After winning the World Series in seven games over the Texas Rangers, the St. Louis Cardinals are 2011's champions of baseball. If you're reading this and that sentence came as news, you're either a really out-of-touch baseball fan, or you're not a baseball fan at all and you're horribly lost. Where were you trying to go? Were you trying to go to the store? I'm afraid I don't know which store, so I can't help you. I'm sorry!
It was, of course, something of a miracle that the Cardinals made it into the playoffs in the first place. And once they were in the playoffs, they were the underdog against the Philadelphia Phillies, and then I'm pretty sure they were considered the underdog against the Milwaukee Brewers. There weren't a lot of people looking for the Cardinals to advance.
But the Cardinals advanced, and though they were again the underdog against the Rangers, they battled, they beat some more odds, and Friday night, they won 6-2 to wrap up the 11th title in franchise history.
It was a seven-game World Series full of twists and turns, and even though I hate myself for beginning this sentence like that, it's too late for me to do anything now, because I'm composing this on a typewriter. And it is by no means untrue. This series headed in a number of different directions before finally settling on its ultimate destination. It's not like this was the Red Sox/Rockies World Series from 2007, where the outcome was obvious before play ever began. This thing kept on changing course.
So I thought it'd be a good idea to review this World Series game by game. There is so much more to the Cardinals' story than the 2011 World Series. There was the Adam Wainwright injury, then Game 6 of the NLCS, and all the mathematical absurdity in between. But the World Series topped it all off, and in a way, you could argue that the World Series captured the Cardinals' whole season in a nutshell. Think about it. It's really deep.
So let's do this. Come with me as I trace the path from Game 1 through Game 7. It is a path unlike any other that I've ever followed.
Game 1 of this series, much like Games 2, 3, 4, and 5, feels like it happened about three months ago. It was C.J. Wilson and Chris Carpenter, remember? Wilson kept walking everybody but squeaking out of jams? Game 1 was the game that began the Allen Craig/Alexi Ogando narrative that seemed like it would be the dominant story before other stories later took over. With the game tied 2-2 in the bottom of the sixth, Ogando faced Craig with two on and two out and allowed an RBI single to right that stood up as the game-winner, because the Cardinals' bullpen was just about flawless.
Game 2 of this series was frighteningly similar to Game 1 for a long time. Sure, the pitchers were different. The pitchers were better. Or the lineups were worse. Or both. Your choice. But this was a 0-0 tie game, and then in the bottom of the seventh, with two on and two out, Alexi Ogando faced Allen Craig and allowed an RBI single into right. It was going to be Craig's second consecutive pinch-hit game-winner until the Rangers got to Jason Motte in the top of the ninth. A couple hits, some phenomenal baserunning, and a couple sacrifice flies allowed the Rangers to steal a crucial win right from the Cardinals' grasp.
Game 3 will be remembered as the Albert Pujols show, and that isn't unwarranted, as Pujols launched three home runs, including one of particular wonder. But before Pujols ever went deep, the Cardinals and Rangers went back and forth. A bad call opened the door for the Cardinals to go ahead 5-0 in the top of the fourth. Then it was 5-3, then it was 8-3, then it was 8-6. It wasn't until Pujols blasted a three-run shot in the sixth that it felt like the Cardinals were truly in control. They added on from there and the final score suggested a blowout, but it didn't tell the whole story.
Somewhere along the line, Derek Holland went from being a potential liability to being a shutdown weapon. That transition took place during Game 4, when Holland came two outs away from finishing a complete-game shutout. A complete-game shutout of a team that had just scored 16 runs the night before. The Cardinals collected only two hits, and though they hung tight for a while, Mike Napoli blew the game open in the sixth. Edwin Jackson was pulled after issuing his sixth and seventh walks. Mitchell Boggs came on in relief and immediately allowed a three-run homer to Napoli that effectively put the game out of reach.
Oh boy, oh boy. There were two games in this series about which books could be written. Game 5 was the first of them. It began innocently enough, with the Cardinals getting out in front 2-1. But then the missed opportunities. The botched hit-and-runs. The bunts. The miscommunication between Tony La Russa and his bullpen that led to Marc Rzepczynski facing Mike Napoli with the bases loaded and one out in the eighth inning of a tie game. The Rangers won this game, and it was called by many the worst game that Tony La Russa has ever managed. Tony La Russa has managed a lot of games. Even allowing for a certain degree of hyperbole, and even understanding that some of the things might not have been completely his fault, that kind of gets the point across. This game was a strategic eyesore.
I don't know how I'm supposed to boil Game 6 down into a single paragraph. Game 6 wasn't just an instant classic - it was, hyperbole-free, one of the absolute greatest baseball games ever played. And to think that's how it wound up after it began so sloppy. It looked like the Rangers had it when Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz went back-to-back in the seventh. It looked like the Rangers had it when Mike Adams retired Rafael Furcal with the bases loaded in the eighth. It looked like the Rangers had it when Neftali Feliz got to two strikes on David Freese in the ninth. It looked like the Rangers had it when Josh Hamilton launched a two-run homer in the tenth. It looked like the Rangers had it. So many times, it looked like the Rangers had it. The Cardinals got it. Game 6 is the reason David Freese eats for free in St. Louis for the rest of his life. The Rangers twice came within a strike of their first-ever world championship, and though they'd go on to lose Game 7, it's Game 6 they'll most regret.
10.0 (this is the maximum btw)
The thing about Game 7 is that it wasn't an unusually captivating game. It was by no means dull, but it was less about the play-by-play, and more about the context in which the play-by-play was taking place. Somehow, the Cardinals were still playing baseball. For so many reasons, the Cardinals weren't supposed to still be playing baseball. The Rangers surged out to a quick 2-0 lead, and Chris Carpenter looked bad, but it turned out that was all the damage the Rangers would do, and it didn't take the Cardinals long to respond. They got the runs back minutes later (Freese!). Allen Craig put them in the lead in the third. Then in the fifth, the Cardinals scored insurance runs on a walk and a hit batter, and it felt like the Rangers were toast. It felt like the Rangers had already wasted all the opportunities they were going to get. The feeling wasn't wrong. The Rangers would barely threaten the rest of the way, and it was with a remarkably stress-free ninth inning that Jason Motte put the finishing touches on one of the most amazing World Series and one of the most amazing seasons that baseball's ever seen.
7.5 for the game. 10.0 for the accomplishment.