ST LOUIS, MO - Albert Pujols #5, David Freese #23 and the St. Louis Cardinals celebrate after Freese hits a walk off solo home run in the 11th inning to win Game Six of the MLB World Series against the Texas Rangers at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals won 10-9. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Last night's game was a reminder that there are games that don't necessarily need to be validated by a World Series title.
On October 5, 2000, I was hugging a stranger who smelled like a hot circus. It was a mixture of goats and straw, dung and goats, and I was drinking it in -- I wanted to splash the stink about my face like water from a clear, blue stream. It was Game 2 of the 2000 NLDS, and J.T. Snow had just hit a pinch-hit, three-run home run to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth inning. The place was an electrical fire, buzzing and popping like no stadium I'd ever seen.
And about 17 minutes later, the game was over and the Giants had lost.
For years after -- and still to this day, to some extent -- the Giants would play the home run in promos and ads. Snow did a mini-Fisk, willing the ball fair with his left arm. Every time I saw it, I wanted to grab my TV by the lapels and shake it. They lost that game, you idiots. They lost!
I still feel that way. It was a great moment in Giants history, but it wasn't a great three hours and 41 minutes in Giants history. There are better things to celebrate. But in my haste to dismiss that moment, I made the mistake of dismissing one of the greatest moments in World Series history. Ever since the 2000 NLDS, I tarred the Carlton Fisk home run with the same brush of sticky-loser tar. They lost that World Series, you idiots. They lost! How was that something to celebrate for decades and decades?
I get it now. I absolutely, 100% get it. If the Cardinals lose Game 7, they will be absolutely right to cherish Game 6 for the rest of franchise history. They will remember the David Freese bursts as the unthinkable, utterly improbable baseball moments that they were. Highlights be played on the Busch Stadium scoreboard for the next century, regardless if the Cardinals win or lose tonight..
Which isn't to say that the Cardinals should dust off their hands and clap each other on the backs with one hand, while holding fishing poles with the other. They'd still very much like to win the 2011 World Series if that's okay with everyone.
But win or lose Game 7, Thursday night was a game that was good enough to be a self-contained entity. It's a story good enough to stand alone. It doesn't need the coda of a championship -- though that would certainly enhance the story of Game 6, it doesn't need it. To put it in Star Wars terms, it was blowing up the first Death Star. Even though there were horrible space raccoons who came along two movies later to ruin everything, the initial triumph holds up on its own.
For years and years, I thought there was something slightly sad about the Carlton Fisk home run and how it was still celebrated in the present, as if it was just the best highlight that a downtrodden organization could dredge up. But it wasn't just a consolation prize for a team that could never win the real thing. Man, how it wasn't. It was just the end of something that lived on its own -- a beginning, middle, and end, with the end signifying the maximum amount of hope and pride that a team and its fans can feel about baseball.
The biggest difference is that the team in the championship drought got to hang on to the Fisk home run, at least. With the Rangers, it was as if the Fisk home run was hit against them, and they have to fight the ghosts of the championship drought. They'll have a lot on their minds. And if they win, they'll get the chance to look back and appreciate Game 6 as a brilliant part of a larger story. But only if they win.
The Cardinals have already collected enough excitement to last a decade. They have the furious late-season comeback, and they have the feeling of a berserk crowd screaming as loud as any crowd has screamed in the history of professional sports. Last night the Cardinals distilled everything that's great about the shared baseball experience and passed it out to 47,235 people who will tell the story for the rest of their lives, along with the millions who watched or listened to it. A loss in Game 7 wouldn't change much at all.