As debuts go, the Arizona Diamondbacks could not have written a better script.
Behind the incredible arm of Curt Schilling and an offense that exploded for all of its runs in the first four innings, Arizona crushed the New York Yankees, 9-1, Saturday night in the opening game of the World Series.
A Bank One Ballpark record crowd of 49,646 roared its approval as the fourth-year franchise enjoyed a smashing premiere on the Series stage.
Schilling struck out eight over seven innings, and relievers Mike Morgan and Greg Swindell finished a combined three-hitter. Meanwhile, light-hitting second baseman Craig Counsell and slugging left fielder Luis Gonzalez each homered as the Diamondbacks knocked New York starter Mike Mussina from the game after just three innings.
"When you score as many runs as we did early and then add on the way we play defense, something drastic would have to happen for us to lose," Schilling said.
Nothing did. Schilling retired 16 of the final 18 hitters he faced as the Yankees went down meekly. It was yet another dominating performance by Schilling, who is 4-0 with an 0.79 earned run average in the postseason this year.
Schilling threw 102 pitches and was still hitting 97 mph on the stadium radar gun in the seventh inning as he became the first four-game winner in the postseason since David Wells went 4-0 for the Yankees in 1998.
"It's one inning, one out, one pitch at a time," Schilling said. "In these situations, it's easier to do when it's at the end of the year. This is it. You're playing for all the marbles."
After doing nothing against Schilling, the Yankees face another huge obstacle tonight in Game Two (7:30, Ch. 29, Radio 1520 AM) when Arizona left-hander Randy Johnson (21-6 with 372 strikeouts in the regular season) pitches against New York's Andy Pettitte, the most valuable player of the American League Championship Series.
The Yankees broke through against Schilling on Bernie Williams' two-out RBI double in the first, but they didn't score again. Their three hits were their fewest in a Series game since Los Angeles' Don Drysdale held them to three Oct. 5, 1963.
Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks' offense exploded. Counsell had one of the biggest hits, a booming solo home run to right in the bottom of the first that quickly got Arizona even.
"That was huge," said first baseman Mark Grace. "Bernie had the big hit for them, but Counsell then gave us all kinds of life. We were fired up."
"I think that was absolutely the turning point in the ballgame," said Arizona manager Bob Brenly.
Counsell, who had just four home runs in the regular season, was the MVP of the NLCS. He scored the winning run for Florida in Game Seven of the '97 World Series, so he's no stranger to shining in October. Still, a 383-foot blast into the right-field seats was unexpected.
"I'm just trying to go out and contribute," Counsell said. "Today, it just happened to be a home run. When you're hitting in front of one of the best hitters in baseball (Gonzalez, who had 57 home runs in the regular season), they are going to go after you. It's good baseball. They are going to make me beat them rather than Gonzo."
Mussina lost to both batters. On a 1-2 pitch in the third, Gonzalez took him deep to right to put Arizona ahead for keeps, 3-1. Arizona added two more runs in that inning, helped by a David Justice error in right field, and made matters a stunning blowout with four more runs in the fourth off reliever Randy Choate.
Mussina's three-inning outing was the shortest by a Yankees starter in the Series since Kenny Rogers lasted just two innings in Game Four against Atlanta in 1996.
"I'm always surprised when something like that happens," said manager Joe Torre. "He could not locate his pitches the way he wanted to, and we paid the price. . . . They had a hell of a game, they played us very tough and they beat our brains out. Mussina was just not Mussina tonight."
Grace had a two-run double in the fourth, and another error, by third baseman Scott Brosius, contributed to three runs in the inning being unearned.
"They know how to play," Gonzalez said of the Yankees. "That's why they are winners over there. They know how to take advantage of mistakes and different situations. Tonight, we did not give them that opportunity."
On the other hand, the Yankees were overly generous. The five unearned runs they yielded were the most in a Series game in 28 years, since Oakland gave up five to the Mets in Game Two of the '73 Series.
It added up to a night-long celebration for the Diamondbacks as they had their way with the game's most celebrated team.
"A lot of dreams came true tonight," Grace said, "but we know the job's far from done."