Commentary

World Series rolling a lucky seven?

After pair of one-run thrillers, Rangers-Cards matchup could be something special

Updated: October 22, 2011, 4:46 PM ET
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- They have set the stage for something great, something memorable, something special.

The Cardinals and the Rangers may not have given the ratings snobs the World Series of their dreams. But that isn't Ian Kinsler's problem. And it isn't Allen Craig's problem. And it isn't Chris Carpenter's problem.

And it sure as heck isn't our problem.

Look, if you'd rather watch "Wheel of Fortune" or "Ghost Hunters" than the World Series, hey, be our guest. That's what makes America a beautiful place. You get to choose what you watch and what you care about.

But here's the deal: If you missed the first two games of this World Series, it's your loss, not ours.

You've missed Masterpiece October Theater at its best. You've missed two fabulous one-run baseball games. You've missed two dramatic postseason tug-o'-wars that weren't decided until the final pitch thrown.

[+] EnlargeMichael Young
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezWill Michael Young and the Rangers get the offense going in their hitter-friendly ballpark?

And now, on a balmy Saturday night in Texas, these two teams get to do it all over again, in a Game 3 showdown that will match the Texas heat versus the Missouri wind-chill factor, Matt Harrison versus Kyle Lohse, Tony La Russa's turbo-drive versus Ron Washington's cruise control and maybe, if we're lucky, another scintillating chapter of the Alexi Ogando versus Allen Craig show.

We can't make you grab that remote. We can't force the Fox ratings accountants to stop mourning the untimely demise of the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies.

All we can do is try to give you a sense of what you're missing. And if the first two games of this series are any indication, you're missing out on a chance to get in on one of the most compelling World Series in years.

"I'll tell you what," said Rangers reliever Mike Adams, "even if you're not a baseball fan, I think you should be watching these games, because this will make you become a baseball fan. And the people who ARE baseball fans, I think they're watching something beautiful. This is what baseball is all about. These are games that you'll look upon and remember for a long time."

We regret to announce we can't promise you a third straight one-run thriller. Sorry. This is a sporting event, not Episode 3 of "Dancing With the Bullpen Stars."

The thing we love most about the World Series is that it's a TRUE reality show, the best kind of reality show. The only part of this production that's scripted in advance is that two men who won 14 games this summer while you weren't looking, Lohse and Harrison, will be the starting pitchers. But after that, we couldn't tell you whether they'll last eight outs or eight innings, whether they'll be followed by 14 relievers or two, whether they'll turn this into a 2-1 game or an 11-9 game.

All we CAN tell you is that Games 1 and 2 have laid out a tough act for them to follow -- because here's what this World Series has given us so far:

• Over the first two games, 137 hitters have dug into the old batter's box. Only seven of them have batted with the two teams separated by as many as TWO runs. An amazing 83 of them represented either the tying run or the go-ahead run. And 45 of them came to bat with either the tying or go-ahead run on base.

• For just the 14th time in 107 World Series, and only the fourth time in the last 32 years, this Series has begun with back-to-back one-run games. Of the previous eight times since World War I that that happened in a Series that didn't involve the Yankees, five of them were a prelude to a World Series that went to either a sixth or seventh game.

• This is only the third World Series in the last 37 years in which each team won a one-run game to kick off the Series. And both of the last two times that happened -- in 2002 (Giants-Angels) and 1979 (Pirates-Orioles) -- the Series wound up going seven games.

• This is just the fourth World Series in history, the first since 1995 and only the second in the last 70 years that began with two consecutive one-run games in which the eventual winning run was scored in the sixth inning or later. The only three times that had ever happened before this year were 1995 (Braves-Indians), 1941 (Dodgers-Yankees) and 1924 (Giants-Senators).

• And after a pair of wild league championship series in which these two teams combined for 53 pitching changes, zero quality starts and 82 runs scored in 12 games, the pitchers have finally restored order. Only eight runs have been scored so far in Games 1 and 2 of this World Series. And that equals the lowest run totals through two games in any World Series in the last 60 years. The only other times that happened: 1972, 1969 and 1967, when guys like Catfish Hunter, Tom Seaver and Bob Gibson were the men on the mound.

But this has also been a World Series that's been memorable for other reasons. Such as:

• Allen Craig: In each of the first two games, the managerial maneuverings of La Russa and Washington brought us the late-inning drama of Craig stroking go-ahead pinch-hit singles off the previously untouchable Ogando. Just to put that in perspective, before this week, you know the last time any player came off the bench in the World Series to drive in the go-ahead run with a pinch hit in the sixth inning or later? It was a little blast by a fellow named Kirk Gibson in Game 1 in 1988. Then, amazingly, Craig got TWO hits like that on back-to-back days. And no one had ever done that.

• Ian Kinsler: After singling to lead off the ninth inning of a nerve-racking 1-0 game Thursday, Kinsler took off on his own, stole second base and went on to score the tying run. How long had it been since any player stole a base in the ninth inning or later and then came around to score the tying run? The Elias Sports Bureau reports it was in that very same Kirk Gibson game, when Mike Davis walked, swiped second during Gibson's at-bat and scored as Jack Buck was shouting: "I don't believe what I just saw."

Jaime Garcia and Colby Lewis: Their epic Game 2 mano a mano duel turned into a never-mind subplot when the Rangers scored those two runs in the ninth off the St. Louis bullpen. But Garcia and Lewis almost gave us only the fourth 1-0 World Series game since the indelible Jack Morris-John Smoltz Game 7 classic in 1991. The others: Game 6 in 1995 (Tom Glavine-Dennis Martinez), Game 5 in 1996 (Andy Pettitte-Smoltz) and Game 4 in 2005 (Freddy Garcia-Brandon Backe).

Elvis Andrus: He'd been an offensive underachiever for virtually this entire postseason until his huge single and fabulous baserunning changed the face of Game 2 in the ninth. But we'd rather watch Andrus' Flying Wallendas leather-working show than a LeBron James dunk anytime. And his sprawling, run-saving, potentially game-saving dive and glove flip to Kinsler on Thursday, to rob Rafael Furcal, was a highlight for the all-time World Series Web Gem reel. "Just a ridiculous play," said Kinsler. "That was awesome. You know, this game has been played for a long time, and there have been a lot of great moments in this game. To be a part of something like that, it's great. And it's greatness."

[+] EnlargeLance Berkman
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezWith the series now at Texas, it's Tony La Russa's turn to play by a different set of rules. Lance Berkman will spend some time at DH.

You could feel the passion in Ian Kinsler's voice as he described that play. And he's not the only player in this World Series who has already begun to sense he's in the middle of something special.

"This is killing me," said the Cardinals' Matt Holliday on Friday, with a smile that told you he'd face this sort of firing squad anytime. "For us, it's exhausting -- the mental strain of playing games where every pitch is so important. We're so into it -- on defense, on offense. And in these kinds of games, it's just exhausting."

"That game [Thursday] night, that might go down as one of the better games ever in World Series baseball," said Adams, who came out of the Texas bullpen to pitch the eighth inning of it. "I mean, bottom of the ninth, [Rangers] down 1-0, you come back and get a win, it changes the whole complexion of the Series. It's almost better that we won that way than if we'd won 2-1 by scoring two runs in the fourth inning."

"All the way through the playoffs, it seems like every game we've played has just been tremendous," said Kinsler. "It's been exciting. It's been one great baseball game after another. … But these last two games -- that's definitely raised the bar."

Yep, it raised that bar so high, in fact, that late in Thursday's gut-wrencher, Texas first baseman Michael Young said Cardinals first-base coach Dave McKay sidled over to him and said, "Competition at its finest."

"Yeah," Young replied. "Fun. Isn't it?"

Well, he's got that right. October baseball doesn't get much more fun than this.

The games shift to Texas now, where the fences are more inviting, the pitchers won't get to hit and the temperatures will climb back into the normal confines of what we used to know as "baseball weather." So what lies ahead in these next three games might look very different from the baseball these two teams played in Rally Squirrel Country.

Still, we can't wait to see what they have in store for us next. No World Series has reached a Game 7 since 2002. But these two teams just have That Look.

"What we've seen so far, I feel like it's going to be that way," said Holliday, "because you've got two evenly matched teams. Obviously, this game is very difficult to predict. But if I was going to predict, I'd guess this is going to be a pretty crazy Series."

Uh, did he say "GOING" to be? If you've been one of the lucky ones watching these first two games, then you know the truth: We're already there.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in a new paperback edition in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.

Follow Jayson Stark on Twitter:

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com