Adrian Beltre of the Texas Rangers celebrates with Mike Napoli after hitting a solo home run in the seventh inning during Game Six of the MLB World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on October 27, 2011 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
The big hero in Thursday night's Game 6 of the World Series was, obviously, David Freese. But a handful of Rangers came tantalizingly close to being big heroes instead.
I'm thinking of one of those big spinning wheels like you see in TV game shows. One of those big spinning wheels with pegs on them, and a bunch of different, I don't know, wedges that say different things. You know the things I'm talking about. I don't know what they're called, and I refuse to look it up because I'm in a lazy and stubborn mood, but I'm going to go with "pegwheel". I'm thinking of a pegwheel.
Thursday night's World Series Game 6 was basically a spinning pegwheel. There was no telling where it was going to stop, and just when you thought it was finished, it moved a little more. The thing went past the next peg. This is the third time I've used the word "thing" in two paragraphs.
It was a pegwheel of possible heroes. In the end, it settled on David Freese. Freese delivered a monumentally important triple in the ninth, and he delivered a monumentally important homer in the eleventh. Freese wound up with one of the great clutch performances in baseball history, which is funny when you consider his embarrassing dropped pop-up that led to a run earlier on. Freese will never have to buy another Budweiser in the city of St. Louis again, which is good, because no one should ever have to spend money on a Budweiser.
But while the pegwheel landed on Freese, it also very nearly landed on a handful of Rangers. Had this game gone just a little different - say, had the Rangers' bullpen been just a little better - we'd be talking about a different hero, a hero in a Texas uniform. What follows is a list of the Rangers who were almost the heroes of the evening.
Cruz might not be the best guy to list first, but he came up with a huge home run in the top of the seventh. Adrian Beltre's home run caught a lot of people by surprise - Cruz's was a colossal blast, and at the time it seemed to drive home the point that the Rangers were going to win. Later, in the ninth, Cruz came just this close to hauling in Freese's triple for the Series-saving out:
But Cruz came up short. And instead of being a hero, Cruz is even being discussed in some circles as a goat, as the perception exists that he should've been able to make the catch, and that he took a poor route.
The Cardinals were making a lot of noise in the bottom of the sixth. Alexi Ogando had walked in a run to tie the game, and the Cardinals had the bases loaded with one out. Then Mike Napoli made a snap throw down to third base to try to nail Matt Holliday, and Beltre successfully blocked Holliday with his cleat and tagged him for a critical second out. A few minutes after that, with the game still tied, Beltre led off the seventh and took Lance Lynn deep to right-center field for a go-ahead homer. In Beltre's first-ever World Series, he was coming up clutch when he had to, and the Rangers had to have confidence that they could protect the lead Beltre had given them. They couldn't.
Napoli has been a force all series, and things were no different Thursday night. He drew three walks. He drove home Nelson Cruz in the fourth. He singled in the 11th. He also had a pair of other shining moments. One was his snap throw pick-off of Holliday at third base in the sixth. Before that play, it felt like the Cardinals were about to go ahead; after that play, the sense was that the Cardinals wouldn't score another run.
The other shining moment was that this happened, and Napoli stayed in the game:
Look at that. That is the most ghastly thing. Napoli walked it off and stayed put. As the Rangers' catcher. That happened in the top of the fourth inning. Napoli played seven more innings. He made that snap throw pick-off despite an ankle that I can only imagine felt like someone was rubbing sandpaper on his nerve endings. Napoli's toughness and determination made him heroic, but it was all lost in the way the game played out.
And here we have the big one. It all seemed so perfect when Hamilton went yard. After everything - Hamilton's extended backstory, Hamilton's recent struggles and injury problem, the ninth inning blown save - Josh Hamilton delivered a two-run homer in the top of the tenth that stood to win the Texas Rangers their first-ever World Series. Hamilton himself probably figured he'd sealed the deal:
Hamilton was going to win the Rangers the World Series, and then the Rangers were going to celebrate the championship by spraying ginger ale. It's so perfect it's probably already a movie. Hamilton was to become an instant legend, never to be forgotten. And then the Cardinals came back, and then the Cardinals won, and Hamilton's home run was reduced from franchise-defining moment to fact. Josh Hamilton's home run is not among the greatest moments in Texas sports history - it's just another thing the Cardinals overcame. There's that word "thing" again. Dang it.