The seventh game of the 2001 World Series is widely cited as the unofficial end of the Yankees dynasty of the late 1990s and early 2000s. If the result had gone the other way, one of those Yankees — infielder Enrique Wilson — would not be here today.
A back-and-forth 2001 World Series
The Arizona Diamondbacks, in only their fourth year of existence, were the latest challengers to the Yankees‘ dominance. In 2001, they rode the arms of Randy “The Big Unit” Johnson and Curt Schilling to the National League pennant.
In truth, it was a small miracle there was even a seventh game to be played at all. Through the first six games, the Diamondbacks had outscored the Yankees 34-12. The three games Arizona won were blowouts, while New York’s three wins were by one run each. In both games four and five, Arizona held a two-run lead in the bottom of the ninth only for closer Byung-hyun Kim to blow the save. The Yankees won both contests in extra innings.
New York could have won the series on the road in game six, but the Diamondbacks crushed those ambitions with a 15-2 pounding. Arizona’s win sent the series to a decisive seventh game.
The seventh game goes down to the wire
Game seven promised a pitcher’s duel between the Diamondbacks’ Schilling and Yankees’ ace Roger Clemens, and it did not disappoint. The game remained scoreless until the bottom of the sixth when Danny Bautista doubled to score Steve Finley. The Yankees responded by scoring two runs off of Schilling, taking the lead on an Alfonso Soriano home run in the eighth inning.
New York carried that 2-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth and were three outs away from their fourth consecutive world championship. With the ball in the hands of Mariano Rivera, who had already picked up five saves in this postseason, a Yankees championship looked secure.
But in the lowest moment of Rivera’s Hall of Fame career, the Diamondbacks pounded away at the closer relentlessly. “The Sandman” showed an uncharacteristic loss of control and could only hold Arizona to one out in the ninth inning. Luis Gonzalez’s bloop single into left-center field drove Craig Counsell home with the Series-winning run.
Fate intervenes to save a Yankee
Enrique Wilson was a late addition to the 2001 Yankees roster, arriving in a trade from Pittsburgh in June. For the World Series, Wilson had made his travel plans under the assumption that his team would win the Series and parade down New York’s Canyon of Heroes a few days later, ESPN reports. With no championship to celebrate, and thus no parade, Wilson moved his return flight up a few days — a decision that turned out to save his life.
The flight for which he was originally scheduled was American Airlines Flight 587, departing from New York’s JFK Airport and bound for Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Shortly after takeoff, the Airbus A300 plummeted from the sky into a Queens neighborhood. All 260 on the plane and five others on the ground died.
The crash took place two months after the attacks of September 11th, triggering fears of another terrorist attack. However, the official investigation determined that the accident was a result of pilot error.
It is most likely that Wilson would have been the 266th fatality had the Yankees held on to win game seven. When Rivera met Wilson at spring training the following season, he told him, “I am glad we lost the World Series, because it means that I still have a friend.”