Friday, October 28, 2011

Seventh Heaven

For my friends who were uninspired by a Cardinals-Rangers match up and decided to sit this one out, you are missing one of the most thrilling World Series in quite a while.

The teams split the first two exciting games, each decided by one run.  The Cards won in a blow out in Game #3, but watching the epic performance of Albert Pujols, with five hits, three of them home runs (joining only Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson with 3-homers in a World Series game) provided its own joy.  In Game #4, we were treated to a pitching gem by the Rangers' Derek Holland, with his adolescent mustache and refreshing sense of humor. The fifth game was another tight one, also going to the Rangers, who scored the winning runs in the 8th inning.  (Managers still communicate with their bullpen coaches by way of the old fashioned telephone, and in the pivotal 8th inning, the coach didn't have the right guy warming up because he didn't hear the manager's instructions.  I love old school stuff, but maybe they should text.) 

Which brings us to last night.  A game for the ages.  Sloppy play early on and repeated heroics by game's end.  Texas was on the verge of winning its first World Series in franchise history, only to see St. Louis tie the game in the ninth inning with David Freese's two-out triple just out of the reach of outfielder Nelson Cruz.  After a two-run homer in the tenth by Ranger Josh Hamilton, the Cardinals came back again, with two runs of their own in the bottom of the inning, and then won it in the 11th, with a home run by Freese over the center field wall.  (Hamilton, by the way, said that God told him he would hit the home run but didn't mention anything about winning the game.)

There is nothing like the seventh game of the World Series.  First, as always with baseball, there is history and tradition:  heroics by Bill Mazeroski in 1960, Sandy Koufax in 1965, Bob Gibson in 1967, Mickey Lolich in 1968, Willie Stargell in 1979, Ray Knight in 1986, and Jack Morris in 1991; Willie McCovey lining out to end the 1962 Series and Mariano Rivera blowing a save in 2001.

Almost by definition, if the series has gone to the limit (something that hasn't happened in 9 years) it means the teams are evenly matched and that we have been treated to some dramatic performances, as we surely have this year.  Also, after six games we have gotten up close and personal with the players on each team, so even if we didn't care about these guys before, we do now.  And, finally, Game #7, the last game of the year, has a special intensity in which it seems that every pitch, every hit, every play could provide the deciding moment in a season that began back in April. 

Now you're caught up.  Even if you aren't much of a baseball fan or if you haven't really paid attention to the Series, it's not too late.  So, as legendary announcer Vin Scully would say, "pull up a chair."


lonbud said...

Great stuff, counselor. I love how you love the game.

Paul said...

Part I: Thanks for the down and dirty version catching people up with what has, as you say, been a fine World Series to watch.

To me, though, part of watching has been the clear unevenly matched quality of these teams, coming out 3-3 in games played so far. You watch the Rangers send up one hitter after another with 30 or more homers, a .280 and better (usually much better) batting average, the ability to steal bases (pretty much everyone excluding maybe Young nowadays and Napoli)--and then you watch the Cardinals’ lineup (3 proven hitters in the middle, with Holliday an almost complete dog this Series) made up of discards and has-beens (Furcal, Theriot, Punto, Dotel just to start), might-have-beens who suddenly blossom (Freese, who has been amazing and has also dropped a routine pop fly and let balls get by him at 3rd). The Cardinals are slow on the bases, hit into double plays more often than they drive men home from scoring position. With a couple exceptions their batting averages for the year were low and are even lower during the Series, they’ve made bad plays (not just Pujols in Game 2 which more or less lost the game, but Holliday baserunning last night, and on).

Then we get to the pitching, where the Rangers clearly have the better staff on paper, both starters and relievers. The Cardinals’ bullpen is about as patched together as an old quilt, and they basically have two more or less trustworthy starters and then . . . well, nothing really. Their relievers are so-so at best and they’ve been struggling all year to find a decent closer--maybe Motte will be it but right now he’s getting shelled as often as he’s good (witness last night’s two run home by Hamilton in the 10th).

Paul said...

Part II: Watching the Series, I’m just waiting for the Rangers to destroy the Cardinals. And it almost happens . . . and then it doesn’t. Or it happens, as it did last night when the Rangers took a 7-4 lead in the 7th, and then . . . well, the miracles, the little quirks, the odd inches that make baseball baseball start turning everything around. The Rangers’ Holland, who had nailed down batter after batter from when he entered the game in the 5th gives up the homer to Craig, who has been amazing (two pinch-hit hits in the first two games, a homer his first time up in Texas in game 3) and horrible (no other hits in the rest of the three games in Texas)--and who is only in the game because Holliday is stupid enough to get picked off third and hurts his finger. So we get Holliday, a bonafide slugger, out of the game (who blew chance after chance to drive in runners in game 5 and dropped a fly ball earlier in game 6) and then his replacement homers. That’s 7-5. Then one of the best closers breaks down for Texas in the 9th, and David Freese becomes a hero (Part 1). Freese had been great in the Division playoffs, but he wasn’t hitting well or looking good at the plate. His triple actually hit the right field wall BELOW Nelson Cruz’s glove, so it was catchable, and Cruz had been making really fine plays in right. But Cruz missed, and all of a sudden it’s a tie.

Then the Cards blow it again. How many times in this series--and in this particular game--have the Cardinals tied the game or taken the lead only to see their pitchers give it back to the Rangers? Not quite good pitchers vs a really good hitting team: makes sense that this would happen, but you don’t win baseball games or World Series that way. Cards led 2-1; Rangers tied. Rangers led 3-2, Cards tied and then Rangers took back the lead in the next half inning 4-3. Cards tie 4-4 and then Rangers take the lead 7-4. And now the Cards finally tie once again and once again the Rangers go ahead, by 2 in the 10th. And the Cards come back, again. This time on a bad bunt that works to get players in scoring position and a good hit by Berkman, and two hits by Jay in there who has had no hits before that in the whole Series and had been benched to start games 5 and 6. And then Freese again in the 11th.

This was the kind of game a Card fan might turn off after the 7th; even after the 8th; maybe even after the top of the 10th. And it’s not that the Cards deserve the great baseball terms of ‘scrappy’ or ‘hungry’ or something. They’re mostly vets. There’s a lot of $ that pays for these players. We all know La Russa is a great manager, but he’s admitted he mucked up a bunch of times this Series, and I won’t even begin to talk about the two base running disasters that involved Craig and Pujols.

So to me the pleasure or excitement here is watching a very good team and a not as good team play to a draw so far: watching the not as good team play pretty much as badly as it can and yet eke out wins; watch the very good team play very well often and yet not quite well enough to send this particular David home for the winter defeated by Goliath. At least not yet.

There are other things to talk about here, from watching the same ads for seven straight games to listening to Joe Buck and Tim McCarver tell the same stories to too many shots of Bush and Barbara and certainly of Nolan Ryan, however great a pitcher he was.

But really the heart of this Series for me is that there is a seventh game, another day of baseball in a lopsided situation like this. When the Giants faced the Rangers last year, the Giants at least had an advantage in terms of its pitching staff; that’s not true of the Cards. And yet here we are. And given what we’ve seen so far, there’s no way to know what will happen, however uneven the odds, the quality of players, the managing; however unlevel the (baseball) field.

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