The New York Yankees were preparing to celebrate their 27th World Series championship Sunday night at Bank One Ballpark, needing only three outs in Game 7 with all-star closer Mariano Rivera on the mound and time running out on the Arizona Diamondbacks.
No sight inspires more confidence in the Yankees, whose formula for postseason success features Rivera as the centerpiece.
The right-hander has been as good as it gets on baseball's biggest stage, but the Diamondbacks stole the show in rallying against Rivera with one out in the ninth inning for a 3-2 victory and their first Series title.
"I was trying to do my best, but I'm not perfect," said Rivera, whose streak of consecutive postseason saves ended at 23. "Everything was working today, I just didn't do it."
Trailing, 2-1, Arizona tied the score on Tony Womack's double. With the bases loaded against a drawn-in infield, Luis Gonzalez sent a blooper into shallow left and Jay Bell scored the winning run, igniting an all-night party. It was a stunning turn of events for sport's most storied franchise, which has become accustomed to perfection from the six-year veteran.
"Yeah, you're a little shocked," Yankee left-handed setup man Mike Stanton said. "You always think, regardless of the situation, that Mariano is going to be able to get out of it, because he usually does.
How surprising was the Diamondbacks' rally? Consider:
* Rivera had not suffered a blown postseason save since Game 4 of the 1997 American League division series against the Cleveland Indians.
* Entering Game 7 of this Series, he had pitched five scoreless innings with a victory and a save.
* Rivera was 2-0 with five saves and a 0.61 earned-run average in his first 10 playoff appearances in 2001 and was 6-0 overall in his career in the playoffs.
* And Rivera's 0.70 ERA was the lowest in postseason history among pitchers with at least 50 innings. Despite giving up two runs in 11/3 innings Sunday, Rivera still tops the list with a .0.91 ERA.
"You expect it to be over with when Mo comes in," shortstop Derek Jeter said. "Ninety-nine percent of the time, it's over."
Rivera uncharacteristically committed an error and hit a batter with a pitch, contributing to the Diamondbacks' improbable victory against statistically the majors' top all-time playoff reliever.
David Dellucci, running at first after Mark Grace led off with a single, was safe at second on a wide throw by Rivera, who fielded Damian Miller's bunt and tried to nail the lead runner.
Rivera said that play cost the Yankees their fourth consecutive Series title and fifth in six years.
"I think that was the whole game right there," Rivera said. "That play to second base was the game right there, but it was the right play. The guy wasn't even halfway there."
The Yankees said their latest phenomenal run would not have occurred without Rivera.
"I don't think anything needs to be said to Mariano," right fielder Paul O'Neill said. "I feel like we wouldn't have a ring on our finger, through this whole thing, if we didn't have Mariano Rivera.
"He's laid it out there so many times before; he's become so automatic. ... It was just some bad, bad luck tonight."
For the Yankees too.