Who could have imagined this kind of World Series game—Yogi Berra, or Rube Goldberg? How many times have you heard Berra’s Law—it ain’t over until it’s over—cited and quoted, and how many times have you seen it proven only too true?
That many? Well, you didn’t really see it until you saw it, and if you were watching Game Six of this World Series Thursday night, oh, brother, did you saw it.
“If that’s not the best postseason game of all time,” Lance Berkman huffed and puffed, when it was over in a 10-9 St. Louis Cardinals win that not even the Cardinals, never mind the Texas Rangers, can quite believe happened, “I don’t know what is.”
Actually, it was probably the best or at least in the top three of all time from the opening pitch of the ninth inning until David Freese’s leadoff bomb in the bottom of the eleventh finished its flight—two innings after his standup triple tied it up at seven with the Cardinals down to the first of two final strikes in the first of two such innings on the night. At minimum Game Six was the most surrealistically breathless two and a half innings in World Series history preceded by eight of maybe the ugliest World Series innings fathomable.
“I been in this game a hundred years but I see new ways to lose I never knew were invented yet,” Casey Stengel used to crow about his 1962 New York Mets. “I don’t know what to call it,” said one of his outfielders on that crew, Richie Ashburn, nearing the end of a Hall of Fame career, “but I know I’ve never seen it before.
If the Ol’ Perfesser and Mr. Putt Putt were watching Thursday night’s follies from his bleacher seat in the Elysian Fields beyond, they were probably sprinkling some seasoning on his crow. Maybe a little pepper, a little horseradish, and a lot of seasoned salt. “Amazin’” would have been the understatement of the century. You could hear them now, marveling they’d seen new ways to win that they never knew were invented yet.
They wouldn’t know what to call it, but they know they’d never seen it before. Neither had we. Certainly not coming down to your final strike of the Series twice in two innings, tying it up both times, then winning it with a first-pitch launch in the bottom of the eleventh.
And we get the first Game Seven since the Anaheim Angels flattened the San Francisco Giants following some late-inning Game Six heroics. Only those Angels had nothing on these Cardinals. Those Angels did it the easy way compared to this, and those Giants didn’t have half the moxie of these Texas Rangers trying to hold them off. At least Ron Washington didn’t even think of trying to give the game ball to one of his suddenly-beleaguered pitchers the way Dusty Baker did with Russ Ortiz.
But the Rangers now have to play a seventh game in which the advantage of momentum might seem to be in the Cardinals’ hands. Don’t bank on that one just yet, though, folks. The most unpredictable sport can be predicted to promise this much: this Game Seven isn’t likely to be won the easy way by either side.
God only knows the Rangers, who had their first World Series title ever a strike within their grasp twice in two innings, know how it feels to lose it the hard way. And God only knows the Cardinals, who seemed to be doing everything in their power since the middle of Game Five to hand the Series to the Rangers on a steaming hot plate, know how it feels to win the harder way.
To the Rangers, you simply say: Shake hands with the 2002 San Francisco Giants. Have one on the house, courtesy of the 1986 Boston Red Sox. For dessert, a slice of humble pie, courtesy of the 1985 Cardinals. Now pick yourselves up, dust yourselves off, try to forget that Ron Washington made sure Derek Holland (Game Four hero, with eight and a third shutout innings; Game Six star with stellar middle relief) won’t be available even to face one hitter, and start Game Seven without even thinking about Game Six.
The ’02 Giants couldn’t. ’86 Red Sox couldn’t. The ’85 Cardinals—oh, boy, they couldn’t. Friday night is going to be the Rangers’ hour to man up full. It’s also going to be both sides’ hour to prove they can actually play blemish free baseball to close the season and have one or the other come away with a title that has no margin for mayhem attached to it.
Good luck with that. What the hell kind of fun would that be? You don’t really expect this World Series to end with a whimper after the bang that got it to this point in the first place, do you?
With Jason Motte working the ninth in a save situation that really meant saving the Cardinals from any fate worse than two runs by which to commit Series suicide, the fun began in earnest when Motte jammed Nelson Cruz into a bouncer back to the box, walked Mike Napoli (who was probably going to win the Series MVP award if the Rangers managed to close it out), got David Murphy (a mid-game replacement) to force Napoli on a hopper to shortstop, and got pinch hitter Endy Chavez (once a postseason hero himself, as a 2006 Met) to fly out to right.
Washington brought in his closer, Neftali Feliz, to nail down his third Series save and the Rangers’ first Series rings. Feliz opened by swishing Ryan Theriot (also a mid-game replacement) but Albert Pujols lined one to the back of left field for a standup double. Berkman took a four pitch walk, but Feliz nailed Allen Craig on a called third strike, throwing maybe the filthiest slider of the game and just hitting the zone. Washington ordered the Rangers into the no-doubles defence, and Freese—facing Feliz for the first time in the Series—was brought down to his and the Cardinals’ final strike.
But Freese, the National League Championship Series MVP, drove a strike two pitch off the right field wall just beyond Cruz’s reach, the ball bounding back toward the infield and Pujols and Berkman scoring as Freese pulled into third standing up.
This was be better than the Cardinals deserved, after spending most of the night fielding like Little Leaguers, running the bases like little old ladies, pitching—as did Lance Lynn in serving back-to-back bombs to Beltre and Cruz in the seventh—as though they were anxious to see just how far the Rangers’ power men could send balls in flight, and seeing one of their own, Matt Holliday, get picked off with the bases loaded and one out, costing him a pinkie bruise that will keep him out of Game Seven, while still being unable to solve Holland.
Busch Stadium’s hysteria lasted just long enough for Elvis Andrus to slash a one-out single up the pipe in the top of the tenth and Josh Hamilton, on the first pitch, to drive it over the right center field fence. Another two-run Texas lead. And another final strike facing the Cardinals in the bottom of the inning, with Daniel Descalso and Jon Jay aboard thanks to back-to-back inning-opening singles and standing in scoring position when Kyle Lohse—the better bunter among the pitchers to which La Russa was left on his bench—bunted them over neatly enough, but Theriot, facing Scott Feldman spelling Darren Oliver, bounced out to third.
After Washington ordered Pujols walked to load the pads despite having a righthander-to-righthander matchup, and with the Rangers again in the no-doubles defence, Berkman shook off the second final-strike and lofted a quail to center that dropped in to send home Jay with the tying run. Jake Westbrook kept the Rangers to one uncashable single from Napoli in the top of the eleventh, and Washington sent Mark Lowe out to open the bottom against Freese.
What about the Rangers, who didn’t look too pretty themselves with Young committing two errors at first base that led to a couple of unearned Cardinal runs, no Ranger able to bunt unless he had a plank for a bat, and a spell of three consecutive walks to force home another Cardinal run? They would find out when Lowe squared off against Freese.
One pitch. One changeup that hung like a tuxedo in a valet’s closet. One flight over the center field fence.
“I’m just about out of breath,” Freese laughed to reporters on the field afterward. “I just got beat up by thirty guys.”
Tony La Russa—whose Game Five bullpen communication breakdown got as close as it gets to wrecking his reputation as a master tactician and foresighted strategist, and who probably owes his team Hawaiian vacations for pulling that reputation back out of the incinerator, for the time being, anyway—could only say, “You had to see it to believe it.”
Except that La Russa sounded as if he really didn’t believe it. As if anybody really can just yet.