TAMPA — Jay Bell played 18 years in the majors and had nearly 2,000 hits — but to Yankee fans, he’s known mainly for one thing: scoring the winning run of the 2001 World Series on Luis Gonzalez’s flare into short center, as Arizona beat the Yankees in Game 7.
“That was a great moment,” Bell said of the thrilling win against Mariano Rivera. “It’s something you never forget.”
The latter part is true no matter which side you’re on.
The Yankees, though, appear to have not held any grudges, because Bell was hired to manage their Class-A Tampa team this season.
Having played against Joe Girardi for much of his career, Bell said he called the manager last year after not working in 2016. That led to a conversation with Gary Denbo, the organization’s vice president of player development, and the job with Tampa.
According to Bell, his infamy in Yankees history doesn’t come up often, but he did talk about it with Denbo, who was the Yankees hitting coach in 2001, when they were two outs away from winning a fourth straight World Series.
“You knew, no matter what, Mariano would come out of it unscathed,” Bell said Monday at the Yankees’ minor league complex.
Except this time. And Bell played a significant role in why that streak was snapped.
Bell pinch hit for Randy Johnson with runners on first and second and no one out after a Mark Grace single and a Rivera throwing error on a bunt by Damian Miller. Bell followed with another bunt — also fielded by Rivera — and this time the closer made a perfect throw to Scott Brosius at third for the forceout.
But instead of then throwing to first for a double play, Brosius held onto the ball.
“If Scott had thrown the ball, I was out — more than likely,” Bell said. “Maybe he thought I was faster than I was. I was running down the first base line thinking I screwed up the World Series. I didn’t think there was any way we were gonna do anything against him the rest of the way.”
He was wrong.
Tony Womack hit a double to right to tie the game and send Bell to third. Rivera then hit Craig Counsell with a pitch to load the bases, leading to Gonzalez’s famous single over a drawn-in infield.
“I didn’t know if it was going to be a hit because when I turned and looked, I saw Tony and Derek [Jeter] at short and it took me a split second to realize who was who. Tony probably could’ve caught it from where he was standing.”
Instead, the ball landed in the outfield and Bell’s run ended the wild Series.
“We beat the best of the best,” Bell said. “It was a cool thing.”
Now, after spending time as a coach with the Diamondbacks, Pirates and — most recently — the Reds, Bell is with the organization he tormented over 15 years ago — despite finishing the World Series with just one hit.
The 51-year-old Bell’s playing career ended in 2003 after a season with the Mets. Though he’s seen Rivera “a few times” since 2001, Bell said they’ve never talked about perhaps the craziest ending in World Series history.
That could change this spring, since Rivera often stops by during spring training.
“I’m sure I’ll run into him here at some point,” Bell said. “We’ll see if that comes up.”
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