Baseball-Almanac.com's Divisional Series section
2001 National League Divisional Series:
Arizona Diamondbacks (3),
St. Louis Cardinals (2)
The Arizona Diamondbacks returned to the National League Divisional Series for the second time in only their fourth year of existence. Their last trip had come in 1999 when the New York Mets toppled them three-games-to-one. Perhaps one of the most well-balanced teams in all of Major League baseball, the D'Backs featured strong hitting and one of the most dominant pitching rotations in recent memory. Randy Johnson, the cornerstone of Arizona's staff, had a record-breaking season while becoming the first pitcher in Major League history to record four consecutive 300-plus strikeout seasons. "The Big Unit" also tied the ML mark for double-digit strikeout games with 23, as well as the record for most strikeouts in nine innings after he fanned 20 Cincinnati Reds at Bank One Ballpark. Teammate Curt Schilling also had a great year becoming the first pitcher in franchise history to win 20 games. (Both would later become co-MVPs in the 2001 World Series). Luis Gonzalez provided the offensive side of Arizona's march to the playoffs tying Ken Griffey Jr. for the most homers in Major League history for the month of April (13) and winning back-to-back National League Player of the Month Awards for batting .417 with 12 home runs and 35 RBIs.
Their opponents, the St. Louis Cardinals, were returning for their second consecutive Series after sweeping the Atlanta Braves in the 2000 affair. St. Louis fan favorite Mark McGwire struggled with injury throughout the season, hitting only 29 home runs in 299 at-bats. "Big Mac", who had turned 39, continued to have difficulties with a bad right knee. Despite an impending retirement, he still managed to play in 97 games in his final major-league season. Pitcher Matt Morris returned to the "Redbird's" rotation after a 2-year hiatus following surgery. Despite his absence, Morris came back without missing a beat and became the Cardinals' first 22-game winner since Bob Gibson had recorded 23 victories in 1970. The veteran righty also tallied a record 15 victories at Busch Stadium, surpassing John Tudor's 1984 total of 14. As a reward, he was elected to his first All-Star Game and also named National League's Comeback Player of the Year. Teammate Darryl Kile added 16 victories and he and Morris ran 5-6 in the league ERA race, 3.09-3.16 (one of five categories in which they placed in the top 10 together). In the bullpen, lefthander reliever Steve Kline made a club-record 89 appearances, posting a 1.80 ERA, (second-best among NL relievers) and also became one of four Cardinal relievers to appear in 60-plus games (Dave Veres , Mike Timlin  and Gene Stechschulte ).
The 2001 playoff Opener (as with the rest of the post-season) took on a whole different meaning as America looked to Major League baseball once again, as part of the healing process. On September 11th, the country had been attacked after hijacked airplanes were flown into the World Trade Center's twin towers, the Pentagon in Washington DC. and a field in western Pennsylvania (en route to another target). In the end, over 3,300 innocent people were killed and the United States along with a collalition of over sixty countries declared war on terrorism. Baseball, having always been there in times of war, rose again to the occasion filling the pre-game festivities with patriotic tributes to the victims. In Game 1, Curt Schilling and Matt Morris, Cy Young rivals and baseball's winningest pitchers, went head-to-head in a classic "pitcher's duel". St. Louis' ace only allowed one run over 7 innings, but it wasn't enough to top Schilling who made it stand with a 3-hit, 9-strikeout, 101-pitch, complete-game masterpiece. In the end, the No. 8 man, catcher Damian Miller was sacrificed to second by Schilling himself and scored on a two-out single to center by Steve Finley in the 5th for the only run of the game. Woody Wilson made his first postseason appearance in Game 2 and the St. Louis righty not only out-dueled Cy Young candidate Randy Johnson on the mound, but also outfoxed him at the plate contributing a defensive gem and a 4-1 victory against the Diamondbacks. Williams, who hit a meager .213 in the regular season, doubled and scored off Johnson in the third for a 3-0 cushion. He later robbed Tony Womack of a clutch leadoff hit up the middle in the sixth.
Now tied at a game-a-piece, both teams looked to take the advantage in Game 3. On the mound, Miguel Batista managed to "save-face" (after his ninth-inning error allowed St. Louis to score an insurance run in a 4-1 victory in Game 2), by allowing only two runs and three hits in 6 innings of work. At the plate, Craig Counsell's tie breaking, three-run homer in the 7th-inning led to a 5-3 victory, putting the Diamondbacks on the brink of their first National League Championship Series. Things would not be that easy though as the Cardinals rebounded in Game 4 due mostly to the efforts of a 21-year-old rookie named Bud Smith. Smith, who had struggled in his final regular-season outing, threw 98 pitches. He avoided big damage in a first-inning jam, allowing an RBI single to Steve Finley, but quickly regained his composure and stranded two runners each in both the 3rd and 4th. As usual, "lumberjack" Jim Edmonds also came up huge with his second homer of the series, (a 2nd-inning solo shot off Arizona's Albie Lopez) stretching the contest with a "do-or-die" 4-1 victory. Despite their efforts, the Cards were not able to maintain their newfound momentum in Game 5 as Tony Womack's 2-out, 2-strike single into left-center field scored pinch-runner Danny Bautista for a dramatic 2-1 victory and a ticket to the National League Championship.
Anxious for retribution after being swept by the St. Louis Cardinals in the previous year's contest, the Atlanta Braves returned (as they had every season) to once again compete in the National League Divisional Series. A season-ending injury to standout Rafael Furcal early on and year-long offensive struggles plagued the Braves as they made their run to a record 10th straight division title. After holding off the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets for the NL East title in the final week of the season, Atlanta entered the playoffs more determined than ever. Chipper Jones led the team's offense with a .330 batting average and 38 homers. As a team, the Braves ranked ninth in the NL with a .260 BA, 13th in runs scored (729) and John Burkett's 3.04 ERA ranked third in the NL, with teammate Greg Maddux's 3.05 ranked fourth. Maddux, winning his 12th Gold Glove, led the team with 17 wins, (despite losing consecutively after Aug. 22). Despite going 2-4 in May and June, Tom Glavine finished with a 16-7 record. John Smoltz, (who had missed the 2000 season after Tommy John surgery), battled recurring arm problems the first half of the season. After two lengthy stints on the disabled list, he was used primarily as a reliever. On August 17th, he finally recorded his first save then went on to save 10 games in 11 outings.
The Houston Astros were no stranger to the playoffs either and were just coming off of a landmark year. First, Major League baseball announced that they had been awarded the 2004 All-Star Game. Then Moises Alou, Billy Wagner and Lance Berkman were all selected to represent the team at the 72nd Mid-Summer Classic (which had been lacking in Astros over the years). Slugger Craig Biggio became the first player in franchise history to log 2,000 hits and finished the 2001 season with 2,149 hits during his 14-year career and teammate Jeff Bagwell became the sixth player in MLB history to have 30 homers, 100 RBIs and 100 runs scored in 6 straight seasons. On the defensive side, Brad Ausmus received a Gold Glove award for defensive excellence at his position and finally, SportsTicker, Topps, Baseball America and Baseball Weekly all named Houston as their "Organization of the Year".
With one franchise finally reaching their peak and another trying to get back on top, the 2001 NLDS between these two promised to be a great one. Game 1 clearly belonged to the Braves line-up (and their bullpen) as they rallied against Mike Jackson, closer Billy Wagner and Mike Williams for the final four runs in their 7-4 victory. The turning point was a three-run home run by Braves slugger Chipper Jones against Wagner. The second meeting proved to be a pitchers dream and a hitter's nightmare as the Braves' Tom Glavine, (who hadn't pitched a shutout in 28 postseason starts) tossed a 1-0 masterpiece. Unfortunately for Houston, both Game 1 starter Wade Miller and Game 2 starter Dave Mlicki mimicked the same pitching approach as their adversaries, but without comparable support in the field. Once again, Atlanta rose to the occasion in the third (and final) outing as Paul Bako homered and drove in 3runs while John Burkett pitched 6 shutout innings of his own to put the Astros out of their misery with a 6-2, Series-clinching victory. Amazingly, the Braves had come alive at the most crucial of moments to advance to the NLCS for the ninth time in 10 years after winning only 88 games during the regular season.
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