Friday, October 28, 2011

Game Six. A Beautiful and Ugly Thing

I was there, in front of the TV, for every pitch of game six in 1975 when Carlton Fisk delivered. I watched every gut-wrenching inning of the epic game seven dual between Jack Morris and John Smoltz in 1991. I nearly cried when poor Bill Buckner let Mookie Wilson’s slow roller through his legs in game six in 1986. But nothing in my wild and varied baseball history prepared me for what I witnessed last night in St. Louis. It was simply the most thrilling, exciting, baseball game I have ever seen. Ever.

First of all, I should point out the fact I have no dog in this fight. I hold no strong feelings for either club. I have watched nearly every inning of all six games of this series because, well, because I am an unrepentant baseball guy and that means that no matter who is playing in the post season, you watch. As the series has played out I have found myself leaning towards the Rangers, primarily because their manager is a whirling dervish of little league, wild-eyed joy in the dugout. Also, they appear to be the better team, with more depth, and at least on paper, a better bull-pen. But, my loyalty to the game has rewarded me handsomely in this series. Each game has been an edge-of-the-seat thriller, culminating last night in what can only be described as a collision of Shakespearean drama and Greek tragedy.

I am not a sports writer so if you want to know the pitch by pitch details you’ll have to consult Sports Center or Yahoo Sports. Suffice it to say that if a script writer turned in this whooper in Hollywood, the suits would laugh him out of the room. The two remaining teams in the big leagues , on the games’ biggest stage committed 5 errors in the first 7 innings, some, the comic variety, including David Freese who dropped a routine pop up at third base. A pitcher threw a pick off attempt wildly into center field. An all-star outfielder dropped a fly ball. There were botched double plays, wild pitches, and balls being bobbled around all over the place. But it wasn’t just the players doing weird things, the two managers put on a clinic of how NOT to manage a baseball team. Tony Larussa ran out of position players in the 8th inning of what turned out to be an 11 inning game, leaving him no choice but to send pitchers up to pinch hit. And Ron Washington, while a fresh and entertaining personality isn’t exactly a tactical genius. His decision making process with regards to the use of relief pitchers is, lets just say, a thing of profound mystery. No, this game wasn’t awesome because it was a showcase of virtuosity. It was awesome because each player on both teams over the last 3 innings just refused to give up, refused to lose.

After going ahead 7-4 on back to back home runs in the seventh inning, the Rangers lead looked safe even after St. Louis got a run back in the eighth, because the Texas closer, Neftali Feliz would pitch the 9th. With two outs, two on and two strikes on the Cardinal batter, the Rangers were one strike away from glory when David Freese,( yeah, THAT David Freese, the one who dropped the pop-up ) , tripled off the right field wall to tie the game and send it to extra innings. In the top of the 11th, the Rangers best player, Josh Hamilton who has been battling a painful groin injury the entire post season, came up with a man on base. It has been painful to watch this kid try to swing a bat. Every time he swings and misses, its everything he can do to keep from grabbing his crotch and doubling over on national TV. He has been reduced to weak arms only swings that have produced ground ball singles and not much else. Until now. In Kirk Gibson fashion, he pounds a ball deep into the right-center field stands and everyone in the stadium and everyone watching on television had the feeling that they had witnessed one of the greatest home runs in world series history. It was perfect, the struggling star guts it out the whole series and finally hits a miraculous bomb that leads his team to victory. Unfortunately for Hamilton, his home run is only a footnote because the bottom of the 10th had to be played. This time the Rangers would once again come within one strike of a world championship, and once again a Cardinal hitter would somehow come through with a clutch hit to tie the game and send it deeper into the night.

I looked at the clock. It was 12:45. I had been watching this game for 4 hours and 30 minutes. The lead off hitter for St. Louis in the 11th was our friend Mr. Freese. Did I mention that the kid is actually from St. Louis? Yeah, he’s a home town boy. The eighth pitcher of the night for Texas threw a 95 mph fastball and the kid hit it 400 feet into the grass field right behind the center field wall. 10-9. The Cardinals win and there will be a game seven tonight for the first time since 2002. I have no idea who will win. Can the Rangers recover from being within one pitch of victory not once but twice? Will the Cardinals have used up their ration of clutch hitting and suffer a mental and physical let down after so dramatic a win? I have no idea, but I will be watching. Won’t miss a pitch. These are the boys of summer, and at a time when much of life in America disappoints, these guys never do in October.