Commentary

Strange stuff … in the 2011 postseason

The Cardinals' amazing playoff journey culminated in a memorable World Series win

Originally Published: December 23, 2011
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

The team that won the World Series led the league in near-death experiences. The team that lost the World Series picked the wrong night in October to come down with a serious case of Blown Save Fever. And the teams that sat home watching them had to be kicking themselves -- if only because they finally realized that they'd forgotten to trade for their very own Rally Squirrel.

In other words, it was one very crazy October. So let's look back at the Strange But True Feats of 2011 -- the Postseason Edition.

Strange but true team of the year

How strange was the championship journey of your 2011 World Series titleists, the Cardinals? Hoo boy. It's still hard to comprehend.

[+] EnlargeSt. Louis Cardinals
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesThe Cardinals were down to their final strike twice before recovering to win the World Series.

As late as 102 games into their season, they had a worse record than the Pirates. (OK, so it was by a thousandth of a percentage point. Whatever.)

As late as 89 games into their season, they had the same number of losses as the Mets.

As late as Labor Day, their run differential was 107 runs worse than the Red Sox.

They were 10½ games out of a playoff spot with 31 to play.

They were 8½ out in September.

They were still three games out with five to play.

They lost 25 games in their last at-bat.

They lost 11 games they led in the ninth inning or later.

They blew more saves (26) than 28 other teams.

They lost their best starting pitcher (Adam Wainwright) before they'd even played a spring training game.

Their other stud starter (Chris Carpenter) had as many wins on June 22 (one) as Wilson Valdez. Who plays infield for a living.

Their relief pitchers got more outs in the NLCS (86) than their starters (73).

And, as you might have heard someplace, they were one strike away from losing the World Series in twice as many innings (i.e., two) as all previous 106 World Series champions in history put together.

So if ever there was a formula you wouldn't want to follow to try to win a World Series, here's a nomination for the way those 2011 Cardinals did it. Kids, don't try that at home!

Strange but true postseason game of the year

It was a postseason full of classic, magical and often downright crazy games. But is there any doubt which game towers above the rest? I saw Game 6 of the World Series with my very own eyeballs. I still don't believe stuff like this happened:

• The Cardinals have played 19,387 regular-season games in their history. Not once had they won a game in which they trailed five times. But that's the mess they overcame to win Game 6 -- when all that was riding on it was losing the World Series. That's all.

[+] EnlargeDavid Freese
Jeff Curry/US PresswireDavid Freese had a postseason to remember as he was the MVP in the NLCS and the World Series.

• For that matter, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, only three teams in the last 40 years (2006 Red Sox, 1996 Red Sox, 1995 Cubs) have won a regular-season game in which they trailed at least five times. And no team had ever done that in a World Series game. But the Cardinals trailed in this game by scores of 1-0, 3-2, 4-3, 7-4 and 9-7 -- and won. Unreal.

• There had been 1,329 games in the history of postseason baseball before this one. Not once had a team scored in the eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th innings of the same game. But the Cardinals did it in this game. Of course they did!

• The Rangers blew two saves in their final 41 regular-season games combined. So of course, they then blew three saves in this game in the last six innings.

• Might as well mention that the Rangers had two MONTHS this year (June and September) when they didn't blow three saves. And they were working on a streak of 965 games (regular season and postseason), over six seasons, without ever blowing three save opportunities in one game until this extravaganza came along.

• Never had both teams homered in extra innings at any point during an entire Series. Then, naturally, each team homered in extra innings just in this GAME (Josh Hamilton in the 10th, David Freese in the 11th).

• There wasn't a game played in the big leagues during the entire regular season that featured extra-inning homers in two innings by two teams, according to the Sultan of Swat Stats, SABR home run historian David Vincent. And the Rangers hadn't played a game like that in 15 years. But it happened in this game.

• And, as we'll probably be reminding ourselves for about the next thousand years, only one team in history -- Mookie Wilson's '86 Mets -- had ever won a World Series after finding itself one strike away from The End of the Line. So naturally, these Cardinals got themselves to within one strike of defeat in the ninth and 10th innings -- and still went on to win the World Series. They didn't seem to know any other way. Did they?

Five strange but true October all-timers

• All four teams that advanced to the LCS -- the Cardinals, Brewers, Rangers and Tigers -- got outscored by the teams they played in the Division Series … and won. Hard to do, friends.

Nelson Cruz
Cruz

• Nelson Cruz had as many homers in October (eight) as he had HITS in September (in 42 at-bats).

• Only one manager in the American League issued fewer intentional walks during the regular season than Ron Washington (21 all year). So he was pretty much the perfect candidate to become the first manager in American League HISTORY to issue nine intentional walks in a World Series. Right?

• Before this October, no player since Kirk Gibson (Game 1, '88) had come off the bench in a World Series game to drive in the go-ahead run with a pinch hit in the sixth inning or later. Then, naturally, Allen Craig did that for the Cardinals two days in a row -- against the same pitcher (Alexi Ogando) no less.

• And Tony La Russa made 75 pitching changes in the postseason. That means all those relievers he waved for spent a combined 3 hours, 45 minutes warming up!

Strange but true World Series nuttiness

• This was the third consecutive World Series to feature a Molina brother. So what's so strange about that? It was three different Molinas (Jose, then Bengie, then Yadier).

Yadier Molina
Molina

• In back-to-back-to-back at-bats in Games 6 and 7, David Freese hit a game-tying triple, game-winning homer and game-tying double. How incredible was that? Only one other time in World Series history had a player gotten game-tying or go-ahead hits in three consecutive trips to the plate. And naturally, it was Allen Craig, earlier in this same World Series.

• Only once in the last 30 regular seasons have the Cardinals scored at least 16 runs one game and gotten shut out the next. How many runs did they score in Game 4 of this World Series after putting up 16 in Game 3? That would be none -- despite the minor technicality that they were facing a pitcher (Derek Holland) who had just finished compiling an 8.59 ERA in the ALCS.

• Has there ever been a more insane stretch in any World Series than the middle three innings of Game 3? Starting in the top of the fourth inning, the Cardinals scored four times. Then the Rangers scored three times. Then the Cardinals scored three in the fifth -- and so did the Rangers. Whereupon the Cardinals put up yet another three-spot in the top of the sixth. Ever remember seeing five consecutive half-innings of three runs or more in a World Series game? Of course you don't -- because it's never happened.

• Finally, there was Albert Pujols' picturesque little box-score line in that very same Game 3: 6 AB, 4 R, 5 H, 6 RBIs, with three majestic homers and 14 total bases tossed in there just for fun. Feel free to stare at that line for as long as Albert stared at his long home runs, because in the entire live-ball era -- all nine decades of it -- there has been only one regular-season 6-4-5-6 three-homer game, by Dave Winfield against the Twins on April 13, 1991.

Strange but true playoff weirdness

• Delmon Young spent 4½ months with the Twins this year and hit four home runs. He played nine postseason games for the Tigers -- and hit five home runs.

• As my buddy Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com pointed out, the Royals got six home runs out of the No. 7 hole in their lineup all season. The Rangers got seven just in this postseason.

• Your ALCS MVP, Nelson Cruz, had eight extra-base hits in that LCS (six homers, two doubles) -- but never did mix in a single.

Matt Moore
Moore

• In Game 1s of this postseason, the Yankees, Tigers, Rangers, Phillies, Cardinals, Brewers and Diamondbacks started pitchers who had been around long enough to make a combined 1,469 regular-season starts in the big leagues, plus another 30 postseason starts. But the Rays had other plans (as always). They started Matt Moore in Game 1. How many big league games had he started in his life before that game? That would be one.

• So, naturally, Moore went out and threw seven shutout innings (giving up two hits), the first time any rookie starter had done that in a postseason game. So it took 107 years for it to happen once. It then took four days, of course, for it to happen a second time -- thanks to Arizona's Josh Collmenter.

• When Cliff Lee blew a 4-0 lead in the Phillies' 5-4 loss to the Cardinals in Game 2 of the NLDS, he did something he'd done only once before in his entire career. So he's now 94-2 in games in which his team handed him a lead of four runs or more. And, as loyal reader Rob Gottschalk reports, the winning pitcher in both of those losses was -- who else? -- Octavio Dotel.

• That wasn't the only mind-boggling development in Game 2 of that NLDS, however. The guy who started that game for the Cardinals, Chris Carpenter, had made more consecutive regular-season starts (174) without allowing three runs in the first inning than any other pitcher in the entire live-ball era. So what did he do in his first postseason inning that day? Give up three in the first to the Phillies. Naturally.

• No team since 1900 had hit a grand slam in four straight home games, in either the regular season or postseason. Then along came the 2011 Diamondbacks. They launched slams in their last two home games of the regular season, then went slamming again in their first two home games in October. Before that, they'd never even hit a slam at home in four consecutive MONTHS in the history of their franchise.

• The Phillies lost three games in the Division Series, and in two of them, they scored at least twice in the first inning. So guess how many games the Phillies lost all season after April 15 when they scored more than once in the first inning? Not once, of course.

• Tigers set-up man Al Alburquerque faced 189 hitters this season. And what did those 189 hitters have in common? Not one of them hit a home run off him. Want to guess what happened on Alburquerque's second pitch of the postseason? Right you are. He served up a grand slam to Robinson Cano.

Roy Halladay
Halladay

• Before this October, Roy Halladay had started 380 games, regular-season and postseason. He'd given up a three-run first-inning homer in precisely one of them (to Mike Lowell in 2006). So what did Doc Halladay do in the first inning of this postseason? What do you think he did? He allowed a three-run homer to Lance Berkman.

• Finally, on the first day of the regular season at Yankee Stadium, your starting pitching matchup was CC Sabathia versus Justin Verlander. Six months later, on the first day of the postseason at Yankee Stadium, your starting pitching matchup was (yep) CC Sabathia versus Justin Verlander. How strange -- but absolutely true -- was that?

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.

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Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com