About 4 weeks ago, I wrote about the last day of the season and mentioned what great baseball viewing it was. I still think that was the best day based on the fact that two series were tied and three of the four games went down to the wire, with a rain delay in Baltimore perfectly timed, combined with a late finish in Tampa. But I’m having trouble coming up with a World Series game better than the one last night. I am old enough to remember 1991 Twins-Braves, 1993 Blue Jays-Phillies, 1997 Marlins-Indians, etc., and obviously there were some great Game 6/Game 7 hits in those series, but the three instances of the Cardinals coming back to tie before the game-ending home run has to put this over the top for a single game. Now, if I had to choose between being there last night and being there for Don Larsen’s perfect game, I would have chosen the perfect game, but I wasn’t around back then and even something that historic has a sort of predictable flow to it. At first, it was simply an early-game lack of offense, then after a handful of innings, with each out it became a bigger and bigger deal. This was a complete roller-coaster though, and it looked like completely different Cardinals teams (except for Lance Berkman anyway).
I love the weird facts and statistics that come up in baseball so you can have a long list of the first team to do x, the first player to do y, etc., even after 106 World Series. So that’s what I’ll start with.
The Cardinals are the first team to score in the 8th, 9th, and 10th in a World Series game (then they added the 11th). They are the first team to come back from down 2 runs twice in 9th or later.
The last team to win a road Game 7 was the 1979 “We Are Family” Pirates. At least the Pirates did some things before I was born, because other than almost beating the Braves in the early ’90s, they haven’t done much since.
8 teams since then have won seventh games at home, 7 of them were down 3 game to 2 before winning the last two.
Two teams during that time period had won Game 6’s on the road, the 2003 Marlins and 1992 Blue Jays. The other exception (the winner at home who didn’t trail 3-2) was also the Marlins, the 1997 edition, which lost to the Indians in Game 6 at home before winning Game 7.
I have to single out a certain player, David Freese, of whom I became a big fan earlier in the playoffs, and now he might be my favorite player. I thought the Cardinals were going down most of the night of course, but I knew he wouldn’t get the last out. I don’t remember ever being that confident that a player would somehow reach safely. Based on his interviews, he wasn’t that confident himself (he said what was going through his head was something to the effect of, “Seriously, I dropped a ball on my head and now I’m going to be the last out in the World Series?). Two innings after hitting the game-tying triple, Freese hit the first walk-off home run in Game 6 or 7 since Joe Carter in 1993. Others in recent history: Kirby Puckett in ’91, Carlton Fisk in ’75, and Bill Mazeroski in ’60. Freese was the first player to hit tying or go-ahead hits twice in 9th or later in single WS game.
But it’s important not to overlook Lance Berkman. He doesn’t get that home run in the first and the gradual bleeding by the Cardinals’ pitching staff would have made the lead insurmontable, barring a Rays-esque comeback, but of course the opposing team was not the Yankees trying to keep guys fresh for the playoffs, so that just wouldn’t have happened. Berkman also scored a run in the 4th, a run in the 6th, and the tying run in the 9th; and he batted in the tying run in the 10th. So he scored and/or drove in 6 of the Cardinals’ 10 runs.
I actually got to see Berkman play once, for the New Orleans Zephyrs when they were an Astros farm club. This was only about 10 years ago, so it was after he had played for some time in the majors already. At the time, I wondered if his career was winding down, but apparently it was not. I was never a big fan of Texas teams though (and I was decidedly on the side of the Cardinals when they battled the Astros in the Central in the ’90s), so I wasn’t much of a Lance Berkman fan back then, but I knew the Cardinals picked up a guy with some skill when they got him.
This is honestly not to rub it in, and I know the Rangers have what it takes to win tonight if the opportunity presents itself, but there are some facts about the Rangers that should be mentioned.
This was the first time in a World Series that a team had 3 blown saves in one game. If you can’t remember the first one, it was by Alexi Ogando in the sixth inning when he walked Yadier Molina with the bases loaded, which tied the game at 4. But since he did not give up a run that was charged to him and got credited for an out when Matt Holliday was picked off third, he actually improved his ERA for the series to 11.57. Without the pick-off play, his second walk issued may have resulted in a run as well (but again, it would not have been credited to him, nor would it have been an earned run anyway). I say “may have” because of course, we don’t know how the pitches might have been different and so forth, but I think he was having enough trouble finding the strike zone that he would have issued the walk. Putting Ogando into the game in that situation was one of many baffling decisions by Ron Washington.
To give Wash some credit, he may have honestly believed the problems would work themselves out. Against Detroit, Ogando had allowed only one earned run in 7 2/3 innings pitched. But when a pitcher doesn’t have his stuff (and/or is facing a team that seems to be seeing his pitches really well), you don’t put him into a one-run World Series game with the bases loaded and one out in the hopes that his problems will suddenly vanish. If Wash had put him in at the start of an inning or when the bases were empty and then put Derek Holland in if he ran into problems, that would have made a lot more sense and may have resulted in no damage being done even with the same pitches.
“The Rangers had gone 5-2 in the postseason when walking five or more batters; that’s just not sustainable. When doing that in the regular season, they went 7-19. They walked seven batters in Game 6.”
ESPN’s David Shoenfield mentioned the above quote as well as some other interesting facts and strange decisions (including the Ogando decision) here.
I’ve been a Tony LaRussa fan since I was 7 years old, and as I learned the rules and strategy, I became more and more of a fan of his, but I did have a similar issue with him. I question possibly misplaced loyalty by LaRussa in reference to Rafael Furcal. He might get 3 hits from the leadoff tonight (in which case the announcers will heap praises upon LaRussa for sticking with him), and I understand him being in the game yesterday because it’s important to have a good shortstop (the 5-6-4 double play was beautiful), but the leadoff batter going 0/5 was a big part of the Cardinals’ offensive woes before Allen Craig’s home run in the 8th. The #2 and #3 spots didn’t help much either, going a combined 2/11, although of course Albert Pujols got the double to start things off in the 9th (later scoring on Freese’s triple) and former LSU star Ryan Theriot at least put the ball in play for an RBI in the 10th. Theriot went 0/3 though. The one hit from the #2 spot had come in the first inning and made Berkman’s home run count for two runs.
Well, they scored 10 runs, what offensive problems am I talking about? Don’t forget that the Cardinals had only two hits (in the second and fourth AB’s of the game) in the first 5 1/3 innings. They had three runs because of the two-run home run, and the following fourth inning:
Berkman safe on error.
Freese grounded into fielder’s choice (Holliday out at 2nd, Berkman to 3rd).
Molina grounded out to third (Berkman scored).
Punto struck out swinging.
After Berkman’s infield single in the 6th (which led to the run on Ogando’s bases-loaded walk), the Cardinals actually batted around without a hit. So there were still only three hits before the Craig home run with one out in the 8th (and we thought with only 5 outs to go before a trophy presentation).
So that’s a good way to get your second and third blown saves. Give up 6 runs on 10 hits, 2 walks, and a sacrifice while only getting 8 outs. Still, I think it’s fair to criticize the line-up that made that necessary for the Cardinals to win.
But Tony may put Furcal 9th in the order for all I know. He’s done similar things before, although probably not in the World Series. This will be LaRussa’s first World Series Game 7. Incidentally, yesterday was his first Game 6.
Of course, this will be the first Game 7 since the Angels (my AL team of choice and the only local MLB team I’ve ever had…I don’t count the Dodgers) beat the Giants in 2002.
All the people watching the game probably missed this, but I did post a college football blog about reorganizing the conferences here if you didn’t catch it. By the way, I sort of rushed this (not used to writing something overnight on a week day), so excuse any errors. I’m editing bit by bit. I just couldn’t not write a blog about this.