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WORLD SERIES 2001 / Arizona: Shake, Rattle & Roll / Schilling, Johnson prove two can beat 25

Before a pitch had even been thrown in this World Series, they had been touted as the two-man tag team that could halt the Yankees' dynasty.

And by the utterly splendid, spectacularly amazing finish last night in a Game 7 thriller that put a fitting capstone on this week and a ride through storybook realms of heart-wrenching pain and drama, the dominance of Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson, Arizona Diamondbacks dynmaic starting pitching duo, was the only thing about this World Series that followed the blueprint.

The Yankees knew they had to beat one of them once to win their fourth title in five seasons. And they couldn't do it. Schilling - who guaranteed a win last night - dazzled the Yankees with fire three times in the past ninedays. And Johnson finished them off with smoke.

For days, Schilling had been a one-man hype machine in the panting wait for last night's classic Game 7 matchup against Roger Clemens, Schilling's long-ago mentor and a no-nonsense competitor who, if he wasn't trying to beat Curt Schilling's brains out last night, might've pulled his Arizona Diamondbacks counterpart aside to give him a bit more unsolicited advice: Shelf the stunts before taking the ball. (Or, failing that, at least quit giving Clemens credit for creating the Frankenstein who tormented the Yankees three times in nine days).

Wasn't it enough that Schilling was poised to start for the third time in this breathtaking Series with a chance to clinch Arizona's first world championship, run his 2001 postseason record to 5-0 and engrave his name in baseball history? Did he have to go and guarantee "We're going to win Game 7" on national TV even before Johnson's Game 6 win, too?

Wasn't it enough that through the hypnotic first seven innings Schilling and Clemens were, as expected, playing a game of Top This and trading pure heat, nose-diving splitters and vapor-trail fastballs that had the radar gun routinely climbing to 97 mph?

Neither Clemens nor Schilling was still on the mound by the unbelieveable finish - a one-out bloop single by Luis Gonzalez off Yankees closer Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the ninth that gave Arizona a come-from-behind 3-2 win and put an end to a World Series that will surely be filed among Best Ever.

Especially after Johnson got the last four outs against the Yankees just one night after tossing 105 pitches to win Game 6. "I didn't say how we'd win it," Schilling joked later. "I just said we'd win it."

"When people got wind that maybe I would be in the bullpen today, they said, 'Are you kidding?'" Johnson said. But this is the World Series.

Schilling can now boast he not only tamed the Yankees hitters. He'd done something light years more difficult: He almost singlehandedly outpitched three-fourths of the Yankees' vaunted starting rotation: Mike Mussina in Game 1, Andy Pettitte in Game 5, and Clemens. And to top it off, he now shares World Series Most Valuable Player honors with his dynamic pitching partner.

And Johnson? After a storied career that's included awards and strikeout titles, a workhorse workload and gaggle of 20-win seasons, he finally played in his first World Series this year at age 38 and picked up his first ring. Had Brenly asked him to get 14 outs last night, he probably would've done it.

"That relief appearance is all you need to know about Randy Johnson," Schilling said.

Still, until something else unbelieveable unfolded - the sight of Rivera blowing a postseason save for the first time in 24 chances dating back to 1997 - Schilling didn't seem likely to pull off any of it. In the eighth inning,

Yankees rookie second baseman Alfonso Soriano tried to extend the Yankees' magic just one more year by touching Schilling for a solo home run that gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead.

Right then it seemed Schilling might forever be a goat, not a pitcher linked forever with Johnson in World Series legend.

Either way, Schilling's pre-Series crack that Aura and Mystique are nightclub dancers was already an instant classic. As the miracle finishes heaped up game after game, the comment became the overarching storyline of this series. After last night's finish, the four-year-old D-Backs franchise can justifably claim it has some mystique of its own.

Johnson & Schilling will be remembered as the irrestible forces that overcame a team that set the standard for intensity and steel-nerved performances.

And this Series? For the first time in a decade fans around the country have been captivated by baseball again. People have been forcing themselves to stay awake past midnight to watch these spellbinding games, then waking up to talk them over the next day. Yankees reliever Mike Stanton said, "You want to say it's a dream come true, but you don't even dream up stuff like this."

So why not settle for this epitaph. "This," Schilling said, "was great for baseball."

This was as good as it gets.

New York Sports