D'backs not about to give it all away

Following Fla.'s steps stops here, champs say

November 06, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

PHOENIX - The hardest part of the Arizona Diamondbacks' season was becoming world champions, taking down a team that made October glory synonymous with its pinstripes and proving that a 4-year-old franchise could behave like men.

Just two days removed from their dramatic victory, from the bases-loaded single by Luis Gonzalez in the ninth inning off New York's incomparable Mariano Rivera, the Diamondbacks accept another challenge: not becoming the 1998 Florida Marlins.

Built for the long postseason haul, a team stocked with expensive veterans could be remade into a cheaper, more cost-conscious image. The Marlins were dismantled after winning the 1997 World Series and became one of the worst teams in baseball history with 108 losses. Players were allowed to leave as free agents. Others were traded away. Payroll was slashed like so many victims in a horror movie, and fans who were "doing the fish" cast their lines elsewhere.

The decisions will be plentiful, and maybe painful, for Diamondbacks owner Jerry Colangelo, who was too drenched in champagne after Sunday's Game 7 victory over the New York Yankees to face the sober realities.

Despite financial concerns that led Colangelo to make cash calls and take out loans totaling about $65 million over the past three seasons, he insisted that the Diamondbacks won't completely shed their skins and be left exposed in 2002. Defending their title, the first for the city of Phoenix in a major professional sport, will be a priority. The Marlins' fire sale won't be repeated.

"I've said it over and over again. Not in your lifetime," he said. "I just think it's different ownership, different management, different philosophy, different commitment, different passion. If that isn't enough, I don't know what else I can tell you."

The Diamondbacks are committed to about $200 million in guaranteed contracts and deferments through 2006. That's enough to raise questions about whether first baseman Mark Grace will return. Or right fielder Reggie Sanders, who joined Grace as free-agent acquisitions over the winter as part of Colangelo's win-now mentality. Or center fielder Steve Finley, the former Oriole who scored Arizona's first run in Game 7, made two running catches to end innings and batted .368 in the postseason.

Colangelo is banking on an increased cash flow related to winning the Series. The club's season-ticket base should increase, and merchandise bearing one of the Diamondbacks' many logos should be more in demand.

This causes Colangelo, who also owns the NBA's Phoenix Suns and is more popular in Arizona than sun screen, to view the next three or four seasons as potentially rewarding - just like ending the Yankees' run of consecutive world championships at three.

Did anyone imagine it would happen in this fashion? With Gonzalez, hoping only to make contact and get the ball through the infield, striking the decisive blow with a weak jab at one of Rivera's cut fastballs?

Rivera had converted 23 straight postseason save opportunities. He was automatic, infallible, awe-inspiring. Opposing managers, in this case Arizona's Bob Brenly, feared Rivera's ability to reduce a game to seven innings. Once he entered in the eighth, with a slim lead to protect, the outcome couldn't be reversed.

Or so it went until Tony Womack lined a double into right field in the ninth to score Midre Cummings with the tying run. Rivera hit Craig Counsell to load the bases, and Gonzalez filled the streets with celebrating fans.

He also took some heat off Brenly, again left open to intense second-guessing for sending out Curt Schilling for the eighth inning after the Yankees had tied the score. His body fatigued from twice working on three days' rest in the Series, Schilling gave up a leadoff homer to rookie Alfonso Soriano, who rounded the bases with his fist pointed toward the sky.

"I was crushed when he hit it because I thought it was a good pitch," said Schilling, named co-Most Valuable Player in the Series with Randy Johnson. "Going down 2-1 at that point in the ballgame with that bullpen, it's not usually an antidote for winning. But we found a way."

Brenly could have pinch-hit for Schilling in the seventh, but let him face three more batters. He was criticized for removing Schilling after seven innings in Game 4. This time, Brenly appeared to go too long with him.

"He was still throwing great, his velocity was good, his location was good," said Brenly, who became the fourth manager with no previous experience to win a world championship, joining Bucky Harris (1924), Eddie Dyer (1946) and Ralph Houk (1961).

Brenly approached catcher Damian Miller in the dugout between innings and asked, "Is he doing OK, do you see any signs that he is losing anything?" Miller responded, "No, he's throwing great."

"When I asked Curt, he said he was fine," Brenly said. "We thought about pinch hitting for him, but I just didn't see any reason to take him out. He was dealing and I was content with that."

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