MLB’s rarest pitching matchup: 20-game winners facing off in Game 7

New York Yankees starting pitcher Roger Clemens winds up for a pitch to the plate in the first inning of Game 7 of the World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix 04 November 2001. AFP PHOTO/Timothy A. CLARY (Photo by Timothy A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)
New York Yankees starting pitcher Roger Clemens winds up for a pitch to the plate in the first inning of Game 7 of the World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix 04 November 2001. AFP PHOTO/Timothy A. CLARY (Photo by Timothy A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images) /
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Diamondbacks aces Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in 2001. (Photo by JEFF HAYNES/AFP via Getty Images)
Diamondbacks aces Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in 2001. (Photo by JEFF HAYNES/AFP via Getty Images) /

2001: Curt Schilling vs. Roger Clemens

As with 1912, 1940 and 1962, the seventh game of the 2001 World Series is today considered among the elite contests in all of baseball history.

It pitted the three-time defending champion New York Yankees against the relative upstart Arizona Diamondbacks, in only their fourth year of existence.

The starters were, at the time and remain today, legendary. Roger Clemens was 20-3 and completing his sixth of seven Cy Young Award winning seasons. His opponent, Curt Schilling, was 22-6 and runner-up to teammate Randy Johnson in the NL Cy Young voting.

Schilling was the 9-1 Game 1 winner, but Clemens’ 2-1 victory in Game 3 got New York going. Schilling took a no-decision in a 4-3 Game 4 Diamondbacks defeat made memorable by Derek Jeter’s walk-off 10th inning home run against Byung-Hyun Kim.

Befitting the matchup, the pitchers both dominated. Through five innings, Clemens allowed only five hits, Schilling just one. Finally in the bottom of the sixth, Danny Bautista’s double drove Steve Finley home with a breakthrough run for the home team.

The lead didn’t last long. In the seventh, the Yankees strung together three singles, the last of them – by Tino Martinez – tying the game. In the eighth, Alfonso Soriano homered to put New York ahead 2-1.

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With Mariano Rivera on the mound in the ninth, a fourth straight Yankee series win seemed all but assured … but not this time. Mark Grace opened with a single, and an error and Tony Womack’s double to right producing the tying run and leaving the home team one hit away from a win. Rivera hit Jay Bell with a pitch to load the bases, then Luis Gonzalez produced the most famous bat-handle blooper in Arizona baseball history. It settled out of Derek Jeter’s reach in short center, ending a classic 3-2 game.