|ESPN.com: MLB Playoffs 2011||[Print without images]|
ST. LOUIS -- Damn. It's over.
We've been surfing an exhilerating wave of baseball ever since that final Wednesday of the regular season. But now what are we supposed to do? How can we possibly fill our time now that one of the great postseasons has finally ended? Watch the entire set of Tom Emanski fundamental videos? Wait for the director's DVD of "Moneyball''? Or just glumly mark off the days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training?
After Game 6 -- a game so riveting even jaded baseball writers could be seen applauding for baseball in the final innings -- I wrote that this year's series had the potential to rank among the greatest in baseball history. Unfortunately, Game 7 proved anti-climactic. The St. Louis Cardinals scored two runs in one inning on three walks and two hit batters Friday night (ugghh), they won by four runs -- "It was a relative laugher,'' Lance Berkman said -- and the Texas Rangers never even got the tying run to home plate after the fifth inning, or to the on-deck circle after the seventh.
Compared to such classic finishes as the Jack Morris 1-0 shutout or the Luis Gonzalez single, this Game 7 was a disappointment. Although Cardinals fans will probably disagree.
Still, as ESPN researcher Jeff Bennett points out, 2011 was one of just seven World Series that had a winner-take-all game, at least three games decided by three runs, at least one extra-inning game and at least one game ending with a walk-off win. It also was the only one of the seven that didn't end with a one-run game.
|Mike Napoli would have been the World Series MVP had the Rangers emerged as champions.|
Plus, we had David Freese homering his way into St. Louis and World Series legend in his hometown. Albert Pujols hitting three home runs in one game. Mike Napoli driving in 10 runs. Chris Carpenter winning Game 7 on three days' rest. And the whole Tony La Russa and "Three Relievers in October'' bullpen phone fiasco. The series was so wild that at times we all felt as dazed as La Russa was in Game 5 when Lance Lynn met him on the mound instead of Jason Motte.
This also was the first World Series to go seven games since 2002, finishing up a most welcome postseason that went close to the limit. After several years of unnecessary travel days and disappointingly brief series that had a shelf life shorter than a TBS sitcom, baseball played 38 of 41 possible postseason games this fall, many of them decided by one run.
We saw Carpenter's 1-0 Game 5 shutout over Roy Halladay and the heavily favored Phillies in the National League Division Series. Justin Verlander and the Tigers upsetting the Yankees in five games. Adrian Beltre hitting three homers in the Rangers' division series clincher. Nelson Cruz hitting a record six home runs in the ALCS. (Who needs the Red Sox?)
We learned about the habitat of the common rally squirrel, the unpredictability of rain forecasts in Texas and a whole lot about the oblique muscle.
|David Freese's home run in Game 6 was only the sixth walk-off shot in World Series history.|
Most importantly, we were reminded: "That the way baseball go." And that the way it go can be exhilarating -- I think the fans are still standing on their feet cheering at Busch Stadium -- and also very painful. Sometimes that's physical pain -- Ryan Howard tore his Achilles grounding out to end the Phillies' season -- but usually it's a deeper, emotional pain that takes much longer to heal. If it ever does.
For instance, plastic sheets were duct-taped above the lockers in the Rangers' clubhouse Thursday and Friday for a champagne shower that so nearly occurred but never did. The Rangers twice were within one strike of winning the World Series but got no further. The bottles remained corked and the plastic sheets remained taped to the ceiling, a reminder to how painfully close the Rangers came to winning their first championship after half-century in existence.
The Rangers were understandably down and quiet after the game, but in the days and weeks to come, perhaps they will take deserved pride in having been a part of something so special, something that thrilled so many fans no matter what their favorite team is.
The morning after that indescribable final Wednesday of the regular season, when the Rays won and the Red Sox lost within minutes of each other, my friend Scooter sent me an email saying, "I can't ever thank my late father for introducing me to this game over 55 years ago.'' He emailed again after Game 6: "Just want to say thanks again to everyone in my youth who turned me into a baseball fan forever grateful.''
We all know that feeling. If you aren't a baseball fan after this fall, there really is no hope.
This fall is why we love baseball. If the Cards can rally from 10½ games back in late August to the postseason, from two runs down in the ninth and two more runs down in 10th, and come back to win when they twice were down to their final strike, there is hope for us all. And that's what we should think about to pass the time. As Cubs fans will tell you, it's never too early to start dreaming about next year.
By the way, pitchers and catchers report in approximately 100 days.Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Follow Jim Caple on Twitter: @jimcaple