Thursday, November 5, 2009 at 7:34 a.m.
The greatest moment in the Valley's sports history happened eight years ago last night in downtown Phoenix, when the Arizona Diamondbacks scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth of the ultimate game of the World Series to upset the mighty New York Yankees.
Rivera, who is pushing 40, made it look as easy last night as he had in 51 postseason appearances leading up the big moment at what then was called Bank One Ballpark.
Quick trip back: The 2001 World Series would have gone done as one of history's best, even before the D-Backs' miracle finish. Most fans seemed to be rooting for the Bronx Bombers, even some lifelong Yankee haters who temporarily suspended their feelings because New York City (and the nation) was still reeling in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
When Rivera entered the game in the 8th inning with a 2-1 lead, it seemed inevitable to almost everyone that the Backs were toast.
He blew Arizona away in the 8th, and stepped to the mound in the 9th prepared to do the same. But Mark Grace, then at the tail-end of his fine career, managed a single to centerfield to start the inning (that was the same Mark Grace down on the field after last night's game interviewing the winning team in his new capacity as TV broadcaster).
What happened next was nothing short of amazing.
Grace led off the inning with a base hit to center.
The next hitter, Damian Miller, bunted. Rivera, an excellent fielding pitcher, rushed to the ball, whirled and tried to get the lead runner (a pinch-runner for Gracie) at second.
But his bad throw went into the outfield. Everyone was safe.
First and second. Nobody out.
Jay Bell tried to advance the runners with a bunt, but this time Rivera forced the lead runner at third with a perfect toss.
Little Tony Womack then cemented his legacy as one of the all-time great D-Backs by doubling down the right-field line to tie the game. Bell stopped at third, 90 feet away from victory.
Rivera nailed Craig Counsell (also one of our favorite Diamondbacks, he of the odd hitting stance), with a pitch to load the bases for Luis Gonzalez, probably arguably the team's most dangerous hitter that season.
Rivera had struck out Gonzalez the previous inning. Shortstop Derek Jeter moved up a few steps, planning on throwing home for the force-out if Gonzalez hit a grounder to him.
Every baseball fan surely remembers what happened next: Rivera sawed off Gonzalez with his patented cut fastball.
Gonzalez blooped the ball into short left-center, a few feet beyond the reach of the desperate Jeter.
After last night's Series-ending performance, Mariano Rivera now has pitched in 88 post-season games over his career.
His only blown save? November 4, 2001.