Counsell wastes little time, retaking Series center stage

Florida hero steps up with HR in 1st for D'backs


October 28, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

PHOENIX - Arizona's Craig Counsell continues to take this October stuff seriously.

His reputation for playoff heroics already established, Counsell added to it last night by hitting a bases-empty home run off Mike Mussina in the first inning to wipe out a 1-0 deficit in Game 1 of the World Series.

The Diamondbacks never let up, pounding Mussina and reliever Randy Choate in a 9-1 victory over the New York Yankees before the largest crowd ever at Bank One Ballpark. Counsell got them started with a 383-foot shot to right field on a 2-1 pitch that stayed up over the plate.

"I think that was absolutely the turning point in the ballgame," Arizona manager Bob Brenly said. "We all know how the Yankees like to get the lead, shorten the ballgame and turn the ball over to their bullpen. When he hit that solo homer, that was a huge momentum swing."

He doesn't seem the likeliest candidate to homer in a World Series, but Counsell becomes much larger in the postseason.

He hit a three-run homer in Game 3 of the Division Series and was named Most Valuable Player in the National League Championship Series after batting .381 with four RBIs. The honor came four years after he drove in the tying run for the Florida Marlins in the ninth inning of Game 7, and scored the winning run in the 11th.

"I'm not going to dwell on it," Counsell said. "There's still work ahead of us. I'm just trying to go out and contribute. Today it just happened to be a home run."

Torre shuffles bullpen

Wanting more balance in his bullpen to combat Arizona's formidable bench, Yankees manager Joe Torre added left-hander Choate to the roster before Game 1 and removed veteran Mark Wohlers.

Choate had been inactive since the regular season ended. He was 3-1 with a 3.35 ERA in 48 1/3 innings and held opponents to a .202 average in his 37 appearances. Choate made his first Opening Day roster after not allowing a run in 7 1/3 spring innings, was optioned to Triple-A Columbus on Aug. 21 and recalled two weeks later.

The rust showed when he replaced Mussina to begin the fourth inning last night and allowed four runs before registering his third out.

"We felt we needed another left-hander and Randy has been throwing real well," Torre said, anticipating possible late-inning matchups with Arizona pinch hitters Erubiel Durazo, Midre Cummings and former Oriole David Dellucci.

The Yankees also considered activating first baseman Nick Johnson before electing to keep utility infielder Luis Sojo on the roster. They already had a left-handed hitter on the bench last night in Paul O'Neill, who probably will be joined tonight by Tino Martinez and David Justice, making Johnson expendable.

Ahead of schedule

Jerry Colangelo, Arizona's managing general partner, implemented a four-year plan for the Diamondbacks after their inaugural season. He decided no longer to build "from the ground floor," where he feared that his club would continue to finish in the National League West if a change in philosophy wasn't made.

Winning became more urgent when the Diamondbacks lost 25 percent of their season-ticket base. "That's when I said, `We're going to have to compete now,' " he said.

Currently in its third year, the plan has churned out two playoff teams and a National League champion. Nice adjustment by Colangelo. Bad math.

"It's a lot more fun than the first year," he said.

Pettitte to hit vs. Big Unit

Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte remembers his first major-league hit, a dribbler between first and second base off Alex Fernandez. He even recalls the pitch, a slider.

It's doubtful that he'll forget tonight's assignment. Pettitte most likely will be the Yankees' only left-handed hitter against Arizona's 6-foot-10 Randy Johnson.

"It's exciting for us [pitchers] in the American League because we want to hit, but it's kind of a bummer I have to face him," Pettitte said. "I'll try to get the bunt down if I have to, but everybody is telling me to look out toward second base because that's where the ball is going to be coming from, basically."

Said Torre: "There's no left-hander who goes to sleep with a smile on his face knowing he's going to face Randy Johnson."

Old hat for some

Counsell isn't the only Diamondback with World Series experience.

Third baseman Matt Williams reached the Fall Classic with the 1989 San Francisco Giants and 1997 Cleveland Indians. Left-hander Brian Anderson was Williams' teammate with the Indians. Pitcher Curt Schilling (1993 Philadelphia Phillies) and center fielder Steve Finley (1998 San Diego Padres) also came up short.

Pitcher Todd Stottlemyre, who's injured, won two rings with the 1992 and 1993 Toronto Blue Jays.

Union, owners vie on contraction

Baseball owners believe they can eliminate two teams without union approval, a stance again disputed by Donald Fehr, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association.

Standing on the field before Game 1, Fehr reiterated the union would oppose contraction unless it's negotiated as part of the greater collective bargaining agreement.

Around the horn

Derek Jeter's 14-game World Series hitting streak ended after he went 0-for-3 and was hit by a pitch. He fell three games short of Hank Bauer's record. ... The five unearned runs allowed by the Yankees are the most in a World Series since Oakland's five in Game 2 of the 1973 Fall Classic ... Arizona's Mike Morgan pitched a scoreless eighth inning, making his World Series debut at age 42 after 24 major-league seasons. ... Barry Bonds, who set single-season records with 73 homers, 177 walks and an .863 slugging percentage, was given the fifth Commissioner's Historic Achievement Award during an on-field ceremony before the game. He joined Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Tony Gywnn and the Orioles' Cal Ripken as recipients.

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