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Rudy on Duty When playoff time comes around, the Diamondbacks' scrappy Craig Counsell gets his Irish up--and his game face on

Diamondbacks second baseman Craig Counsell awoke on Sunday
morning in Atlanta and felt as though he were reliving the past.
Arizona led the Braves three games to one in the National League
Championship Series and could clinch the pennant by beating
lefthander Tom Glavine that night at Turner Field. The situation
reminded Counsell of 1997, when he went 2 for 4 and drove in two
runs to help the Marlins beat Glavine and the Braves 7-4 in the
sixth and deciding game of that year's Championship Series. Same
situation. Same city. Same pitcher. Same hotel. "My wife and I
ate lunch at the same restaurant I ate at in '97," he said after
the Diamondbacks sealed a 3-2 victory and their first trip to
the World Series. "I tried to keep everything the same as it was

Same indeed. Counsell became a minor cult hero in South Florida
in 1997 by scoring the winning run against the Indians in Game 7
of the World Series, and he's on his way to the same status in
the Arizona desert. A .275 hitter in the regular season, he was
named MVP of last week's series after hitting .381, scoring a
team-high five runs, knocking in four more and generally seeming
to be everywhere at once. He reached base or sacrificed in nine
of the 11 innings in which Arizona scored, played his usual
uniform-dirtying defense and annoyed the Atlanta staff by
working deep into the count on nearly every at bat. Counsell's
build (he's generously listed at 6 feet and 180 pounds) and
youthful face (he's 31, but his peach-fuzzy features might get
him carded at an R-rated movie), along with his hustling play,
made him look like a Little Leaguer who'd had too much Mountain
Dew. "I go to the plate after he hits," says Luis Gonzalez, who
batted behind Counsell in the third slot for most of the series,
"and the catcher is usually shaking his head."

Counsell's underdog profile and Fighting Irish roots--he was
born in South Bend and graduated from Notre Dame in 1992--ensure
that he's known as Rudy in the Arizona clubhouse. There are more
flattering comparisons as well. "He's our shorter version of Cal
Ripken," says Curt Schilling. "He's always in the right place at
the right time."

A season ago Counsell was fighting to stay in the big leagues.
When the Dodgers released him in March 2000, Diamondbacks
general manager Joe Garagiola Jr.--who had played briefly for
Craig's father, John, when the elder Counsell, a former
outfielder in the Twins organization, coached baseball at Notre
Dame--signed Craig to a minor league contract and asked him to
spend time with the Triple A Tucson Sidewinders, playing
shortstop and third base to enhance his value as a utility
player. The move paid off. After joining Arizona on May 31,
Counsell played second and filled in when shortstop Tony Womack
and third baseman Matt Williams were hurt. He has so impressed
manager Bob Brenly with his savvy that Brenly says, "He's the
smartest player I've been around. I put him out there and don't
give a second thought to whether he'll be where he's supposed to

Plus there are his knack for postseason drama--in addition to
his Championship Series heroics, Counsell won Game 3 of the
Division Series against the Cardinals with a three-run
homer--and his World Series experience. Counsell is the only
player on Arizona's postseason roster with a Series ring, though
he has never flashed the jewelry in the clubhouse. "I see all
these veteran guys in here, and I realize how difficult it is to
win a World Series," he says. "I want them to experience what I

--Stephen Cannella

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Down and dirty Counsell's flat-out effort kept him in the middle of the action against Atlanta and helped make him the series MVP.