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.
I like Roger Clemens for six innings, Ramiro Mendoza for one, and Mariano Rivera for two. Rivera has had two full days' rest and should be his typical unbeatable self. If the Yankees had to lose Game 6, they did it in the best possible way -- they lost by a million runs so they didn't have to waste Mendoza or Rivera. Losing a game where you've also had to use (and waste) you're closer -- like the D-Backs did with Byung-Hyun Kim in Games 4 and 5 -- those are the games that kill a team.
Schilling will be pitching on adrenaline. He said he felt horrible after the Game 4 start, but that he felt much better on Saturday. His body language is such that I'd be the most surprised person in America if he threw a 125-pitch complete game, because his body just doesn't look like it will let him do that right now. He'll be strong for about 75 pitches, and then manager Bob Brenly will have to keep an eye on him.
The Yankees will have to be really patient with Schilling. If they can get him out of there after five innings, there isn't a lot of strength in the D-Back bullpen.
Clemens, who left the park in the sixth inning Saturday night, is the active leader in victories with 280 and the all-time leader in Cy Young awards with five (he'll likely receive No. 6 in a week). He also was instrumental in changing Schilling's approach to the game, turning around his career with a stern lecture 10 years ago that the right-hander was wasting his talent.
"What better script could you imagine?" Arizona pitcher Brian Anderson said. "Roger Clemens and all he's accomplished and the year he had. Schilling and all he accomplished and the year he had and the fact that Clemens played such a key role in Schill's development as a pitcher.
"It would be like Obi-Wan Kenobi going head to head with Luke Skywalker."
Obi-Wan Kenobi? Luke Skywalker? Maybe Industrial Light and Magic is involved in this after all.
"This might be like being in the essay finals against Hemingway or a paint-off against Picasso," Schilling said. "It's Roger Clemens. It's Roger Clemens and the Yankees, Game 7. Everybody that's ever played this sport at any level has had a wiffle ball in their hand at some point and said, 'It's the seventh game of the World Series' and you're either pitching or hitting. How cool is that?"
With the Yankees down 2-0 in the series, Clemens pitched great in Game 3, holding Arizona to three hits and one run while striking out nine in seven innings. Schilling has been even better this series, holding the Yankees to two runs and six hits while striking out 17 in 14 innings.
But this will mark the second time in a week he's pitched on three days' rest, which he had done before his Game 4 start. He said his arm was sorer than normal after that outing and there is some question as to how effective he can be or how far into the game he can go.
Despite the uncertainty, Schilling said he is ready for the biggest game of his career and believing he will win.
"I’ve never taken the ball not expecting to win," he said, "and I would assume if you asked Roger the same question, he would tell you he plans on winning tomorrow, too."
And if Schilling can't go the distance, everybody else is available, including Johnson, who said he wouldn't rule out an appearance after pitching the first seven innings of Arizona's 15-2 victory.
That win was one shy of the largest margin of victory in World Series history, while Arizona set the record for most hits (22) in a series game. The Snakes led 15-0 by the fourth inning. They scored eight runs in the third, chasing starter Andy Pettitte and greeting Witasick with seven hits by the first eight batters the reliever faced.
Anderson said that if the Snakes win the series, it would seem as if they won six of the seven games. He has a point. Take away the ninth-inning home runs in Game 4 and 5 and Arizona is absolutely kicking New York's rear this series, outscoring the Yankees 34-12.
Of course, you can't take away those home runs, or at least not without making some New Yorkers very, very angry. "That's why we play 27 outs. Or 30 or however many it takes," New York reliever Mike Stanton said of his team's remarkable comebacks in Games 4 and 5.
After suffering through those losses, Arizona rubbed Game 6 in a little by playing the first bars of "New York, New York" immediately after the game before cutting to a version of Kool and the Gang's "Celebration."
" It's Roger Clemens. It's Roger Clemens and the Yankees, Game 7. Everybody that's ever played this sport at any level has had a whiffle ball in their hand at some point and said, 'It's the seventh game of the World Series' ... How cool is that? "
- Curt Schilling
"I'm glad they cut it off because nothing is over yet," Mark Grace said. "We still have nine innings left to go. Maybe 15 or 18. But it's going to be terrific. I wish we could go out there and play it right now."
So, obviously losing two straight heartbreaking games didn't bother the Diamondbacks too much. Does getting routed one game affect a team in the next, though? Let's look. This was the 15th blowout game in World Series history (games won by 10 or more runs).
In the previous 14, the team that won the blowout was 7-4 in the next game when one was played (three of the blowouts ended the series). The team that won the blowout won the series eight times and lost it four times, with the 1960 Yankees skewing the totals because they won three blowouts in 1960 and lost the series.
That 1960 series remains one of the most memorable in history, because the Yankees outscored the Pirates 55-27 yet lost it on Bill Mazeroski's dramatic Game 7 home run in the bottom of the ninth inning.
So the Yankees know as well as anyone that getting blown out one game doesn't necessarily mean much the next. Hey, they lost Game 3 of the playoffs to Seattle 14-3 and won the next two to take that series.
"A win is a win and a loss is a loss," Derek Jeter said. "Of course, you don't want to get blown out, but if you win the World Series, who cares what happened in Game 6?"
Jeter didn't assure a victory as Schilling did, but he did guarantee Game 7 will be fun. And Anderson delivered another sure-fire guarantee. That this long, amazing, delightful season will definitely end with Game 7, the final game of the year, the biggest game of the year.
"When you're a little kid dreaming of playing in the World Series, it's never Game 4," Anderson said. "It's Game 7. It's the apex of the season."
Sure we can't talk you guys into just keeping it going, though?
"No," Grace said, "because my heart, liver and bowels couldn't take that."
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.