Game 6 memories: First-hand accounts
Williams, Salmon, McKeon relive World Series victories
Yes, six years have passed since the World Series reached a Game 6. But before that historic drought, there was a three-year deluge of Game 6 drama.
There was a rout in the desert. There was a pitching change followed by a heroic homer in Anaheim. There was Josh Beckett, completely dominant.
With the Yankees and Phillies squaring off for Game 6 of the 2009 World Series, MLB.com reached out to key figures from each of those Game 6 classics, two of which sent the Fall Classic to a Game 7 with the other ending it.
Matt Williams was Arizona's third baseman and cleanup hitter in 2001. Tim Salmon was the Angels' veteran in a whirlwind October 2002. Jack McKeon was the Marlins' manager, having taken over in May 2003 and led the team to the promised land.
Here are their Game 6 memories:
2001: D-backs 15, Yankees 2
The Yankees had taken a 3-2 Series lead on back-to-back extra-inning wins in the Bronx, but the D-backs still had their dynamic duo. Randy Johnson met Yankees lefty ace then and (literally) today, Andy Pettitte. The D-backs' offense jumped all over Pettitte and knocked him out after two-plus innings. Williams singled to lead off the three-run second and doubled to begin an eight-run third as the last man Pettitte faced. Then, with Curt Schilling starting and Johnson chipping in 1 1/3 relief innings, the D-backs took Game 7 in dramatic fashion to win the Series.
Williams spoke about 2001 Game 6 with MLB.com's Steve Gilbert:
"Those were some tough losses at old Yankee Stadium. There was something extra in there for the Yankees. But we felt good about Randy going and about seeing Andy for the second time in the Series. We had some success against him in Game 2.
"[Steve] Finley had gotten a call from someone before the game who told him that Andy had a tendency to do certain things that would give away his pitches. I didn't want to hear anything about it, or be part of that information, because for me I just like to react to the pitch as it's thrown and not know what is coming. Some guys, though, find that helpful.
"You have to remember it started early for us in Game 6. We got to Andy early and didn't let him settle in and we were rolling after that. That was huge because even though we were in our house and had our guys going, the Yankees had the momentum after the three games there, so to get started early was key for us. It also allowed [manager] Bob [Brenly] to take Randy out early so that he would be ready if need be the next night, which turned out to be important.
"I'm not sure if the big win in Game 6 gave us momentum heading into Game 7 or not, but we did feel we had an advantage for Game 7 since we had Curt going and we were at home."
2002: Angels 6, Giants 5
The scene has become part of World Series lore: Giants manager Dusty Baker removes starter Russ Ortiz from a 5-0 game in the seventh inning, letting Ortiz keep the ball. Cheered on by Rally Monkey-crazed fans, Scott Spiezio then hits a three-run homer, the Angels complete the comeback with three more runs in the eighth, and go on to win Game 7 the next night.
Salmon spoke about 2002 Game 6 with MLB.com's Doug Miller:
"I can't say it was business as usual [entering the seventh down 5-0], but personally, having struck out looking the inning before with runners on, I remember feeling like we were running out of time," Salmon said. "But in the dugout, it didn't seem like that at all. The emotions of that club were always business as usual and, 'Grind it out,' whether we were down by five or up by five. That was the tone of that team."
Salmon says getting to the other team's bullpen had been key all year, and it didn't take long for Spiezio and the Angels to pounce.
"It was just so meant to be," Salmon said of the eight-pitch at-bat. "Speez, the way he battled and kept fouling those pitches, you kind of felt something good was going to happen there. I was down below, scouting [Giants reliever Felix] Rodriguez on TV. I had hit the homer off him in Game 2, and I was watching to see what he was throwing, where he was working.
"When Speez hit it, and we saw what happened, a bunch of us went running up into the dugout. It really brought the wind back in our sail. ... Speez's at-bat really typified kind of what our team was about. Just grind, grind, grind, down by five, keep battling, keep battling, and just get to the next pitch and play the game.
"At the time, it was like, 'Here we go again. Another come-from-behind victory.' But at the same time, you're kind of pinching yourself, wondering, 'Is this really happening?' It was just the way things went for us down the stretch and in the playoffs. You put yourself in position to win every night and things happen. There's no doubt when we left that stadium, the whole sense of destiny was on our side."
2003: Marlins 2, Yankees 0
This game was hotly contested before it even started. A great debate would revolve around McKeon's decision to start 23-year-old Josh Beckett on three days' rest before Beckett threw his first pitch. McKeon decided to pitch Beckett in Game 6 once the Marlins evened the series in Game 4. The decision wound up working out brilliantly for the Marlins, as Beckett threw a five-hit shutout at Yankee Stadium and Florida celebrated the World Series title.
McKeon spoke about 2003 Game 6 with MLB.com's Joe Frisaro:
"I made up my mind that I was going to start Beckett," McKeon said. "Then I just gave him the benefit of the doubt and asked him what his thoughts were to start on three days' rest. What do you think about that? His reply was, 'Let me go out and throw a bullpen.' I knew that he was going to come back and say, 'I'm ready.' "
It didn't take long before McKeon knew he had the right guy on the mound.
"From the first inning, I knew he was on. I knew he was going to be tough to beat," McKeon said.
Beckett allowed a double in the first to Bernie Williams and scattered the five hits across five different innings, inducing three double-play grounders and never letting a runner advance to third base.
Before the ninth inning, the Marlins had Dontrelle Willis and Ugueth Urbina up in the bullpen. But McKeon says it was going to be all Beckett, all the way.
"That was for show," McKeon said of the action in the bullpen. "There was no way Beckett was going to come out of that game. After the eighth inning, I went up to Pudge [Rodriguez, the catcher], and said, 'How does he look?' Pudge said, 'Don't take him out.'
"I wasn't about to. Beckett was special."
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. Reporters Steve Gilbert, Doug Miller and Joe Frisaro contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.