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D'backs' fast four-ward

In only its fourth season, Arizona defeats Atlanta to advance to the World Series, the quickest of any expansion team.

By KEVIN KELLY

© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 22, 2001


ATLANTA -- The Diamondbacks traveled to all corners of the country, hoarding big-name players with even larger contracts.

Randy Johnson, Reggie Sanders and Mark Grace signed as free agents. Luis Gonzalez, Curt Schilling and Matt Williams came through trades.

But the player who sent them to their first World Series in a four-year existence came from the unlikeliest place of all.

The clubhouse.

"I was riding the exercise bike," Erubiel Durazo said.

Signed out of the Mexican League in 1998, Durazo was called up to pinch hit for Grace in the fifth inning of Game 5 of the National League Championship Series on Sunday. His two-run homer off Atlanta starter Tom Glavine broke a tie and propeled the Diamondbacks to a 3-2 win before 35,652.

Arizona won the series 4-1.

"I've often wondered what it takes for a team to get to the World Series. Now I know," said Johnson, who pitched seven innings for his second win of the NLCS.

"Everybody else in this clubhouse knows. You have to have people step up, and you have to have some luck go your way."

The Diamondbacks advanced to the World Series faster than any expansion team in history despite having an aging group of veterans, a questionable bullpen and a rookie manager hired from the broadcast booth.

"It's got to be maybe my top moment for me," said Diamondbacks managing general partner Jerry Colangelo, who also owns the Phoenix Suns. "I've been in the NBA Finals a couple of times, and we've had a lot of success. But this is something that kind of tops that.

"The magnitude of everything, that's going on here. I knew that it was significant."

So did Bob Brenly.

He became the first rookie manager since Kansas City's Jim Frey in 1980 to lead his team to the World Series.

"I was just very fortunate to inherit this ballclub," Brenly said. "It's easy for things to turn out well when no matter who you send out there does something good to help you win a ballgame.

"Certainly doesn't make me a genius or anything like that. It makes my players very good."

And players like Johnson in particular.

The three-time Cy Young Award winner entered the series having not won a postseason game since 1995 and kept Atlanta at arm's length for the second time in the NLCS.

Just barely.

Johnson's strikeout of Brian Jordan on a 2-and-2 slider with bases loaded to end the seventh inning vaporized whatever hope the Braves had.

Byung-Hyun Kim pitched came on in the eighth and pitched two scoreless innings for the save.

Second baseman Craig Counsell, who hit .381 with three doubles and four RBI, was named MVP.

"I'm still thrilled for all the guys in the room," said Counsell, who was on the 1997 Marlins team that won the World Series. "So many guys in there have played 10, 12 years, accomplished so much in their career, and not had a chance to do this."

A 13-year-veteran who led the league in strikeouts this season and went 21-6 with a 2.49 ERA during the regular season, Johnson cruised through the first three innings and didn't allow a hit until Rey Sanchez singled with one out in the third.

Julio Franco, the 40-year-old first baseman for the Braves, then hit a 1-and-1 fastball 390 feet into the first row of stands to tie at 1. The homer ended Johnson's scoreless streak at 17 innings, but he finished 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 16 innings during the NLCS.

"I don't know if we would've gotten to the playoffs without him," Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said of Franco, who was signed late in the season.

Durazo came to bat after Grace went down with a tight right hamstring.

In only his second at-bat of the postseason, the 26-year-old hit a two-run homer just over the leftfield fence to give the Diamondbacks a 3-1 lead.

He became the fifth player to hit a pinch-hit homer in LCS play and first since 1998.

"He understands (his role)," Brenly said. "And he wants to be the best pinch-hitter he can be."

Johnson got out of two bases-loaded situations with only one run allowed.

Sanchez singled, Marcus Giles walked and Franco hit a run-scoring single to make it a 3-2 game. Johnson loaded the bases by walking Chipper Jones before striking out Jordan on his 118th and final pitch of the evening.

"The seventh inning was the longest inning of the night for me," Johnson said. "It was maximum effort."

Kim got Franco to fly out to centerfielder Steve Finley to end the game.

"It seemed like it took forever (to catch)," said Luis Gonzalez, a Tampa native.

The Diamondbacks will wait to see who they play in Game 1 of the World Series on Saturday at Bank One Ballpark. The Braves, meanwhile, go home with just one World Series championship to show for their 10 consecutive division titles.

"They've got a great chance," Cox said. "They've got two of the most outstanding back-to-back starters you could ever want."

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