Tonight was the most exciting night in baseball since… well, since the amazing September 28th of this season, when both wild cards were decided within minutes of each other, culminating an improbable, mind-boggling month. Tonight, though, was all about two teams, and two teams only.
The last two standing are the Texas Rangers and the St. Louis Cardinals, and the Cardinals were one of those two last-day squeak-in wild card teams who made it into the postseason as much as a result of the Atlanta Braves’ collapse as their own mojo. The Rangers, of course, have a lot of prove after getting smothered by the Giants in the World Series last year.
I have no real rooting interest in this series; I mostly just wanted to see dramatic baseball. Thus far, this postseason has had plenty of that, but tonight’s performance was over the top.
I started my evening listening the the XM Sirius pregame show, which turned out to be quite good. They had Nolan Ryan on, as well as Rangers GM John Daniels, and even an interview with tonight’s pitcher, Colby Lewis, which had been taped during yesterday’s rain delay/cancellation.
That’s right, there was even an extra smidgen of anticipation in the air in St. Louis tonight because yesterday’s game had to be postponed due to weather. Lewis’s backstory was much talked about last year, as well–a guy who went to pitch in Japan when no more big league opportunities presented themselves, figuring that he had seen the last of MLB. And now he’s been in the World Series two years in a row.
The XM pregame was very Rangers’ heavy, actually, and several times interviewers or hosts made it sound like the Rangers’ winning was a forgone conclusion. Maybe it was just that at the point where I tuned it, it was all Rangers’ people they were talking to. Ryan was gracious and thanked the fans for their support this year (some kind of new attendance record in Arlington?) and for making the trek to St. Louis, too. Sounded like lots of Rangers fans made the trip and the XM hosts commented on it.
However, it was far too early to count St. Louis out… though it took eleven innings to prove that.
I’m trying to decide how to recap all the action in this game, which was a serious seesaw. In the words of Inigo Montoya, “There is too much. Let me sum up.” And since this is the Internet, that means MAKE A TOP TEN LIST.
Top Ten Things I Don’t Want to Forget About This Game:
1. Mike Shannon was on fire tonight on the KMOX broadcast. In the first inning, he repeated about a dozen times that Colby Lewis “has never given up a run in the first inning of a postseason game,” because “not that we want to jinx him or anything…” After the Berkman blast, he said, “we usually don’t like to jinx people like that up here, but what the heck.”
2. How it was “Albert Pujols’ last at-bat in a Cardinals uniform” at least three times. (And who know how many more tomorrow?)
3. My vote for NL comeback player of the year (if I had one), Lance Berkman. Two-run homer in the first inning to give the Cards a lead. Game-tying hit with the Cards down two runs in the bottom of the ninth and down to their last strike! All told: 3-for-5 with a walk, 4 runs scored, and 3 RBIs!
4. Texas scored in six of the 11 innings. St. Louis scored in seven.
INN 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 R H E TEX 1 1 0 1 1 0 3 0 0 2 0 9 15 2 STL 2 0 0 1 0 1 0 1 2 2 1 10 13 3
5. Texas’s homers kept looking like the death blow: Beltre and Cruz with back-to-back shots! And Josh Hamilton (who has a hernia and has been suffering this series) hit a Kirk-Gibsonesque two-run blow in the 10th inning! But somehow the Cardinals kept clawing their way back!
6. The wacky defense. (And wacky overall play…) Not only were there five errors in the game, there were some miscues that don’t show in the box score. None bigger than Nelson Cruz not getting to at least one, maybe two, balls that turned into game-tying hits. Oh, and Mike Napoli turning his ankle at second (shoe-in for MVP if the Rangers win), and Holliday’s “slide” out of the baseline… and later getting picked off third base by Napoli! Last time guy picked off third in a World Series was Gene Tenace in 1972, if the other writers I follow are to be believed. (Tenace was picked off in Game 5 of the ’72 series according to Retrosheet.org, but I can’t verify if anyone else was in the meantime…)
7. The Cards were down two runs and down to their final strike TWICE (in the 9th and the 10th) and came back to tie both times. Both times what I posted on Twitter just before the game-tying hit was “Please don’t let this be the last out of the baseball season!” And both times I got my wish. (Which I then also had to tweet.) This is the equivalent of a Hollywood movie having not one but THREE boss fights in the third act. And all of them being heart-pumping, suspenseful, and wonderful.
8. Pitcher Kyle Lohse had to pinch hit in the 10th inning. (Sac bunt.) Not as wacky as catcher Brent Mayne being the winner pitcher in an extra-innings game in Colorado, but worth a mention, especially since it did contribute to them tying the game.
9. Jake Westbrook, remember him? Winning pitcher. Whoever had him in their office pool must be cleaning up. Oh, and must mention Darren Oliver, who got a “hold” in the game, because in one-third of an inning he gave up two hits, and earned two runs, but… well, this is why the “hold” has never caught on as a stat. It’s like the “quality start” for relievers, a “consolation” stat. Anyway, Oliver is 41 years old. That means he (born October 1970) has been around longer than the Texas Rangers, who came into their current incarnation in 1971. (In 1961 they started as a version of the Washington Senators.) The Rangers are the oldest franchise not to have won a World Series, if the TV commentators are to be believed. Anyway, it’s totally full-circle time for Oliver, who was drafted by the Rangers originally, and in 1993 had his big league debut for Texas (appearing in 2 games). You know who else played on that 1993 Rangers team? 46-year-old Nolan Ryan, now owner of the team.
10. David Freese is a hometown St. Louis guy, and he had a clutch triple, and then the walk-off homer in the 11th. Storybook, can’t make this stuff up, my entire Twitter feed of MLB players, coaches, and media just blowing up with “love baseball” and “can’t believe it!” not once but three times in the game.
And I’m probably forgetting something. I imagine that the media corps probably had to delete a lot of ledes tonight. Most of what I want to remember about tonight, though is that a spine-tingling game of baseball was played, one that moved people to extremes of emotion, even those who didn’t have a rooting interest.
As with an extra-rare cultivated fruit or aged wine, it took all season and all postseason to get to this point, and what resulted was something to be savored.
(Did you enjoy reading this blog entry? Please consider buying me a hot dog.)