The St. Louis Cardinals scored an improbable World Series victory on Friday night, beating the Texas Rangers 6-2 in Game 7. Cardinals starting pitcher Chris Carpenter gutted his way through six tough innings, and Mr. October (Midwest version) David Freese did the rest, lining a key two-run double to the base of the outfield wall in the bottom of the first.
Freese’s hit erased an early Texas lead and brought the hometown crowd back to life. From there on the Cardinals gained control of the game, inning by inning and inch by inch, as the Ranger hitters went down quietly and St. Louis took advantage of walks and hit batsmen to pad their lead.
It was a championship made all the sweeter by the fact that St. Louis was ten and a half games out of a playoff spot in August and had to claw back from series deficits in both the division and National League Championship series. At one point in the World Series they were down 3-2 in games. In Game 6 they were one strike away from elimination – twice.
IN PICTURES: Fan Frenzy: World Series 2011
Perhaps no baseball team ever has walked such a tightrope for so long and grabbed a trophy at the end.
“I think the last month of the season, that’s where it started,” Cardinals superstar Albert Pujols said in the raucous post-game clubhouse. “Different guys were coming huge, getting big hits, and we carried that into the postseason and here we are world champions.”
The narrative doesn’t end there, though. Here are some key questions for fans to ponder as they await free agent King Albert’s decision as to whether he’ll play for the Cubs – or even the Rangers – next season.
HOW RELIEVED IS TONY LARUSSA? The Cardinals manager had set himself up as the World Series goat. In Game 5 he’d failed to ensure the right relievers were warming up, arguably costing his team the game. It was so bad that at one point LaRussa signaled for a right-hander and was greeted by a different reliever than the one he thought he would be getting.
Now LaRussa won’t have to worry about a stain on his reputation. Instead he’ll be remembered as he ought to be – the greatest manager since baseball games hit television. His touch in the clubhouse and chess master player match-ups worked this time. Is he a frenetic over-manager? OK, Tampa’s Joe Maddon is relaxed, but how many World Series has he won?
ARE THE RANGERS THE NEW RED SOX? The Rangers did not just lose. They lost in . . . well, let’s say it was deflating, the sense that you’re in a blimp at 5,000 feet and an asteroid bursts through the blimp itself and the whole thing collapses in flames. That kind of deflating.
Twice they were one strike from winning. In the ninth inning of Game 6 Ranger right-fielder Nelson Cruz might have caught Freese’s shot to the base of the wall, bringing the championship back to Texas.
Cruz hit eight home runs in the post-season, so it’s not like he was an anvil on the team. But his ill-timed leap seemed Greek in its tragedy. Just like the kind of thing that used to happen to the Red Sox, before they became the Yankees of Cambridge.
Two words: Bill Buckner. We don’t even have to explain that, do we? People forget that the Red Sox took a lead in Game 7 of the 1986 World Series, only to lose to the New York Mets in the end. Just like the Rangers took a first inning 2-0 lead on Friday night, before losing.
ARE WALKS THE NEW HOME RUNS? When Game 6 was rained out in St. Louis on Wednesday night LaRussa went to see “Moneyball”, the movie in which Brad Pitt saves the Oakland A’s by emphasizing on-base percentage. The Cardinals skipper criticized the movie afterward, saying it ignored the fact that the A’s notoriously free-swinging shortstop Miguel Tejada had an MVP season that year, and said little about the team’s young and talented pitching rotation.
That’s ironic, in the sense that the Cardinals OBPd their way to this year’s title. The Texas pitching staff issued 41 walks in the World Series, a new record. Six of those came in Game 7. In the fifth inning the Cardinals scored twice on a bases-loaded walk and hit batsman.
“Maybe we tried to be a little bit too fine,” said Ranger reliever Mike Adams in a subdued Texas clubhouse. “I’m not sure. I can’t really explain why. Maybe we tried to be too perfect, and it came back and bit us.”
IN PICTURES: Fan Frenzy: World Series 2011