PHOENIX - It was always going to come down to this.
Maybe there were some doubters after the Arizona Diamondbacks took a quick two-game lead in this 97th World Series. Maybe there were some more when the New York Yankees swept three games at Yankee Stadium in stunning fashion to leave the D'backs - pardon the expression - more than a little rattled.
There was always going to be a Game 7. It was destiny with a capital "D" at the beginning or a big "NY" at the end. We'll find out tonight.
The Diamondbacks may have been pushed to the wall at Yankee Stadium, but they pushed back last night, scoring a ridiculously easy 15-2 victory behind big left-hander Randy Johnson to push the Series to a Game 7 showdown tonight at Bank One Ballpark.
Future Hall of Famer Roger Clemens will take the mound for the Yankees, and Curt Schilling will be the starter for the Diamondbacks in what will be the first seventh-game matchup between 20-game winners since 1985.
"I guess it was supposed to come down to seven," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "We are all going home [after] tomorrow. It should be a marquee matchup, Roger against Curt. They are both 20-game winners. They are both in line for the Cy Young Award. I think the fans will get a treat tomorrow. Hopefully, it lives up to what it is supposed to live up to."
It should. Schilling even went so far as to "guarantee" before last night's game that Arizona would win the World Series if it got to a decisive seventh game.
What better way to end one of the most exciting World Series ever played.
OK, so Game 6 didn't really measure up, but the dynamic rebound by the Diamondbacks - after back-to-back devastating late-inning defeats in New York - only added to the intrigue.
Arizona battered the Yankees' pitching staff so completely that Fox was polling viewers in the third inning to see if they would favor removing Johnson so that he would be available to pitch tonight.
The Diamondbacks scored in each of the first four innings and batted around to score eight times in the third, chasing dependable left-hander Andy Pettitte and embarrassing long reliever Jay Witasick with a string of solid hits that allowed the sellout crowd of 49,707 to relax and enjoy the worst postseason beating the Yankees have ever suffered.
"Nobody likes to get beat up as badly as we did tonight," Torre said, "but the only saving grace is that it is just one game. We were in the position to take this and still be here for a seventh game, so it's all perspective. Seattle beat the hell out of us one game [in the American League Championship Series], and we were able to bounce back."
Johnson could have gotten by on a lot less. He gave up just two runs on six hits through seven innings and probably could have been removed after the third if manager Bob Brenly had felt that he would be fresh enough to pitch in relief of a tired Schilling in Game 7.
The only time The Big Unit had to push himself was on the basepaths, which he circled twice.
"Obviously, it's easier when the offense did what it did tonight," Johnson said. "This game was made easy for me after the third or fourth inning, simply because we had 12 runs at that point. I suppose it is difficult for a pitcher to go out there and stay focused when you have that many runs, but it's not that difficult to stay focused when you are in a World Series and you are playing the New York Yankees."
Every Diamondbacks hitter had at least one hit by the end of the third inning and at least one RBI by the end of the fourth. Outfielder Danny Bautista and third baseman Matt Williams had three hits each after three innings. The team broke the all-time World Series record for hits in a game when Greg Colbrunn delivered their 21st hit of the game - in the sixth inning. Arizona finished with 22.
The previous record was held jointly by the 1921 New York Giants and the 1946 St. Louis Cardinals, which means that it had gone unchallenged for a mere 55 years.
"It's an aberration when any team is able to get 22 hits and 15 runs with the kind of pitching that clubs have this time of year," Brenly said. "It's a freak thing. It's not going to happen all of the time, and it just means that we won a ballgame tonight and forced Game 7."
Brenly couldn't have dreamed up a more perfect scenario. He had been cast as the hapless dupe who managed the Diamondbacks right out of two late-inning leads at Yankee Stadium. His decision to remove Schilling after seven innings in Game 4 has been the hottest topic of debate in this postseason, and his handling of closer Byung-Hyun Kim made him the target of almost universal criticism.
He appeared to be setting himself up for another colossal second-guess last night when he revamped his lineup and removed center fielder Steve Finley, first baseman Mark Grace and second baseman Craig Counsell from the defensive alignment.
The three of them are among the team's best defensive players, so removing them for a sudden-death game that seemed so dependent on good pitching could have put Brenly right back under the media microscope.
Instead, Brenly came away looking like he might actually know what he's doing. Bautista, who took Finley's place in center field, delivered clutch RBI singles in each of the first three innings and drove in runs in four consecutive at-bats to lead Arizona's impressive onslaught.
Substitute second baseman Jay Bell also made a solid offensive contribution, driving in a run and scoring two in the early innings. Colbrunn had two hits and reached base three times.
"All of the lineup changes involve inserting another right-handed bat into the lineup," Brenly explained before the game. "We feel that Andy Pettitte is tough on everybody, but he is especially tough on left-handed hitters. We watched some videotape from Game 2 and we thought our left-handed hitters had very few good swings against him."
Pettitte never looked comfortable in his 24th career postseason start. He gave up a long double to Tony Womack to lead off the bottom of the first and quickly surrendered Bautista's first RBI single.
The Diamondbacks loaded the bases with one out in the second and Womack battled to a full count before lining a two-run single to center that gave Johnson about all the cushion he needed to record his second impressive victory of the Series.
It got real messy after that. Pettitte would give up six runs on seven hits and give way to Witasick, a Bel Air native who allowed 10 hits and nine runs in just 1 1/3 innings, but had to take the beating to preserve the rest of the staff.
"It's disappointing for me to have that kind of start," Pettitte said. "I've been fortunate to be in the kind of opportunity I was in tonight and pitch well. Obviously, I expected more out of myself. ... It was a shock. I don't expect to have a start like that and I haven't in awhile."
The Diamondbacks would appear to have wrested the momentum back from the Yankees, though Schilling enters Game 7 just two days after telling Brenly that he was experiencing unusual soreness from Wednesday night's 88-pitch effort.
He said yesterday that his arm has bounced back and he's ready for the biggest game of his life.
"If the Lord sat me down and let me script my dream season, I could not have come up with this," Schilling said. "Game 7 vs. Roger Clemens. I couldn't have dreamt this. I'm not that big a dreamer."
New York Yankees
vs. Arizona Diamondbacks
(Best of seven)
(Series is tied 3-3)
Game 1: Arizona 9, New York 1
Game 2: Arizona 4, New York 0
Game 3: N.Y. 2, Arizona 1
Game 4: N.Y. 4, Ariz. 3, 10 inn.
Game 5: N.Y. 3, Ariz. 2, 12 inn.
Last night: Ariz. 15, N.Y. 2
Tonight: at Ariz., 7:30 p.m. (Roger Clemens, 1-1, 2.66, vs. Curt Schilling, 4-0, 0.88) TV: Chs. 45, 5
Going the distance
This is the seventh World Series that has gone to seven games in the past 20 years. The others:
Year Winner Loser
1997 Marlins Indians
1987 Twins Cardinals
1986 Mets Red Sox
1985 Royals Cardinals
1982 Cardinals Brewers
The most runs scored by a single team in a World Series game, with final score, game number and year:
18 - Yankees 18, Giants 4, Game 2, 1936
16 - Yankees 16, Pirates 3, Game 2, 1960
15 - Diamondbacks 15, Yankees 2, Game 6, 2001
15 - Blue Jays 15, Phillies 14, Game 4, 1993
14 - Braves 14, Twins 5, Game 5, 1991
14 - Phillies 14, Blue Jays 15, Game 4, 1993
14 - Marlins 14, Indians 11, Game 3, 1997
13 - Athletics 13, Giants 2, Game 6, 1911
13 - Giants 13, Yankees 5, Game 3, 1921
13 - Yankees 13, Cubs 6, Game 4, 1932
13 - Braves 13, Yankees 5, Game 2, 1958
13 - Yankees 13, Reds 5, Game 5, 1961
13 - Tigers 13, Cardinals 1, Game 6, 1968
13 - Cardinals 13, Brewers 1, Game 6, 1982
13 - Athletics 13, Giants 7, Game 3, 1989