Judge Ryan Keefer has a fever, and the only cure is more pom-poms!
"Floater into center field! The Diamondbacks are World Champions!"
After September 11, 2001, it wasn't hard to root for the New York baseball teams if you were an American. I mean, I hate the friggin' Yankees and I wanted them to win the World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Sure, the Diamondbacks had a couple of pitching phenoms in Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, but they were up against the Yankees, who were easing the pain of many who were still grieving at the loss of family and friends in the World Trade Center attacks. If there was a villain, Johnson, Schilling and the Diamondbacks were certainly unwilling ones, but more importantly they weren't submissive ones either. They held home field advantage in the best-of-seven series, and won the first two games in Arizona rather handily, as Schilling and Johnson limited the Yankees to one run and six hits over said games.
When the series shifted back to the Bronx, there was some magical baseball that was played and events of the highest drama. After Roger Clemens (*) came back with a three-hitter of his own in Game Three, the fourth game provided the drama. Following another three-hitter by Schilling, the teams were tied in the eighth inning when Arizona scored two to presumably clinch the game, the Yankees hit a game tying home-run by Tino Martinez in the bottom of the ninth, and won the game on Derek Jeter's solo shot in the tenth, which occurred moments after midnight on the 1st of November. Because of the length of the game, combined with the postponing of games after the September 11 attacks, America experienced baseball in November for the first time, and Jeter was almost instantaneously dubbed "Mr. November" for his postseason accomplishment. But just when you think it couldn't get more dramatic, a virtual carbon copy of the game repeated itself in Game Five. Scott Brosius hit a two-run game-tying homer in the ninth off of a shell-shocked Byung Hyun Kim (who allowed the tying and winning runs less than 24 hours prior), and Alfonso Soriano singled in Chuck Knoblauch (*) in the twelfth inning, and the Yankees took a three games to two lead back to Phoenix. Game Six was an aberration of the series, as the Diamondbacks scored fifteen runs off of Yankees pitchers Andy Pettitte (*) and Jay Witasick to win easily 15-2 and set up the decisive Game Seven.
And what a game it was. Clemens and Schilling were locked in a pitchers' duel, with a combined 19 strikeouts between them through seven innings. A Soriano home run in the eighth pushed the Yankees in front, where Mariano Rivera came on to close the door on the Diamondbacks. Rivera was as close to automatic as you can get in the postseason. In fact, up to the 2001 playoffs, Rivera allowed only 5 earned runs to score in 63 innings, and saved 19 games while winning four others. And in a year where the Yankees were presumably set to win, Rivera faltered, allowing a runner to advance on a error, while Tony Womack and Luis Gonzalez both drove in runs to win the game for Arizona and its winning pitcher Johnson, who was pitching after starting (and winning) the previous night's contest. To date, Rivera's blown save and loss in Game Seven remains the only blemish on a perfect postseason record. Was I slightly remorseful that the Yankees lost, ruining what would have been poignant drama at its finest? Sure, but when taking seven games of America's pastime, played at its best and most demanding by the two best teams in baseball, that's arguably a better result than what many could have hoped for.
For fans of the Diamondbacks, by all means add this to your library, as Lord knows when something like this is going to happen for pro sports in Arizona again, and I say that semi-jokingly. But that aside, several things bother me about this release from a technical perspective, but only one of them can be possibly linked to false assumption. First off was that in the era of blossoming video technology, it's becoming a little bit exasperating to see this and other recent World Series sets presented on a strictly full frame video presentation. As high definition is becoming more and more the rule, I would hope that the video quality follows. Secondly, while the viewer is becoming ensconced with the games, you also get to see the ads that run behind the catcher on the green screen backstops of both stadiums. Did you forget about the time when Shallow Hal was coming out as a sneak preview ahead of theatrical release? Well, you'll remember all about it as Mike Morgan pitches to Shane Spencer in a random game of late-inning importance.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, is that while the focus is supposed to be on the game and its importance, what's most disappointing about this set is that the historical context seems to be missing from the games. The seventh-inning stretch where "God Bless America" was sung to rousing ovations; the pregame ceremonies all skipped to highlighted afterthoughts, most presumable hints of the September 11 attacks are erased from the set. I wholeheartedly recommend the HBO documentary Nine Innings From Ground Zero for more on the events and the figures that played a part in restoring sports sanity to America.
To be fair, not all of the historical context is deleted from the baseball fan's memory. In the additional footage that's found on Disc Seven, you've got the first pitch of Game Three, thrown by President Bush. The stadium cheers him on with much enthusiasm as he throws from the mound, while chanting, "U.S.A!" Wow, what a long time ago that was. At this point, maybe erasing said context is a pretty good thing.
* = Mentioned in the Mitchell report on usage of steroids and human growth hormone.
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