Friday, October 28, 2011
Pain, agony: Cardinals win all-time thriller
By David Schoenfield
David Freese tripled to tie Game 6 of the World Series in the ninth and homered to win it in the 11th.
ST. LOUIS -- At the end of "Ball Four," the greatest book about baseball ever written, pitcher/author Jim Bouton writes, "You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time."
This sport brings the greatest of joys and then crushes you with pain. It increases its grip on you with game-ending home runs and division titles and playoff victories and rally squirrels. And when the defeats come, it's too late to turn back; you're already in, unable to escape.
Game 6 was a roller coaster for both teams, a laughable parade of Little League errors and miscues, followed by dramatic home runs, a ninth-inning rally, a monumental blast by Josh Hamilton in extra innings, another rally by the Cardinals and finally a David Freese home run into the grass in dead center field that ended this game -- we say game, but it seemed so much more consequential than a mere game -- and sent Busch Stadium into an eruption of hugs, high-fives, tears of happiness and professional athletes jumping up and down at home plate like 8-year-olds being treated to ice cream.
In the end, the scoreboard reads: St. Louis Cardinals 10, Texas Rangers 9, in 11 innings. That, of course, hardly tells the story of the exciting, unpredictable and at times unfathomable Game 6 of the World Series, one that will be relived and replayed, analyzed and scrutinized, one that will go down as one of the more remarkable World Series games ever played. Some day, somebody might have to write a book about this one.
So in this season of comebacks and collapses, of the best postseason baseball has witnessed in years, we get a Game 7. The Cardinals, down to their final strike in the ninth inning, down to their final strike in the 10th inning, kept fighting and fighting and fighting, somehow keeping this baseball season going a little longer when Freese became just the fifth player to hit a walk-off home run in Game 6 or 7 of the World Series. "Growing up or whatever, and you see stuff like that happen, those become memories," Freese said. "You know, if it's going to be replayed over and over again, I don't know, but it's really cool to be a part of this and to force a Game 7."
The Rangers, one strike away in the ninth inning, one strike away in the 10th inning, will have to regroup and mentally re-energize for one more game. Ron Washington couldn't say much, other than, "It just wasn't to happen tonight."
No, it didn't happen on this night for the Rangers, so, yes, we'll get at least nine more innings. And, yes, baseball, we are in your grip.
* * * *
Where to begin? With Freese, of course. He hit the two-strike, two-run triple in the ninth inning off Neftali Feliz, a ball lined off the wall in right field, a tough play but one that Nelson Cruz could have made. He was playing deep -- you play "no-doubles" defense at the point of game -- but drifted back too slowly and the ball flew inches over his outstretched glove.
In the 11th, the Rangers brought in Mark Lowe, their eighth pitcher of the night, and not the guy you'd expect to be on the mound with the World Series on the line. Freese led off the inning and crushed a 3-2 changeup to center. "You know, I felt like I was part of a circus out there, bouncing balls off the top of my hat a little bit," Freese said of the Cardinals' three errors, including one by him. "But, man, I just wanted an opportunity -- we tied that up, we had some good ABs and we tied it up and just kept battling. That defines our team, that game."
Ron Washington had elected to pinch-hit for Scott Feldman with Esteban German in the top half of the inning with a runner on first and two out. You can't fault Washington for that, but it was a low-percentage opportunity to score a run. The difference in ability between Feldman and the rarely used Lowe is sizable; he may have been better off letting Feldman bat, hope to keep the game tied, and play for the 12th inning.
Alexi Ogando reacts after walking Yadier Molina with the bases loaded in the sixth inning.
In the end, the wildness of Alexi Ogando and Feliz finally came back to haunt the Rangers. The worst decision of the game was Washington bringing in Ogando in the sixth inning with the bases loaded. Ogando had been terrible in this series, allowing 12 baserunners in just two innings. I wrote earlier that Game 6 of the World Series was no time to be loyal; Washington remained loyal to Ogando, believing in him as his sixth- and seventh-inning guy. But after a long season, he's clearly gassed and never should have been in there. He walked in the tying run and only escaped further damage because Mike Napoli picked Matt Holliday off third base. (And Derek Holland had to be brought in to escape the inning.)
As for Feliz, his control has been shaky all postseason. He had a chance to close out a 7-5 lead in the ninth inning, but gave up a double to Albert Pujols and then walked Lance Berkman, setting the stage for Freese. 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.
Berkman quietly had one of the great individual performances in a World Series game: 3-for-5, four runs, three RBIs, a two-run home run, a big walk in the ninth, a game-tying single with two outs in the 10th, just the the fourth game game-tying hit in World Series history in the ninth or later when a team was one out from elimination (Freese's triple was the third; the others were the Braves' Otis Nixon in 1992 and the Giants' Josh Devore in 1911). "I actually felt pretty good (there)," Berkman said, "because I figured I was in a no-lose situation. If you don't come through right there, it's only one at-bat and it's over with, and they might talk about it for a couple days, but it's not that big a deal. If you come through, it's the greatest, and plus you've built a little bank account of being able to come through, so that if I don't come through tomorrow I can be like, 'Well, I came through in Game 6, what do you want from me?'"
Should Washington have left in Feliz to start the 10th? He’d thrown 22 pitches in the ninth, while the Cardinals had the bottom of their order up -- and the pitcher due up third, with no position players left to hit. (Could you imagine if the World Series had ended with a pitcher hitting?) But with lefties Daniel Descalso and Jon Jay up, Washington brought in veteran lefty Darren Oliver. Can’t really fault him too much for that one; it just didn’t work out.
Washington also elected to walk Pujols in the 10th inning -- when he was the winning run. Instead of having Feldman go righty-on-righty, he faced Berkman, who hit a soft single into center to tie the game. What have we been saying? You're playing with fire with all those intentional walks and Washington finally got burned. Yes, it's Albert Pujols, but Berkman isn't exactly Mario Mendoza.
Napoli once again came up big at the plate -- his RBI single in the fourth inning gave him 10 for the series, only the sixth player in World Series history to drive in that many in one Fall Classic. His pickoff of Holliday looked like it would end up being the key defensive play of the 2011 season.
You can't fault Washington for using Holland for two innings, but since he pitched two innings and threw 23 pitches, his availability as a long reliever for Game 7 is now in question. If Game 7 starter Matt Harrison struggles early, that likely makes C.J. Wilson the long man out of the pen for the Rangers.
OK, if you watched this game, you know it won't be appearing on any instructional videos. Freese dropped a routine pop fly that any fifth-grader could catch, Holliday dropped an easy fly ball in left field, appearing to yell "You take it" to Rafael Furcal, but realizing too late that Furcal was in a bad position. Both errors led to unearned runs. Two Michael Young errors at first base also led two unearned runs on the Texas ledger.
Great cat-and-mouse game in the fifth. Freese's error was followed by Young's RBI double. With Young on third and two out, Napoli was walked. Washington sent in David Murphy to hit for Craig Gentry -- and got Holland up in the pen, hoping it might force La Russa to pitch to Murphy. La Russa didn’t bite; Murphy was pitched around and Washington let Lewis hit (and strike out to leave the bases loaded).
For what it's worth, the three most recent games that involved crushing defeats in Game 6 to keep the World Series alive were the Cardinals to the Royals in 1985, the Red Sox to the Mets in 1986 and the Giants to the Angels in 2002. All three teams lost Game 7. Also, the home team has won the past eight Game 7s. It won't be easy for the Rangers.