The last day of the regular season was perhaps the best evening of baseball I’ve ever seen. It was the kind of unbelievable night that justifies the “once in a lifetime” tag. And yet, exactly one month later, we’re sitting here recovering from a World Series game that might just have been the most exciting game in the history of the sport.
There were 108 plays in last night’s game – 46 of those occurred when the leverage index was at least 1.50. Perhaps more staggeringly, there were 18 plays where the LI was above 3.00 and 11 of those came with an LI of 4.00 or higher. When you think about some of the great World Series games of all time, we think of specific moments – Kirk Gibson‘s home run in 1988, Joe Carter‘s in 1993, Luis Gonzalez‘s bloop single in 2001 – but most of those were isolated instances within that game. Those games offered one great, unbelievable moment – last night offered us about a dozen of them.
Colby Lewis batting with the bases loaded. Lewis missing the bag on Matt Holliday‘s groundball to first. Yadier Molina drawing a bases loaded walk to tie the game. Holliday getting picked off third base by Mike Napoli, who threw from his knees not long after twisting his ankle running the bases. Back-to-back home runs by Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz to give the Rangers the lead back. Those were all pretty incredible moments in their own right, but they all have to take a back seat because of what happened later.
David Freese was one strike away from ending the season when he launched his triple to right field that tied the game in the ninth inning. That one play pushed the Cardinals win probability from 8.7% to 62.4%, a whopping .537 WPA with one swing of the bat. Given the context of the situation, that pitch produced one of the largest changes in championship expectancy in the history of the sport.
Then, in the 10th inning, a gimpy Josh Hamilton hit his first home run in over a month, and seemingly erased Freese’s heroics with a great moment of his own. His HR made the Rangers 92.3% favorites to win at that point, and he was credited with +.422 WPA for that swing.
We weren’t done yet, though. The bottom of the 10th gave us a couple of singles, a great (if likely unintentionally fantastic) bunt by a pitcher pinch-hitting for another pitcher who was pinch-hitting for the actual pitcher, and then eventually Lance Berkman‘s single to center field that tied the game back up. Because it put the winning run 90 feet away, in addition to tying the game, Berkman’s base hit was actually worth more WPA (+.468) than Hamilton’s home run.
The epic finally ended with David Freese’s walkoff bomb in the bottom of the 11th. Because the Cardinals were already the favorites to win at that point, the WPA of his home run was “just” .368. But, really, that just about sums up last night – the extra-inning home run from the local hero to save the season and force a Game Seven was fourth most important play of the game.
Freese’s heroics in both the 9th and 11th innings are historically unmatched – he posted the highest WPA (.969) of any position player in a postseason game in history. It doesn’t end there, of course – Lance Berkman’s .832 WPA was the fourth highest total in postseason history. What we experienced last night was essentially analogous to Kirk Gibson and Reggie Jackson being teammates and having their legendary evenings in the same game – only if those performances had come with the World Series on the line.
Given all the errors, the questionable decisions made from the dugouts, and the mental mistakes that permeated the entire game, it’s hard to call last night’s game “the best ever”. Besides, trying to compare the heroics of a 10-9 extra inning game to Jack Morris‘ performance in Game Seven of the 1991 World Series, or quantifying the craziness of Randy Johnson pitching on zero days rest is likely beyond the scope of what we can actually measure.
But, for just sheer quantity of epic performances, last night’s game is tough to beat. Toss in the elimination-game factor from St. Louis’ perspective, and few baseball games have ever been played under such a high level of continuous tension. As much as I’m looking forward to tonight’s game, there’s almost no way it can live up to what we were treated to last night.