Saturday, October 29, 2011

A fitting end to an improbable season

US Presswire photo
The Cardinals won their 11th (and most surprising) World Series title last night.
There have been improbable World Series champions over the years. The 1960 Pirates, who were outscored by the Yankees 55-27 yet somehow won the whole thing on Bill Mazeroski's Game 7 blast. The 1969 Miracle Mets, who took down a supposedly superior Orioles squad. The 1988 Dodgers, who weren't supposed to be able to compete with the A's until a gimpy Kirk Gibson made history.

The 2011 Cardinals, though, may have topped them all on the improbability scale. It's not only the fact they made up 10 1/2 games in the NL wild-card standings over the season's five weeks. Go back to spring training when they learned co-ace Adam Wainwright needed Tommy John surgery and would miss the season. Everyone wrote them off right then and there.

Then flash-forward to the bottom of the ninth inning Thursday night, with St. Louis one strike away from being eliminated by the Rangers in a World Series that might have wound up being known best for Tony La Russa's Game 5 bullpen phone screw-up than anything else.

Who's going to remember the bullpen phone saga now, or for the rest of eternity, after the Cardinals stormed back to win Game 6 in epic fashion and then finished off Texas last night in Game 7? St. Louis wrote an entirely new storyline over the span of 24 hours, one that will long be remembered as one of the most dramatic and unlikely championship runs in baseball history.

Greatest World Series ever? No. This one comes up just a bit short, but only because Game 7 proved a pedestrian contest (actually, it was the least-interesting game of the entire series, considering all the others were nip-and-tuck or included Albert Pujols' history-making performance). In my mind, the 1960, 1991 and 2001 Fall Classics remain at the top of the list, helped in large part by the manner in which each ended: With the home team walking off in victorious fashion in Game 7.

Speaking of home teams, this marked the ninth consecutive World Series Game 7 won by the club playing in front of its own fans. And why was last night's game played in St. Louis? Because on July 12, C.J. Wilson served up a home run to Prince Fielder, ensuring the National League would win the All-Star Game. A fair system for determining home-field advantage? The Rangers probably don't think so this morning.

But they're most likely the only ones complaining right now. Baseball just enjoyed a fantastic month of high drama, beginning with that once-in-a-lifetime final day of the regular season and continuing straight through a classic World Series. In between, 38 of a possible 41 postseason games were played, tying a record.

And now the offseason officially begins as 29 other clubs try to put themselves in position to do what the Cardinals did last night. The owners and players association are expected to announce a new collective bargaining agreement over the weekend -- speaking of remarkable, who would have ever guessed baseball would become the new model for labor peace? -- and that will set the stage for the Hot Stove League to kick into high gear.

Players will declare for free agency beginning Sunday. At the stroke of midnight Thursday, those free agents (including Chien-Ming Wang, Ivan Rodriguez, Livan Hernandez, Rick Ankiel and others) will be free to negotiate with any club they choose.

Sometime in the next few days (perhaps Monday) the Nationals will formally announce what we've all known for weeks: Davey Johnson will return as manager.

Before we know it, everyone will be gathering in Dallas for the winter meetings (Dec. 5-8). And the next thing you know, pitchers and catchers will report to Viera.

There will be plenty to report, analyze and discuss between now and then. But for now, let's sit back and appreciate the phenomenal month of baseball we just watched, admire what the Cardinals managed to pull off and wonder when we'll get to experience something like that here in Washington.

There's actually snow in the forecast today. Seems a fitting way for the 2011 baseball season to come to an end.


Constant Reader said...

Baseball's playoffs haven't quite deteriorated to the point that the regular season is made as irrelevant as hockey's is, but if you look for the most surprising champions of the wildcard era, it's probably these Cards and the '06 Cards. The '06 Cards were a mere five games over 500 and limped into the playoffs then started winning and kept winning. With these Cards, it's just so remarkable how easy it would have been for them not to be here. If our Nats don't throttle the Braves the last two games of the homestand, the Cards are home same as we are watching the World Series.

As I was telling the wife as we watched the Cards celebrate, it doesn't feel like we are close to being a 100-win juggernaut (e.g. Yanks and Phils), but a 89-win wildcard team next feels possible. And an 89-win wildcard team that snuck into the playoffs is celebrating their fool heads off.

I was emailing my co-worker who is a life long Cards fan after the game. I told him he is living my dream. And after living through the 'hopeless' years here, it is so much fun to have a realistic hope that it really could be us someday. Maybe soon.

Time to go take down my Nats flag off the house. I'll put it back up when pitcher and catcher report. Until then, see you here friends.

baseballswami said...

This last couple of weeks I have been thinking along those lines -- 89 wins and a great post season run is do-able. I think that the one thing the cardinals have done in the last two months is give hope to a lot of teams that don't have multi billion dollar budgets. They have made the playing field look level.They have also shown amazing grit, hustle, determination and a true team-first concept - all things that any team can have for free. I won't remember individual scores of games but I will remember how both teams played the game I love, in a way that I respect and admire

Dawn said...

So many circumstances effect what takes place on the baseball field. Injuries, squirrels, fans, the weather all can effect the outcome of each individual game.

For me? the most important ingredient for success is playing hard, all nine innings, each twenty-seven out, in each and every game. Tough to do over a 162 game season.

That is why having a good manager and a few veterans on your team is so important, to stress and show young players how hard it is to get to the World Series, not to mention winning it.

You think young Freese feels the same as Berkman? Freese deserved the MVP, but I feel happier for Lance who has played 13 MLB seasons, losing the 05' series with the Astros and now finally winning a ring. Pretty cool stuff.

Like Constant Reader expressed, there is hope for the Nationals and I for one am looking forward to Spring Training even more after watching this years World Series.

FS said...

Cards got hot at the right time, that's the only thing you can hold against them. Rays also got hot at the right time but failed to capitalize on it so you can't really consider Cards' run this season lucky. Besides they did beat the two best teams in NL to get here. 2006 was way different from this season. People don't realize that yes ATL losing helped but Cards won their games to get where they are. It was not simply that their opponents' losing was the reason behind Cards making it to postseason.

Anyways, I am going to strongly oppose the idea of one more wild card no matter what. This postseason is the reason why.

natsfan1a said...

One of the great things about baseball, imho, is that you never know. Aside from the fact that this team was left for dead a couple of months ago, and that the majority of pundits picked against them throughout the postseason, a couple of big $$ teams (one of them having been projected as a World Series winner before the first pitch of the season was ever tossed) were knocked out of it in the first round, and another was eliminated on the final day of the season. But these guys never seemed to give up, even as nobody gave them a chance. (Speaking of chance, how about that guy who bet on them to win it all, against prohibitive odds - in Vegas I believe?) No doubt their achievement gave hope to fans of many clubs, including this one.

So, hats off to the Cardinals, and as someone once stated in St. Louis, thank you for making this day necessary. :-)

natsfan1a said...

Yeah, here's the ="" betting story.

Also, forgot to give my quick-and-dirty costume idea for those who live in Cardinals country. Start with some team fan gear (hint: a t-shirt would be cheaper than a jersey), make face up to look like a zombie, and stick a fork in it (so to speak) - you're done. (You're welcome. :-))

natsfan1a said...

Take two on the betting story.

baseballswami said...

The veteran vs the younger guy - Berkman looked like he was really enjoying every minute and soaking it in. David Freese looked like a deer in headlights who will have to watch film to remember this. He was truly overwhelmed last night. Another great story, though , that would have been hard to script.

Natslifer said...

Congrats to the Cards but more importantly... it's hot stove time! I'm looking forward to some good Davey commentary this week about what he's looking for in '12.

natsfan1a said...

On the veterans front, nothing against Berkman, whom I've grown to like, but Rhodes had the longest MLB tenure without having won it all (although he would also have gotten a ring either way).

On the Hot Stove front, I seem to recollect that the Silver Sluggers are due to be announced soon.

Doc said...

Time for real Hot Stove baseball and the Nats.

Drew8 said...

It was a remarkable post-season beginning with the night of the cliffhangers that decided which teams would make the playoffs.

Game 6 has given us magic over the years.

I've always thought Game 6 of '75 Series was the best game I ever saw, from the galaxy of stars -- Yaz, Fisk, Lynn (Rice was out hurt) Bench, Rose, Morgan, Perez -- to the high drama (Tiant's guile, Evans' catch, Foster's throw, Carbo's tying clout, Fisk waves it fair.)

But this Game 6 might be even better.

Then again, the Red Sox-Mets Game 6 in '86 was one for the ages. The Mets, facing elimination, were down 5-3 with two outs and nobody on. Then up came Carter, Mitchell, Knight and Mookie.

Take it Vin:

“A little roller up along first... Behind the bag... It gets through Buckner! Here comes Knight, and the Mets win it!”

They're all fabulous games. But the fact that Freese is a hometown kid added to the drama in St. Louis.

Great stuff.

gonatsgo said...

I find myself struck by the fact that everyone has completely forgotten those "other" teams that did not make it this far. Give me blue collar baseball anyday. And - there were Clydesdales - how cool is that? I will probably revel in the excitement of the post season for a day or two and then on Monday I will be ready for awards, trades, announcements and the countdown until pitchers and catchers report. Spring training cannot come too soon for me.In the meantime - isn't the asian series coming up soon? More baseball!!!

JaneB said...

I'm with swami. This is doable.

And now, to share something a friend just sent me:

"It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the Spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the Summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the Fall alone. You count on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it the most, it stops."

- A. Bartlett Giamatti

What Paul's Dad said.

Twice I woke up thinking, "They really might do this!" Then: "No! They ALREADY DID IT. It's real." THEN: No more baseball. It' the Official Start of the Dark Period. Boohoo.

Anonymous said...

It most certainly was an amazing World Series, and we learned a few things. 1) The Cards are much more lucky than they are talented 2) That Ron Washington is a terrible manager 3) That C.J. Wilson and Neftali Feliz are incredibly talented pitchers, but turned into chokers when it came down to getting the job done.

The Rangers lost their chance to be world champions on Thursday night when they were within one strike, not once, but in three straight innings of winning the World Series.

When the baseball gods give you a chance to win, not once, not twice, but three times in a row and you don't take advantage, then you deserve to lose. Sadly, the Ranger players got screwed out of a world championship because of some very bad managing.

natsfan1a said...

Re. the Taiwan games, the MLB Network site lists the broadcast dates and times as November 1, 3, 4 and 6 at 9 p.m., and November 5 at 5 p.m.

My cable tv guide also lists two AFL games to be broadcast on MLB Network. The East/West Division game at 8 p.m. on November 5 (I believe that would be the Rising Stars Game) and a Military Appreciation game on November 11 at 8 p.m. Didn't find a listing for the AFL Championship game (which is on November 19, I think).

Anonymous said...

I've never Haskins to give McGwire his dueaz a player. But it seems to me that these Cards can hit all up and down the lineup. And the Cards already had the generally accepted best pitching coast h in baseball. Maybe the most important missing piece for the Nats is coaches?

baseballswami said...

Duncan and McGwire do seem to have had a positive effect on the Cardinals. They are also quite disciplined and seem to have a team ethic that the individual does whatever is best for the team. It can't change the individual talent level of a player but it seems to be able to bring out the most in each player.

John C. said...

In between the comeback to pass the Braves and being down to their final strike twice, the Cardinals also had to go to Philadelphia and beat Roy Halladay and the Phillies in an elimination game. Halladay was merely very very good instead of superhuman, and the Cardinals squeezed past the Philberts and on to Milwaukee. Great run.

Another season in the books - thanks to all (even the Anons) and to Mark Z. for giving us a place to travel the road together. How long until pitchers and catchers report?

SonnyG10 said...

I'm going through baseball withdrawal now. I am so thankful for this site where I can get a baseball fix, even if there are no games to watch. I'll probably even stoop to following the baseball trade rumors web site. Can't wait to find out what improvements the Nats are able to make for our team.

Section 222 said...

Mark, thanks for noting correctly that it was Fielder's home run that gave the Cards home field advantage. I've see lots of tweets in the past few days saying the Cards should thank Tyler Clippard for winning that game. Clippard didn't even pitch that well, allowing a hit to the only batter he faced that would have scored a run except that Hunter Pence threw Bautista out for the final out of the inning. He got the win becaue he was the pitcher of record for Fielder's blast in the bottom of the inning.

I suppose the only remotely fair thing about that game giving the Cards home field advantage was that Fielder's HR came off of none other than C.J. Wilson.

I'll miss baseball, and will miss this blog and it's knowledgable participants especially. Great quote from Rogers Hornsby says it all:

"People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring."

Thanks everyone.

Drew8 said...

Harper goes deep in three straight games and says Trout is helping him learn how to be a better OF.

Derek Norris is hitting a sizzling .356. He hit cleanup on Saturday.

As Derek hits, where will the dominoes fall?

Another_Sam said...

JaneB -- I"m already thinking Viera [or wherever] and the schedules typically appear in December. I'm not much on gum flapping during the winter; for me, the game is the game on the field. Play ball. It won't be all that long.

natsfan1a said...

Oh, you want some baseball, eh? (Me, too.) See this MLB Network press release regarding the broadcasting of three AFL games.

NatsJack in Florida said...

I know this isn't the place...but how can anybody possibly think that the Redskins are closer to being relevant than the Nationals is totally beyond me.

Once self proclaimed King of everything football signed his clone to be head coach, I knew my days of even caring about a once loved passion was over.

It's made my love for the Nationals even stronger.

Jim Webster said...

NatsJack speaks for me, a one-time fanatic who once vacillated in the Sonny v. Billy QB sweepsakes. This WS confirmed my loyalty to The National Pastime.

My new proposed sports calendar:

Nov. 1. Declare NBA season over.
Nov. 4. Declare NFL season over, putting Skins out of misery.
Nov. 11. Super Bowl. Ravens vs. the Pack.
Jan. 1-2. College bowl games.
Jan. 9. Pitchers and catchers report.
Jan. 10. Rent a condo near Viera.

the afl store said...

I also can't believe how the season ended, I've been a huge fan of them ever since.

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