This may have been the best October of my lifetime. It beats 1991’s Series, Kirby Puckett’s home run, and Jack Buck’s, “And we’ll see you tomorrow night!” It beats 1997’s Series, Edgar Renteria’s game winning hit, and quite possibly the best young team ever assembled. It beats 2001’s Series, Luis Gonzalez’s bloop over a drawn in infield, and the first November Series.*
*Side note, it does not beat the situation of the 2001 Series. The most emotional, uplifting, and stress-relieving Series I have ever witnessed. Even though the Yankees lost, it still gave New York a reason to smile for a week. It’s not winning, but the possibility of winning that lifts us up. There will never be a more beautiful moment at a baseball game than George W. Bush throwing a perfect strike before Game Four. (In a later interview, Bush was describing the moments before the game. He was throwing a few practice tosses under the stadium, when Derek Jeter came up to talk to him. Jeter had one piece of advice: “Don’t bounce it, they’ll boo ya.” Way to relax a president before what Bush later described as the most, “nervous moment of his presidency.”) At that instant, it did not matter what your politics were; everyone had the same mindset, and everyone was on the same team. I suppose it would be a good thing if there were never a more beautiful moment than that.
But before we even talk about how good the Series was, we should talk about the best final day of the season there has ever been. The Tampa Bay Rays, facing playoff elimination and down 7-0 early against the Yankees, surged back to tie the game thanks in large part to a three-run blast by Evan Longoria. After Daniel Johnson’s home run tied it in the ninth and forced extra innings, Longoria again played the role of hero, with a line drive that barely cleared the fence in the left field corner. Literally three minutes earlier, Jonathan Papelbon had blown the save against the worst team in the American League, sealing an eight-and-a-half game (as of September 1st) collapse.
Not to be outdone, the Atlanta Braves blew an eight-and-a-half game lead of their own, this one to the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals rode a complete game shutout from Chris Carpenter, and the Braves got stuck playing the Phillies. The Braves had the best bullpen in baseball, but could not hold on to a 4-2 lead, and lost a heartbreaker in 13 innings.
If you couldn’t see the common theme here, it’s not just the mere fact that these teams lost: it’s how they lost. The Braves and Red Sox lost leads that many deemed impossible to lose. They were atrocious in the month of September, there’s no other way to describe it. With the Red Sox, it showed that you can have all the individual talent you want, but if they don’t play well as a team, they will go nowhere. With the Braves, it was a different story. They are young, and few players other than Chipper Jones had been in such a pressure filled situation as the one in which they were. If the Braves front office is able to keep the team together, they will go far; sooner rather than later.
Then came the playoffs. Three of the four division series took five games to decide. The teams that shouldn’t have won, won. Detroit beat New York, and St. Louis beat Philadelphia. Each LCS went six games, but each really showed what good pitching can do, as half of those 12 games were decided by two runs or less. What more can you ask when your favorite team is not in it? All you want is a competitive, fun to watch series.
Then came the World Series. Really, is there any need to talk about any other game besides Game Six? Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz hit back-to-back home runs to help open up a 7-4 lead in the seventh. With what had been a stellar bullpen all season long, game over right? Nope. The Cardinals pulled it to 7-5, and then with two runners on, David Freese hit a game-tying, two-RBI triple over the glove of Cruz in the bottom of the ninth to send it to extras. But then in the top of the tenth, Josh Hamilton did his best Kirk Gibson impression – he said in an interview later that he was saying, “Ouch, ouch, ouch,” with each step he took rounding the bases – and made it 9-7. But then, after some classic Tony LaRussa small ball, Lance Berkman hit a game-tying RBI single in the bottom half of the frame.*
*Another side note, has anyone explained why the outfield was in a no-doubles defense while protecting a one-run lead? I understand not wanting to let up the big play, but with speedster Jon Jay on second, the Rangers should have been playing at normal depth. If they were, there’s a good chance that Berkman’s line drive would have been caught, and an even better chance that Jay would not have scored. You can claim these comments to hindsight, but I said it way before the play actually happened. Promise.
And just when it seemed the most crazy, sloppy (five errors combined, many more mental mistakes), downright exciting game could not be more so, Freese lifted the game winner 430 feet over the fence to straight-away center. The Rangers had the Cardinals down to their last strike twice, and still couldn’t pull it off. At this point, it really didn’t matter who the Rangers brought out for Game Seven; the Cardinals were clearly a team of destiny.
I don’t like the Cardinals. Why would I? I’m a Royals fan; but there’s something magical when something like this happens in baseball. Everyone reverts to being five years old. Just watch this video; at the end, the man who grabs the home run ball is bear-hugged by his friend, and jubilation is clearly felt throughout the stadium. Other than college basketball, there is no sport better than baseball for making a grown man feel like a kid again. And with everything else that goes on in this world, people need to feel that way every once in a while. What a game.