That’s all I could muster as it became clear that David Freese‘s flyball to center was leaving the yard. Just wow.
There have been numerous good playoff games and some great World Series games, but what took place Thursday night existed on an entirely different plane. It’s always tough to gauge the historic status of something so recent, but calling Game Six of the 2011 World Series one of the best baseball games in history just feels right.
The World Series is somehow, some way, going to a seventh and final game Friday night after twists and turns galore. For seven innings, the game was defined by missed opportunities and blunders both physical and managerial. After that, the game was defined by the old adage you can’t predict baseball.
In the end, Freese, who tied the game in the ninth with a two-out, two-strike, two-run triple knocked the ball out of the yard in the 11th to seal the deal. However, what transpired over the previous few innings foreshadowed a crazy finish. Freese’s home run wasn’t even shocking. Of course that happened. But various circumstances had to be present for the Cardinals to even have a shot at knotting up the game and winning it in extras. Here are some of Thursday night’s highlights that led to such a wild ending.
Colby Lewis Stays In
Dave Cameron covered this incredibly well in real-time Thursday night after he and I incredulously purveyed to one another our disbelief over Colby Lewis batting in the fifth inning. The Rangers led 4-3 at the time, and had just loaded the bases with two outs. Lewis had thrown well to that point — keeping the Cardinals at bay after surrendering a first-inning blast to Lance Berkman — and was due up after pinch-hitter David Murphy walked. Yorvit Torrealba stood in the on-deck circle, but as Murphy began his trot to first base, Ron Washington called back the backup catcher and instead sent Lewis to the plate.
I implore you to read Dave’s post on the matter, but his research involving relative differences in run expectancy led to the conclusion that allowing Lewis to bat in that circumstance was akin to bringing John Lackey, a 6.30+ ERA pitcher, in the game to protect a one-run lead.
The clear counterargument is that Lewis was throwing well. It wasn’t a “must-win” for the Rangers. Plus, what if Mike Napoli‘s ankle is further impaired and the backup catcher is burnt in an otherwise unnecessary pinch-hitting spot. Well, Lewis was throwing well, but when it gets to the sixth game of the championship, managers should act like there isn’t a tomorrow. The Rangers had a bullpen loaded with solid relievers and starters capable of relieving. In fact, Derek Holland was even warming up as this situation unfolded.
As for Napoli, the Rangers are also carrying Matt Treanor, a better defender than Torrealba to begin with. Somebody should have pinch-hit there. Given the overall context of that plate appearance, there are maybe 3-5 pitchers that should have been left in to bat. Colby Lewis is not one of them.
Ron Washington has fallen in love with using Alexi Ogando as often as possible, but whether it’s fatigue or general wear and tear, he just isn’t pitching effectively right now. Which made it all the more odd to see him enter a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the sixth, with the Rangers clinging to a one-run lead. Holland previously warmed up. Mike Adams was acquired for high-leverage situations, and in Game Six of the World Series, bases loaded in the sixth inning is that type of situation. Ogando walked Yadier Molina to tie the game at four. Mike Napoli picked Matt Holliday off at third to open up a base, but Ogando promptly walked Nick Punto to re-load them.
Finally, Holland comes in and puts out the fire. Only one game remains in the season, but Alexi Ogando probably shouldn’t pitch in it. The Rangers have too many pitching weapons at their disposal to continue risking situations by using someone who, aside from the results, just doesn’t seem right.
That’s Ballgame – #1
Admit it — you thought the game was probably over after Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz hit back-to-back home runs. Hey, I’m in that group as well. The Cardinals had shown a propensity for coming back, but those home runs gave the game an out-of-reach feel. Even with the game tied at four, it felt like the Rangers were winning. Maybe that’s due to their numerous missed opportunities to tack on runs earlier in the game, but the score felt like it was 8-4 Rangers, with those two solo dingers serving as insurance runs. Ian Kinsler‘s RBI single later in the inning sealed the deal, right? Come on, three-run lead in the seventh and Matt Holliday wasn’t even playing anymore?
Even after Holliday’s replacement, Allen Craig, bopped a solo home run, the score was still 7-5 in the eighth inning. It was too little, too late.
Then the ninth inning happened. Neftali Feliz was clearly struggling with command but managed to strike out Ryan Theriot. Pujols doubled and Berkman walked before Craig went down looking. Two outs, first and second, down by two in the bottom of the ninth, with David Freese up.
Nelson Cruz Forgets How to Field
It’s not apples-to-apples at all, but don’t be surprised to see the comparison to Bill Buckner made, especially if the Cardinals win the World Series. Freese launched a fliner to right that initially seemed right in Cruz’s vicinity. He methodically backtracked but completely, and I mean completely, misplayed the ball. Replays showed his glove wasn’t even close to the ball as it landed. It certainly wasn’t a routine play like Buckner’s was, but 90 percent of right fielders make that catch. Cruz didn’t, and both Pujols and Berkman scored to tie the game at seven runs. Freese, the hometown kid, delivered in the biggest plate appearance of his career.
That’s Ballgame – #2
Didn’t matter, because Jason Motte quickly gave up a two-run homer to Josh Hamilton in the top of the tenth. The Cardinals mounted a valiant comeback, but just didn’t have enough left to hold down the fort. Well, at least until they came up to bat.
Darren Oliver was the logical choice to pitch the bottom of the tenth, but a liner from Daniel Descalso and a bloop single from Jon Jay gave the Cardinals life. Because of previous maneuvering, the Cardinals had no pinch-hitters left and the pitchers spot due up. LaRussa sent Edwin Jackson out for Motte… and then, before a pitch was thrown, sent Kyle Lohse in for Jackson. Lohse was clearly bunting, but the mechanics of the wheel play actually hurt the Rangers here.
Lohse’s bunt sailed over the head of a charging Beltre. If Beltre charges a second later, we’re potentially talking about a season-ending triple play. Instead, Lohse successfully sacrifices and the Cards are once again positioned to tie the game.
Theriot grounded out to third, with Beltre allowing Descalso to score. It was now 9-8, with a runner on third, and Beltre wanted to get the sure out. Theriot’s grounder wasn’t the easiest to handle, even though the defensive wizard fielded it cleanly, so a play at home may have been tough.
Scott Feldman, who induced the groundout, intentionally walked Pujols. Berkman followed with an RBI single, once again tying the game. We move onto the 11th!
Beltre’s decision to throw to first instead of home has come under scrutiny. Replays suggest he had time to throw home and nab Descalso, which would have kept the score at 9-7 and put runners at first and second, with two outs, and Pujols due up. The obvious risk is that Descalso is safe, it’s first and second and one out, with Pujols and Berkman due up. It seemed harmless at the time, but sometimes haters want to hate and look for specific people and events to serve as scapegoats. Beltre didn’t lose this game, plain and simple.
That’s Ballgame – #3 – No, Really This Time
With the score 9-9, Jake Westbrook took the hill to start the 11th. Though Mike Napoli singled, Westbrook was never really in any trouble and got past Cruz, Murphy and German with ease. The Rangers went with Mark Lowe — yep, exactly who you want on the mound with the game on the line.
Lowe quickly fell behind 3-0. Called strike. A foul ball. Suddenly it was a full count in the bottom of the 11th for the guy who dreamed of coming up for the Cardinals in this spot as a kid. Lowe’s next pitch caught all of the plate and Freese tattooed it to straightaway center.
“Freese hits it in the air to center…. we will see you tomorrow night.”
Joe Buck’s call said it all. What a game.