The 2001 Major League Baseball season is over, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. One of the most dramatic seasons ever was followed by the best World Series in the past 10 years ? and the most inexplicable of all-time.
It was a year where the impossible became almost expected and the unimaginable became reality.
When Mariano Rivera strolled out to the mound in the eighth inning of the seventh game of the World Series with 23 consecutive postseason saves and the lowest postseason earned run average ever in his back pocket, I don’t think many people gave Arizona a chance to win.
And when he struck out the side in the eighth, you could see the fat lady warming up in the background.
But somehow ? a line drive single from Mark Grace ? and some way ? Rivera’s throwing error ? the Diamondbacks stayed alive in the ninth. After a Tony Womack double and a Luis Gonzalez bloop single, Arizona was the most surprising champion of all-time.
The most astonishing thing about the seventh game of the World Series, however, was that there even was a seventh game involving the Yankees.
First, New York had to stage an improbable and unexpected comeback to take three games in a row from Oakland after falling behind two games to none at home.
Then, the Yankees needed late solo home runs from Bernie Williams and Alfonso Soriano to prevent Seattle from tying the Championship Series at two games apiece.
Finally, with the dynasty seemingly on the verge of being torn apart, New York went to the well one more time.
They pulled up ninth-inning, two-out, two-run, game-tying home runs on back-to-back nights by Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius.
As Sinatra sang in New York, you thought that maybe the dynasty would not die after all. But all great things must end, and the Yankees’ recent postseason streak ended with grace and dignity.
It was a fitting tribute to two great warriors that Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling were named co-MVPs of the World Series.
Johnson is the first pitcher to win three games in one series since Detroit’s Mickey Lolich in 1968 and Schilling did his best Jack Morris impression by making three dominant starts.
Johnson and Schilling put on perhaps the most dominating display of postseason pitching ever. They combined to go 9-1 with a 1.26 ERA.
They combined for five complete games and three shutouts. The two aces allowed just 50 hits and 14 walks in 89 1/3 innings while striking out 113.
Johnson and Schilling were almost as good in the regular season, going 43-12 with a 2.74 ERA. They combined to strike out 665 batters during the season, breaking the major league record for most strikeouts by teammates in a season.
Johnson also set some solo records of his own for strikeouts. He became just the third pitcher to strike out 20 batters in nine innings and the first pitcher to fan 300 hitters in four consecutive seasons.
He also broke the record for strikeouts by a relief pitcher with 16 in seven innings and he tied his own record with 23 10-strikeout games.
Arizona, however, was not just Johnson, Schilling and a bunch of filling. The Diamondbacks had the third best offense in the National League, led by Gonzalez’s 57 homers and 142 RBIs.
While the goal of every season is the World Series, the main story of this season was Barry Bonds.
The surly 37-year-old opened up a little, became more loveable and terrorized opposing pitchers with the best offensive season since the days of Babe Ruth. At the end of the season when he saw few good pitches to hit, he just accepted it and sent almost every strike screaming into the bleachers.
As usual, Sammy Sosa was almost forgotten in the shuffle, but his improvement as a hitter is remarkable.
From 1995 through 1997, Sosa walked 137 times and hit 112 homers. This year, “Slammin’ Sammy” drew 116 walks and slammed 64 home runs. He has now posted four straight seasons with at least 180 hits, 50 home runs and 135 RBIs and has transformed from a good slugger into one of the best hitters in the game.
There were also several impressive pitching performances.
Roger Clemens became the first pitcher ever to start a season 20-1 and the third pitcher to win 20 games in three decades.
Matt Morris led the majors with 22 wins this season after not making any starts last year.
Even the no-hitters were surprising. Hideo Nomo became the fifth pitcher to throw a no-hitter in each league, Bud Smith was the first NL rookie lefty to throw a no-hitter since 1880 and A.J. Burnett set a record for a complete game, nine-inning no-hitter with nine walks.
The retirement tours of Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn provided countless beautiful moments, the best of which was Ripken’s home run in his final All-Star game.
Rickey Henderson may not be retiring, but he reached three amazing milestones this season at age 42. He broke Babe Ruth’s career record for walks in April and then broke Ty Cobb’s career runs scored record and joined the 3,000-hit club in October.
There were also some amazing team accomplishments. Nobody thought the Minnesota Twins, Philadelphia Phillies or Chicago Cubs would be any good, but they were still battling for first place into September.
The A’s, who finished with the second best record, started the season by losing 18 of their first 26 games and the Mets managed to climb back to .500 after 141 straight games with a losing record. The most surprising team, however, was also the best team.
The Seattle Mariners went 116-46 to tie the major league record for wins in a season. Their postseason failure should not diminish their accomplishments in the regular season.
Seattle had four starters with 10 more wins than losses, including lefty Jamie Moyer, who became the oldest first-time 20-game winner at age 38.
Seattle had Brett Boone, who performed so far above expectations that he may have posted the best season ever by an AL second baseman. Boone hit .331 with an AL second baseman record 37 homers and a league-leading 141 RBIs, also a record for AL second sackers.
Seattle, of course, had Ichiro. Very few people thought he could come over from Japan and win his eighth straight batting title, but he did. It was not his bat, however, that got my attention. He had me after an April game at Oakland when Terrence Long tried to go from first to third on a Sal Fasano single. He fielded the single and came up throwing. I would call it a laser, but I don’t think lasers are as straight, fast and accurate as that throw was.
Was this the greatest baseball season ever? Maybe, or maybe not. I don’t think it really matters. What matters is that we enjoyed the ride and that we can tell people how great it was.
Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.