You dream about these things as a kid. Bases loaded. Bottom of the ninth. Game Seven of the World Series. Score tied.
Luis Gonzalez lived his dream Sunday night.
The Arizona Diamondbacks' slugging outfielder hit 57 home runs during the regular season, but he will be most remembered for a looping flare that nestled in the Bank One Ballpark grass and ended a dynasty.
"It's just an unbelievable feeling. I didn't sleep for the last week and a half and I probably won't sleep for another week and a half now," Gonzalez said after his ninth-inning single capped a miraculous two-run rally and gave the Diamondbacks a stunning 3-2 victory over the New York Yankees in the deciding game of one of the most thrilling Series ever.
Gonzalez's flare scored Jay Bell, who hopped on the plate and then into the arms of teammate Matt Williams in the batter's box as the crowd of 49,589 jammed into the cavernous ballpark erupted. The Diamondbacks poured out of their dugout and Party Central was the area between first and second base, where Gonzalez was mobbed.
The fourth-year franchise became the youngest ever to win a World Series by pulling off its miracle finish against Yankees closer Mariano Rivera -- who had converted 23 straight saves in postseason play and had not blown one since a 1997 division series game at Cleveland.
The Yankees had a 2-1 lead thanks to rookie Alfonso Soriano's solo home run off Arizona starter Curt Schilling leading off the eighth. With Rivera on the mound, that figured to be enough.
"Hey, we said we had six outs left," said Arizona manager Bob Brenly. "We had to find a way."
One way Arizona stayed close was by using Randy Johnson in relief to get the last four outs -- one night after he threw 105 pitches in a starting role. The rally made Johnson the winner, making him the first pitcher to win three games in a Series since Detroit's Mickey Lolich did it in 1968 and the first ever to win five games in one postseason.
Johnson and Schilling, who finished with a 1.69 ERA in three Series starts, shared Most Valuable Player honors.
"He's a warrior, has been since the day I met him," Schilling said of Johnson. "That relief appearance is everything you need to know about Randy Johnson."
It looked like Johnson's outing was just going to be a mere footnote to another Yankees title. After all, Rivera entered the game as the all-time postseason ERA leader at 0.61. And when he struck out the side in the eighth (an inning that included a Steve Finley single), he appeared as dominant as ever.
But things quickly disintegrated for Rivera in the ninth.
Mark Grace led off with a looping single to center. Damian Miller sacrificed and Rivera made the
mistake that will haunt him all winter -- throwing the ball past Derek Jeter at shortstop into center field.
"I wouldn't move on the bench," Schilling said. "I wanted to get up and watch but I was playing the 'luck seat' (refusing to move from his spot)."
Now the crowd was wild. Bell pinch-hit for Johnson and bunted again, but Rivera made the play this time by forcing pinch-runner David Dellucci at third.
It was a temporary reprieve. Leadoff man Tony Womack worked the count to 2-2 before pulling a double into the right-field corner that scored pinch-runner Midre Cummings to tie the game and send Bell to third.
"We've been here before," said Womack, whose ninth-inning single scored the winning run to beat the Cardinals in Game Five of the division series. "I was able to get a pitch and turn on it."
Craig Counsell swung through the first pitch he saw before getting hit by Rivera's next one to load the bases. In came the Yankees' infield. In came the outfield.
Gonzalez fouled Rivera's first pitch to the screen. On the next one, Rivera came inside and Gonzalez swung but didn't get much wood on the ball. But he got enough to make history.
The ball floated over Jeter's head at shortstop and he was helpless to do anything about it. Left fielder Chuck Knoblauch came in but there was nothing he could do either.
"That's the first time I choked up (on the bat) all year," Gonzalez said. "I knew the infield was playing in and I didn't have to try to hit it hard. I just had to loop something out there."
It was a stunning finish for the Yankees, who were two outs away from their fourth straight title and fifth in six years. With several players potential free agents and longtime outfielder Paul O'Neill retiring, the end of a dynasty could be at hand.
"On one hand, you realize how close you are," said a somber manager Joe Torre. "On the other hand, we realize how many times we snatched it away from people when they were close."
The Yankees hit just .183 in the Series and scored only 14 runs in seven games. And they were somehow two outs away from winning it.
"We put Mo in the game and that's all we really wanted," Torre said.
The stunning turnaround in the ninth overshadowed the marvelous duel between starters Schilling and Roger Clemens. Schilling went 7 1/3 innings, striking out nine. Clemens struck out 10 in 6 1/3 innings.
The Diamondbacks scored first on Danny Bautista's sixth-inning RBI double, but New York answered in the seventh on Tino Martinez's RBI single. Soriano seemed to have a grasp on MVP honors when he hit his home run, but Rivera couldn't hold the lead.
"That's the greatest team of our lifetime and we just got 'em," Grace said.
It was an incredible about-face for the Diamondbacks, who dropped Games Four and Five in the Bronx when closer Byung-Hyun Kim was torched for game-tying home runs in the ninth inning."They got our ace twice in New York," Gonzalez said. "We got theirs once when it counted. I guess you can say it's even."