The New York Yankees could be excused for their anemic batting performances in the first two games of the 2001 World Series – both Arizona wins – as they faced the Diamondbacks’ dominating duo of Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson. With the Series shifting to New York for the next three games, the Yankees also knew they’d have a chance to get well since they’d be facing Brian Anderson in the third game.
Anderson had not won in a starting role since July 22, a game in which he retired the first 12 San Francisco batters before giving up three home runs in a row. He ended up pitching eight innings in that game in picking up his third, and last, victory of the season as a starter.
But the Yankees couldn’t solve Anderson any better than they had Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson. It became apparent that, to avoid falling behind three games to none in the Series, their hopes would rest on the strong arm and legs of Roger Clemens.
The Rocket allowed two runners in the first but still retired the Diamondbacks in order. Craig Counsell led off with a groundball that second baseman Alfonso Soriano gloved and then dropped for an error. However, Clemens caught Counsell leaning the wrong way and picked him off first. Steve Finley walked, and Clemens fell behind Luis Gonzalez, 3 and 1. Clemens got another strike on the Arizona slugger, who then fouled a pitch off as Finley took off from first. Finley was running again on the next pitch, on which Gonzalez fanned. Jorge Posada’s throw to Derek Jeter was perfect, and Finley was gunned down at second for an inning-ending double play.
The Yankees put a pair on in the bottom of the inning, and Tino Martinez drove a pitch to deep right-center. Finley was able to track it down with a leap on the warning track to end the threat. Leading off the bottom of the second, Posada hit a drive that not even Dwight Stone could have jumped high enough to catch. The shot to left-center cleared Monument Park and sailed into the Arizona bullpen, a long home run to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead.
Clemens struck out five batters through three innings but walked Finley for the second time to start the fourth. Finley went to second on a single by Gonzalez and took third as Reggie Sanders flied out to Paul O’Neill in right. After Erubiel Durazo walked, Matt Williams lifted a fly to O’Neill that was deep enough for Finley to score the tying run. It was the fifth run batted in of the Series for Williams.
The score stayed tied into the sixth, when Clemens hit Sanders with a pitch with two out. Sanders stole second. Durazo then grounded a pitch toward the hole in right. Soriano dived for the ball and gloved it. His hurried throw to first was off target, but Soriano, by keeping the ball from reaching the outfield, had prevented Sanders from scoring. Matt Williams then hit a liner to left that first looked like a sure hit, which would bring Sanders home. The ball stayed up, though, and Shane Spencer stayed with it, charging in and making a diving catch to get Clemens out of the inning.
Anderson pitched well after the home run to Posada and survived some shaky defense both behind and in front of him. With two out and Spencer aboard in the last of the fourth, Anderson got Scott Brosius to ground to shortstop Tony Womack, who fumbled the ball for an error. The next batter, Soriano, hit a pop fly in front of the plate. Catcher Damian Miller, who had already missed an earlier pop foul, circled under this one, stuck out his glove, and missed again. The ball landed in fair territory as Spencer zoomed around third and headed for home. Fortunately for Arizona, the ball had completely missed Miller’s glove and then bounced into foul territory. Miller was charged with an error on the play. The runners were sent back to their starting points, and Soriano resumed his at-bat, which became the longest of the game. Soriano fouled off seven two-strike pitches and worked the count full before flying to Finley to finish the inning.
In the last of the sixth, Anderson gave up an infield single to Bernie Williams to start the inning. Tino Martinez then hit a pop fly near the first-base dugout. Miller and first baseman Mark Grace converged, then crashed, resulting in another ball dropping safely. Grace was charged with the error on this play. Anderson still retired Martinez, on a fly to Sanders, but then walked Posada. David Justice hit for Spencer and struck out. With two out, it was up to Brosius, who delivered a soft liner to left to bring in Williams for a 2-1 lead.
Clemens retired the bottom third of the Arizona order in the seventh, striking out the final two. He then gave way in the eighth to Mariano Rivera, the Yankees closer, who had led the American League with 50 saves during the regular season. The first batter of the eighth, Craig Counsell, dragged a bunt down the first-base line. Rivera pounced on it and tagged Counsell out. Rivera struck out the final two batters of the eighth and the first two of the ninth before getting Matt Williams to ground out to Jeter to end it.
The 2-1 Yankees victory left the New Yorkers behind in the Series, two games to one.
After the game, Clemens said his biggest concern had been keeping his legs strong throughout the game. “I’ve not been afforded the luxury of doing my side work because I’ve been trying to rest my legs, so my warm-up, my pregame routing is very important.”1 Clemens admitted to pausing in his pregame warm-ups in the bullpen to take in the moment as George W. Bush came out for the ceremonial first pitch. The Rocket’s legs held up long enough to get to the steady arm of Rivera, and the Yankees were back in the World Series.
1 Postgame interview/press conference attended by the author, October 30, 2001.