HOUSTON — The ball was coming straight for us. Of all that I remember from the 2001 World Series, the ball coming straight for us was what stays with me most.
The overflow media was in the left field stands in Arizona at what was then called Bank One Ballpark. For years at Yankee Stadium — first as beat writers for The Post and Newsday, later as columnists — I had sat next to my pal, Jon Heyman. And we were side-by-side now as a dramatic Game 7 unfolded in front of us.
Because of the combination of late start times and restrictive deadlines, I was writing Yankees’ dynasty continues in the top of each inning and that it ends in the bottom, working on two columns simultaneously, typing away, looking up at the pitch, typing away. It was three games apiece and 1-1 in the eighth inning on Nov. 4, 2001 in the World Series played in the aftermath of 9/11 and featuring the that-didn’t-really-happen ninth-inning homers by Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius and Derek Jeter’s Mr. November moment.
Part of what makes Game 7 forever is what comes before it. It is a novel unfolding with great moments taking you toward an unforgettable conclusion and here is what I thought was an unforgettable conclusion — the ball coming toward us. Alfonso Soriano led off the eighth by golfing a Curt Schilling pitch and here it came, not in our lap, but in our direction.
And like it was yesterday I could remember saying to Jon, with the ball in the air, “I can’t believe the Yankees are going to win the (bleeping) World Series again.” I thought this was the greatest tribute yet to that Yankee team that had at that moment won four out of five titles and three in a row. They were playing on fumes and muscle memory of greatness and a case could have been made that they should have lost to the A’s in the Division Series, never beaten the 116-win Mariners and lost to the Diamondbacks seven-games-to-nothing. Yet, when that ball that came toward us landed, the Yankees led 2-1 and Mariano Rivera was warming and he had recorded 23 straight postseason saves. So, yeah, “I can’t believe the Yankees are going to win the (bleeping) World Series again.”
Except, of course, they didn’t. Luis Gonzalez flipped the broken-bat walk-off single in the bottom or the ninth. And that is how the best of the eight World Series Game 7s that I have covered ended. Before having to figure out where Nationals-Astros, 2019, winds up in my personal pantheon, the rest of my top eight:
2. 1991: Twins 1, Braves 0 (10 innings). My first World Series Game 7. The polar opposite of the 2019 World Series (through six games) because the home teams won every game. Again, prelude to Game 7 matters and Kirby Puckett’s walk-off in Game 6 dramatically set up “and we’ll see you tomorrow night (hat tip: Jack Buck).” That was the on-ramp to Jack Morris’ 10 shutout innings in the decisive game. If that game were still going on, Morris would be talking manager Tom Kelly into letting him go out for the 4,031st inning.
3. 2016: Cubs, 8, Indians 7 (10 innings). Talk about prelude: The Cubs hadn’t won since 1908 and the Indians since 1948. Kyle Schwarber coming back unexpectedly from injury (even more unlikely than Max Scherzer in this Game 7). The Cubs’ rebounded from three-games-to-one down and Rajai Davis’ homer off Aroldis Chapman, thanks to the most well-timed rain delay in major league history.
4. 2014: Giants 3, Royals 2. Madison Bumgarner doing baseball John Wayne.
5. 1997: Marlins 3, Indians 2 (11 innings). Craig Counsell, who batted before Gonzalez in 2001, scored the winning run here on Edgar Renteria’s hit. Jose Mesa could not record the three outs that would have brought Cleveland that long-awaited title.
6. 2011: Cardinals 6, Rangers 2. History will show that Game 6s often trump Game 7s, none more so than this year. St. Louis was down to its final strike in the ninth and 10th innings and rallied both times — if only Nelson Cruz would have caught David Freese’s drive in the ninth, then Freese would have never walked off the Rangers in the 11th to force a Game 7. Chris Carpenter permitted two first-inning runs in the clincher and then nothing more through six.
7. 2017: Astros 5, Dodgers 1. The first six games were so much better than Game 7 — Game 5 was a particular rollercoaster classic. Yu Darvish pitched the Dodgers out of Game 7 from the outset, creating a three-plus hour slog to the finish line.
8. 2002: Angels 4, Giants 1. Another anti-climax after a terrific Game 6. All the runs were scored in the first three innings.
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