PHOENIX -- The season began almost nine months ago, when pitchers and catchers reported to spring training, little knowing the wonderful year that lay ahead of those first fundamental drills.
We saw Randy Johnson turn a pigeon into the Internet's most viewed video not involving Anna Kournikova. We hunted for naked photos of the game's newest batting champion, a 165-pound Japanese right fielder who became the most famous one-named celebrity outside of Madonna and Zamfir. We rowed rubber dinghies into McCovey Cove, waiting for Barry Bonds to send another of his record 73 home runs over the right-field wall.
We watched the Mariners win 116 games without Alex Rodriguez and the Rangers finish last with him. We said good-bye to Cal and Tony, joined Rickey in praising himself as he passed Ty Cobb at home plate and nominated Derek as the first Mr. November.
And now, this wonderful season, one of the best in memory, comes down to one final game, one last night at the ballpark. The 26-time world champion Yankees against the four-year-old expansion Arizona Diamondbacks with Roger Clemens against Curt Schilling in Game 7 of the World Series.
The ending to the season could not get any better than this unless Industrial Light and Magic was involved.
"If the Lord sat me down in January of this year and asked me to script a dream season, I could not come up with this," Schilling said after the Diamondbacks forced the seventh game by routing the Yankees 15-2 Saturday night. "Game 7 against Roger Clemens and everything that's happened . . . . The way the year has gone for this team, what Roger did for me throughout my career, I could not have dreamt this. I'm not that big a dreamer."
Few people outside of Steven Spielberg's immediate employ are.
This has been a series so rich that it's stretched over two months. We had the great pitching the first two games from Schilling and Johnson and then the mind-numbing ninth-inning comebacks and extra-inning victories in Games 4 and 5 and then the historic Game 6 rout. That may not have been a great game, but Yankee-haters everywhere sure enjoyed it.
This series hasn't been as good as the memorable 1991 World Series, when five games were won in a team's final at-bat, but it's been close (though the Byung-Hyun Kim and Jay Witasick families might disagree). Before the first pitch in Game 7 in 1991, Atlanta leadoff hitter Lonnie Smith and Minnesota catcher Brian Harper shook hands out of respect for the series their two teams had played. Will there be a similar feeling Sunday night?
"I don't know," Arizona left fielder Luis Gonzalez said, "but I think it would be pretty neat if Curt and Roger drew their guns in the middle of the field."
Sunday marks the sixth time 20-game winners started against each other in Game 7 of the World Series, the most recent of which was 1985, when Kansas City's Bret Saberhagen beat St. Louis's John Tudor with an 11-0 shutout.
The Yankees still haven't had their best game offensively, but they may get a chance to get something going in Game 7, because I don't think Curt Schilling will be as strong as hew was in Games 1 or 4. He'll pitch a good game, but the Yankees may be able to get him out of it early, which will give the Yankee hitters a chance.