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Counsell's shot a big one for D-backs

Counsell's shot was a big one for D-backs

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Sometimes the most memorable home runs come from the least-expected hitters.

In a week when baseball crowned a new home run king, baseball fans recalled many memorable home runs, and for Diamondbacks fans, that brings to mind Craig Counsell. The utility infielder, now an 11-year veteran with all of 32 career home runs, deserves that distinction in D-backs history for one swing of the bat in Game 1 of the 2001 World Series.

The first-inning blast evened the score at 1, and gave the D-backs a psychological boost early in the series that Arizona eventually won in seven games, said manager Bob Melvin, who was the club's bench coach that season.

Oddly enough, Counsell also hit another one of the biggest homers in team history in Game 3 of the 2001 National League Division Series against St. Louis, smacking a three-run, go-ahead shot that led the D-backs to a victory over the Cardinals.

"I can't explain that," Counsell said. "If I could explain it, I would try to do it today. I just happened to square up two balls at some good times. I could never explain that."

Before his clutch 2001 postseason, Counsell had hit only 11 career homers. Four of those came during the 2001 regular season.

"He's a money player," said 2001 teammate Matt Williams. "He never gets out of himself. You get in that situation, and he's able to do it."

In the top of the first inning, D-backs starter Curt Schilling hit Derek Jeter, and, two batters later, gave up a check-swing double down the third-base line to Bernie Williams to put the Yankees on top, 1-0, before the D-backs even batted.

Up came Arizona's skinny No. 2 hitter with the unorthodox batting stance and his bat swinging high above his head. Counsell drove a 2-1 pitch out of the ballpark, barely missing the swimming pool behind the right-field fence.

At the time, manager Bob Brenly called it "absolutely the turning point of the ballgame," due to the penchant the Yankees had for taking leads and keeping them. After the blast, the Yanks did not lead again until the series moved to New York for Game 3.

"I think it gave us a little jolt," Counsell said. "We were playing from behind, and it gave Curt some confidence. They got a first-inning run on him, but now he was back to even, and he really dominated from that point the rest of that game."

Schilling surrendered only two hits and allowed no runs over seven innings to earn the win.

"I sat on the bench and when he hit the home run, I was resolved that we were going to win or I was going to get a no-decision," Schilling said after the game.

Melvin called Counsell's long ball "a psychological homer" because the D-backs were playing a New York squad that had won three straight championships and four in five years.

When the Yankees found a way to score a run off Schilling without even hitting a ball very hard, the D-backs asked themselves: "How are we going to counter?" Melvin said. "And Counsell goes up there and hits a home run, the last guy in the world that you would think for us to hit a home run hits a home run, and we're like, 'You know what? We can play with these guys.'"

Four victories later the D-backs won the first major professional championship in Arizona history.

Other memorable home runs

Besides Counsell's shots, these five home runs deserve a high place in D-backs history:

1. Williams' three-run homer in Game 2 of the 2001 World Series, Oct. 28, 2001, Chase Field: The seventh-inning shot gave Randy Johnson some breathing room, turning a 1-0 lead into a 4-0 advantage.

2. Erubiel Durazo's go-ahead home run in Game 5 of the 2001 NL Championship Series, Oct. 21, 2001, Turner Field: Durazo's pinch-hit homer put the D-backs on top for good in the NLCS-clinching game.

3. Jay Bell's grand slam wins fan $1 million, July 11, 1998, Chase Field: D-backs fan Gylene Hoyle correctly picked the player (Bell) and inning (sixth) for a D-back to hit a grand slam to win $1 million.

4. Tony Womack's go-ahead, inside-the-park grand slam off Billy Wagner, July 21, 1999, Astrodome: The speedster flew around the bases for a surprise go-ahead homer off the dominant Wagner, the first of the inside-the-park variety in franchise history.

5. Williams' walk-off homer, the team's third in a row, May 12, 1999, Chase Field: Following game-winners from Jay Bell and Luis Gonzalez the previous two nights, Williams' homer capped a five-run ninth for yet another walk-off win.

Michael Schwartz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Kelvin Ang contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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