because no answer will suffice.  If there was ever a time when a team needed to win it was the New York Yankees in 2001.  They needed to win, most importantly for New York off the heels of 9/11, but also because we were still in the dynasty years.  We had just won three in a row, four in five years, and yet it was right after the worst act of terrorism on America in history that the dynasty had to end.  The only thing I have to say to that is “HORSESHIT!”.  They had a three-peat to defend, as well as the ultimate chip on their shoulders, playing for a mourning city, and not only do the Yankees turn up short, they have their most justly deserved championship snatched from them as they stumble at the finish line.

George Bush throwing out the first pitch in game 3 of the 2001 World Series. Also the best thing he ever did in office.

Just getting to the World Series was a feat in itself, something that by all objective means shouldn’t have happened.  But, the Yankees got there, defying odds and spectators alike in their quest to claim a fourth consecutive championship.  Because that’s what the Yankees do, we win, and we persevere when the odds are most stacked against us.  The Yankees are literally New York, and after 9/11 they embodied this sentiment more powerfully than at any other point in their history, or the history of the city.  On September 11th 2001, New York was down, but we got back up.  We mourned, but then we took out Bin Laden; our buildings crumbled, so we built bigger ones; we lost loved ones, but we’ve never forgotten them.  Right after 9/11, New York was all about getting back up to go another round in the ring, and to even make the World Series, the Yankees themselves had to get back up after everyone else thought they were done.

In the ALDS, against the 102 win Oakland A’s (the wild card winner) and their triumvirate of young stud pitchers, the Yankees lost the first two games at home and appeared to be poised for defeat, as no team had ever rebounded from such a scenario in the opening round of the playoffs.  But then lightning struck, and new life was breathed into the team representing a city rising up from national tragedy.  Derek Jeter, in the first of many postseason heroics that year, had his immaculate “Flip” play to get Jeremy Giambi out at home plate to preserve the Yankee lead in game three, the turning point of the series.  As if that wasn’t enough, in game five, up by two, Derek Jeter then dives over the stands for a foul ball to get a crucial out to once again preserve a slim lead for the Yankees.  Defeating the heavily favored A’s, not only set up a matchup with the even more heavily favored Seattle Mariners and their record setting 116 wins, but it also provided the first real sense of catharsis for a reeling city.

From the rush of a miraculous, but seemingly destined comeback, the ALCS against the Mariners was a breeze.  Winning the first two games in Seattle all but guaranteed a short series.  The most dramatic moment came in game four, in a bittersweet and ironic foreshadowing of things to come, Alfonso Soriano hit the game winning home run in game four, the first in what would be a slew of memorable game winning homeruns the Yankees would have in the 2001 playoffs.  After besting the two best teams in baseball that year, the World Series seemed like a mere formality, a moment waiting to be conquered, in their quest to heal a city.  Unfortunately, that moment never came.

The team favored by many to win the World Series were dispatched by the Yankees in 5 games.

Suddenly, and impossibly the Yankees were down two games to none after losing the first two games by a combined score of 13-1.  This wasn’t a problem though, we had faced worse odds before in the 1996 World Series after we lost the first two games at home.[2]  Game three, in New York City, right where it belonged, was the most important game of Roger Clemens’ career, and he didn’t disappoint.  Propelled by George Bush throwing out the first pith (from the mound), Clemens struck out nine while only giving up three hits to give the Yankees a crucial win.

The very next night, with the Diamondbacks up 3-1 it looked like fate would turn her back on New York, but then Tino Martinez homered to tie the game with two outs in the bottom of the 9th.  In the bottom of the 10th, Derek Jeter, in the midst of a legendary postseason filled with heroics and memorable moments, had the single most defining moment of his career up until that point.  His game winning home run soon after midnight, which led to the nickname “Mr. November” endeared him permanently to Yankee fans.  The series was tied, and after such a crushing defeat, there was no way that the Diamondbacks could rebound from that.  Or so it seemed.

Derek Jeter’s home run in game 4, the first time the baseball season seeped into November.

Somehow the Diamondbacks, an expansion that literally sold their soul to Satan to put their team together managed to take a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the 9th in game five.  Somehow, the Yankees still could not figure out the Arizona pitchers.  Well aware that this would be Paul O’Neill’s last game in the Bronx, Yankee fans began cheering and chanting the Warrior’s name in dedication for all that he had given us during his nine years as a Yankee.  At that point, the score, nor the lead in the series mattered; all that mattered was that a hero was given the proper sendoff.

Defining the odds, Scott Brosius of all players, tied the game with an unbelievable home run to force extra innings where the Yankees would win on an Alfonso Soriano RBI single.  Yet again the Yankees pulled victory from the jaws of defeat in impossible fashion.  Down to their last out in two consecutive games, they either forced extra innings or won the game.  And it was a different player each night, there was no one man putting the team on his back, everyone was doing their part to give the people of New York a much needed relief.  In all honesty, the World Series could have ended after five games with those pieces of shit from Arizona celebrating on our field.[3]  But, winning when everyone else counted them out, snatching victory at the 11th hour was the Yankee way.  We had always overcome the impossible, and defied the inevitable, and 2001 seemed to be no different until fate betrayed us three days later.

With an unimaginably bad game behind them, the series was set for a climactic showdown in the desert between a dynasty trying to provide solace for its mourning populace, and a band of soul-selling upstarts from Phoenix with a flaky fan base.  Could fate be so cruel as to deny a suffering New York the slightest bit of catharsis, something to be cheerful for in light of this most heinous of tragedies?  Quite frankly, on the night of November 4, 2001, fate was a conniving bitch.

After three blowout games in Arizona, game seven was somehow tied 1-1 after seven innings.  That’s because would be World Series MVP, Roger Clemens was on the mound for what should have been the most important game of his career.  Throughout the course of the game, it seemed like the best the Yankees could do was hold the Diamondbacks at bay, we weren’t making any ground on the offensive.  But then in the 8th, Alfonso Soriano, who was all too eager to endear himself to the New York fans, hit what should have been the game winning home run.  Leading 2-1 in game seven with the best closer in baseball waiting in the wings to get six measly outs should have been a guarantee of victory.  For some reason, it wasn’t enough, and for Yankee fans worldwide, it never will be enough to fill the whole Luis Gonzalez would leave in our hearts.

Alfonso Soriano’s home run of game seven, in what should have been the series winning hit.

After he struck out the side in the 8th inning, Mariano looked to be in peak form to clinch a fourth straight championship.  According to baseballreference.com, going into the bottom of the 9th inning, the Yankees had a 78% chance of winning the game.  If you replay that half inning three more times, the Yankees win all three times.  In other words, for every 100 parallel universes out there, the Yankees win the 2001 World Series in 78 of those.  We live in an alternate and heterodox universe.

Regardless, somehow the impossible, the most impossible of impossible scenarios happened…Mariano failed.  This wasn’t any mere blown save, or a go ahead home run to Sandy Alomar, this is the only stain on Rivera’s career…literally.  Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer of all time, arguably the greatest postseason performer in all of baseball history has exactly one loss in the postseason, and that lone loss cost them the championship in 2001.  Of all the times to fail, it came when we needed him the most.  Whether it was nerves, the blistering heat, the satanic hissing of the crowd, or Arizona’s refusal to observe day-light savings, Rivera failed to protect the most fragile and precious of Yankee leads.  And with that bloop single by Luis Gonzalez the hopes and dreams of an entire city came crashing back down to face the devastating reality that in our darkest hour, even a superficial celebration and a cheap distraction was too much to ask for.

For as long as I live, the image of Luis Gonzalez hopping around like a sissy will be forever ingrained in my mind.

I realize that I write about the 2001 World Series rather passionately, and truth be told, for the longest time I thought I was the only one who felt this way- Eternally jaded and spiteful towards Arizona, Luis Gonzalez, and fate.  But, I’m not the only one.  Regardless of who I talk to, my friends, colleagues at work, or random people at the bar, anytime the Yankees come up, the conversation inevitably shifts to the 2001 World Series and how much that loss hurt.  Tell me right now if Diamondback fans really appreciate that title as much as Yankee fans would have.  There’s no way, there’s just no way.  Hearing us fans talk about it, the hypothetical of winning the championship, is realer, more sincere than the actuality that the Diamondbacks won the World Series that year.  In all honesty, the 2001 World Series would have meant more to a 10 year old Yankee fan that the 2004 World Series would have meant to an 85 year old Red Sox fan.  The crazy thing about these sentiments is that I now know that these are shared sentiments and thoughts that most Yankee fans have.  I might be crazy, but I’m not the only one.

It’s not about the fact that the Yankees lost, it’s more about the way in which they lost, after all, the fashion of defeat is always worse than the actual notion of losing.  All the late game heroics, the game winning home runs, come from behind wins, and absurd defensive plays, to even get us to the bottom of the 9th of game seven with the lead in Arizona, were all rendered moot.  The absolute worst way for the Yankees to lose the World Series in 2001 actually happened, something out of the nightmares of Yankees fans worldwide became a reality.  We were seduced into naivety, thinking that all these miraculous moments of the 2001 postseason meant something, that they would guarantee a championship, but the truth is that it was just blind faith.  Without a championship to validate these moments of transcendence, they only become what they’re worth at face value.  Don’t get me wrong, the “Flip” play, Jeter’s home run, Soriano’s two game winning hits, and his would be series winning hit, are all climactic and amazing plays in Yankee history, something out of a storybook.  It’s just that at the end of this story, a happy ending was nowhere to be found.

The only failure in Rivera’s otherwise perfect career.

I guess what I’m really preaching to is the higher morality, or the ethical notion of dessert within the sports world…as if there is one.  The truth is that no one team can claim any higher morality or objective right to a championship than any other team.  Considering the circumstances, if morality did exist in sports, then the Yankees should have won the World Series in 2001.  When you look at the steps to get to the World Series and all the heroics of Jeter, Clemens, and Soriano, just to name a few, it really did seem fated.  And that’s what hurts the most, that all these amazing feats were all accomplished in vain.  Stumbling at the finish line made Jeter’s home run in game four and Soriano’s home run in game seven all for naught.  They captivated a city in mourning and made us BELIEVE in them more so than we had ever done so before.  Their play made us believe that fate existed, and that they were destined to win for us, for New York, for America, and it’s because they didn’t that makes it all the more interesting.  It didn’t go according to plan, the Diamondbacks ad-libbed the last few pages and changed the outcome of the game, an outcome that seemed preordained.  What it ultimately comes down to is that in 2001 the Yankees were America’s home team, and in 2001 the home team lost.

 

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[1] Regardless of if it’s just for fashion, there’s a special place in Hell for traitors like them.

[2] And those Braves were a much better team than the 2001 Diamondbacks.

[3] My apologies, I think the more this article goes on, the more of a homer I will become.

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