Apparently, somebody forgot to tell the Cardinals and Rangers that this World Series was supposed to be a snoozer, watched on the tube only by fans in the Gateway and Metroplex who weren’t lucky enough to get tickets.
Now, baseball’s trending on Twitter from Baton Rouge to Salt Lake City.
Thursday night, after 4 hours and 33 minutes of the most exciting playoff baseball of my lifetime (since 1979), this World Series became a classic.
With a winner-take-all Game 7 approaching, let’s take one more look at what exactly went down in Game 6 — from the amazing heroics, to the boneheaded blunders, to the managers’ curious decisions.
Question: Should Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz have caught the ball that became David Freese’s game-tying triple with two outs in the ninth?
Answer: Absolutely. He was playing plenty deep enough, with Texas in its no-doubles defense. Cruz, though, committed the cardinal sin among outfielders: He drifted back on the ball, rather than hauling back to the probable landing point. So when Freese’s liner carried, Cruz was toast.
That said, I have heard countless folks compare Cruz’s gaffe to Bill Buckner’s in the 1986 World Series (also in Game 6). That, simply, is ridiculous. Buckner’s error came on a routine ground ball that somehow found its way through the 5-hole. Cruz’s mistake — it wasn’t even an error, remember — came on a ball with a much higher degree of difficulty. Should’ve been caught, but not a shocker that it wasn’t.
Question: Which manager, Texas’ Ron Washington or St. Louis’ Tony La Russa, made the most mistakes?
Answer: Well, there were plenty of head-scratching moves to go around.
But the Cardinals won the game, so you’ve gotta side with La Russa, even though he went through bench players like Jim Leyland tears through Marlboro Reds. Heck, in the ninth inning, with La Russa out of bench players, I expected him to petition Bud Selig to rule Game 6 a tie.
That, amazingly, didn’t come back to haunt La Russa, even when the first two reached in the bottom of the 10th — and he had to pinch-hit pitcher Kyle Lohse for pitcher Edwin Jackson, who pinch-hit for pitcher Jason Motte. (Got all that?) Lohse ended up laying down a beauty of a bunt that almost was a single. Ryan Theriot followed with an RBI groundout; two batters later, Lance Berkman’s two-out bloop single to center tied it, again.
Washington, meanwhile, made some baffling choices with his pitchers, none more than in the top of the fifth inning. With the bases loaded, two outs and a chance to pad a one-run lead, he let starting pitcher Colby Lewis (.188 career hitter) bat for himself. Not surprisingly, he struck out. Washington said Lewis was pitching well, and he was — he hadn’t allowed a hit since the first. (I, of course, thought he was saving his bullpen for the next series.) Lewis backed up Wash’s faith by putting down the Cardinals 1-2-3 in the bottom half, but was out of the game with one out in the sixth.
I also was surprised Washington didn’t roll the dice on a second inning with closer Neftali Feliz, who blew the save in the ninth — but, for my money, still was the best option to slam the door with another two-run lead in the 10th. The Rangers went with veteran Darren Oliver, and the rest is history.
Question: Commissioner Bud Selig had to be drooling over what transpired, eh?
Answer: You bet. And he had to be doubly tickled today when word came that the Game 6 ratings were tops for a World Series game not involving the Yankees since the 2005 finale between the White Sox and Astros.
And in a perfect world, what’s happened over the last month would be enough to convince Selig that his plan to expand the postseason field is just plain silly. In case you aren’t caught up, Bud wants two more playoff participants — essentially, one more wild-card winner per league. And he wants the two wild-card winners from each league to play a one-game playoff to advance to the Division Series.
For starters, part of what makes baseball so special is its postseason exclusivity. Fewer teams make baseball’s playoffs than any of the other major pro sports. Eight get in, compared to 12 in the NFL, and 16 each in the NHL and NBA (is there still an NBA?). The addition of the wild card in the mid-1990s added just enough spice; any more, frankly, would be cheap.
Plus, just look at what we might’ve missed out on had Bud’s genius plan gone into effect this year. One, there’d be two wild-cards — so the Red Sox, Rays, Braves and Cardinals all would’ve clinched playoff spots well before that thrilling final day of the regular season, when four games packed a miniseries’ worth of drama into the span of 10 minutes.
Then, those teams’ reward for 162 games of hard-fought battles: a winner-take-all game, which, for all we know, the Cardinals might’ve lost (they lost the first game of the Division Series and Championship Series). And then we never would’ve seen what we were fortunate enough to see last night.
Question: What did we see last night? The best game ever?
Answer: Major League Baseball is tens of thousands of games old, and there have been a number of classics in the last 100-plus years. So you never can say that definitively.
What I will say: There’s not been too many close to that in my 32 years.
Off the top of my head, there are a handful of games that stand out. Game 163 in 2009 between the Tigers and Twins was a back-and-forth thriller, eventually won by Minnesota in 12 innings. Another Game 163, a 13-inning stunner won by the Rockies over the Padres in 2007, was darn great, too.
As for the actual postseason, the aforementioned Game 6 of the 1986 World Series was good for all the wrong reasons — reasons that would, absurdly, make Buckner Public Enemy No. 1 in Boston until the Curse of the Bambino finally went poof 18 years later. Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, when the Rod Sox won the first of four straight to stun the Yankees, was a classic, as was Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, won by the Diamondbacks when Luis Gonzalez blooped a single to center off Mariano Rivera. The Game 7 John Smoltz-Jack Morris showdown in Game 7 of the 1991 Braves-Twins World Series was sweet theater, too.
But years from now, Game 6 of the 2011 World Series certainly will stand as tall as any of those. It already has a place in Cooperstown. Following the win, Freese gave his bat and jersey — shredded during the postgame craziness — to the Hall of Fame.
Question: Anything else catch your attention during Game 6?
Answer: Several things, but most of all — some pretty clutch umpiring.
A couple years back, there was one awful call after another in the postseason. Enough, in fact, to prompt MLB to change how it doles out playoff assignments. It used to be a simple rotation; now, they’re apparently based on merit. And after watching Game 6, you gotta believe it’s working.
The call of the game went to third-base umpire Alfonso Marquez, who, despite a hostile sellout crowd breathing down his neck, called Matt Holliday out on a critical pickoff play in the sixth inning. Rangers catcher Mike Napoli caught Holliday leaning just far enough off third, and fired a strike to Adrian Beltre — who blocked Holliday’s hand from reaching the base. It was close, but Marquez nailed it. At the time, I thought that was a backbreaker for St. Louis; it cost the Cardinals a prime chance to take the lead.
Two innings earlier, first-base umpire Jerry Layne made a great call too, ruling Berkman safe when Lewis just barely missed the bag after taking the throw from first baseman Michael Young. On the regular replay, it was super tough to tell; then Fox went to some new, crazy, X-ray-looking replay (I don’t think Layne had access to that at the time), and it was clear Berkman was safe. A big call, considering Berkman later scored to tie the game.
So props to the men in blue. If there’s one criticism, home-plate ump Gary Cederstrom’s strike zone sure shrunk up on the Rangers’ pitchers in the late innings, but that’s not unusual, considering the stakes and venue.
Question: Who’s the Most Valuable Player of the World Series?
Answer: Almost always, it depends on which team wins.
If it’s St. Louis — and Albert Pujols doesn’t go 5-for-5 with five home runs tonight — you gotta believe the hometown hero, Freese, will get the hardware. He’s hitting .333 in the series, with two of the hits being mammoth: The two-out triple to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth, and the leadoff home run in the bottom of the 11th to win it and force a Game 7.
And if it’s Texas, you’ve gotta go with Napoli — the only fitting way to end the Year of Napoli. He’s been clutch with the bat (.375), huge on defense, and not even the most-gruesome of sprained ankles can slow him down.
Two other candidates: Berkman for St. Louis (.435), Beltre for Texas (.333).
Question: One last prediction for 2011?
Answer: Ugh, these never turn out well for me. I’m just 2-4 on series this fall, with a Texas win tonight able to put me a bit closer to respectability.
But what’s one more, eh?
The Cardinals have the pitching edge, with ace Chris Carpenter going against Rangers lefty Matt Harrison. But I don’t think that’ll matter as much as the momentum. St. Louis, we may soon learn, might’ve just won the World Series with that Game 6 triumph. For Texas, coming back from that gut-wrenching defeat — a strike away from glory, twice! — won’t be easy.
So, here goes: Cardinals 6, Rangers 4.