On Friday night the St. Louis Cardinals upended the heavily favored Philadelphia Phillies in a game for the ages. The Cardinals' Chris Carpenter out-dueled the Phillies' Roy Halladay in an instant classic as from the first hitter of the game to the final out every pitch was literally a suspense filled moment.
In fact there was so much story line to this game that there are actually several ways in which the game made history. Here are the top five historical rarities that became current realities in that game.
The Cardinals 1-0 win over the Cardinals marked the third time in the opening round where the series went to five games and was decided by one run. Here's a tidbit from the Elias Sports Bereau
All three winner-take-all games in this year's Division Series were decided by a single run. That matches the total of all winner-take-all games decided by the minimum margin over the previous nine postseasons (2002 to 2010), covering 15 such games.
It was also the second deciding game of the day. Again, from Elias:
Friday was only the third day in major league history on which there was more than one winner-take-all postseason game. There were three such games on October 11, 1981, each in Game 5 of a Division Series: the Dodgers defeated the Astros, the Expos beat the Phillies and the Yankees topped the Brewers; and there were two ALDS Game Fives on October 15, 2001: the Yankees won against the Athletics and the Mariners prevailed over the Indians.
A little further research reveals that none of those games were one-run games, meaning that this is the first time in MLB history that there were two one-run deciding games on the same day.
Yet another fact from Elias regarding Carpenter and Halladay and their status as former teammates. From Elias:
Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter were teammates with the Blue Jays from 1998 through 2002. Friday night's game was the second in postseason history in which former teammates opposed each other in a decisive game. The other occurrence was in Game 7 of the 2004 NLCS between the Cardinals (Jeff Suppan) and the Astros (Roger Clemens). Suppan and Clemens were Red Sox teammates in 1995 and 1996. Suppan (W, 6 IP, 2 R 1 ER) outpitched Clemens (L, 6 IP, 4 R, 4 ER) in that game sending the Cardinals to the World Series against the Red Sox.
While this might seem a minor detail it was a major part of the story, and in some ways an awesome backdrop for a baseball movie. Carpenter and Halladay aren't just former teammates. They came up through the system together and are "besties."
They take family vacations and fishing trips together. That such close friends would face provided a colorful backdrop to the story of the game.
Not only are Carpenter and Halladay former teammates they are also both former Cy Young Award winners. According to ESPN's pregame report this was another rarity.
Chris Carpenter and Roy Halladay lead the Cardinals and Phillies, respectively, in this game. Since the Cy Young Award was introduced in 1956, this is the third winner-take-all playoff game in which previous Cy Young winners faced off. The others were Pedro Martinez against Roger Clemens in the 2003 ALCS and Pedro Martinez against Barry Zito in the 2003 ALDS.
In the other two games the game didn't live up to expectations as none of the four pitchers made it through even eight innings. In the Martinez vs. Zito matchup the two gave up a combined seven runs. In the Martinez vs. Clemens matchup the Rocket didn't even make it past three innings and the two gave up a total of eight earned runs in just a combined total of 10.33 innings pitched.
That the Cardinals were even in the position to win was historic in itself as it marked the second biggest September deficit overcome in major league history and the largest in National League history. Only the Tampa Bay Rays, who overcame a nine-game deficit this year, have overcome a larger one.
However the Rays lost their series against the Texas Rangers. That means that the Cardinals have now overcome the largest deficit to make it to the NLCS.
A couple of other tidbits on this note. First, there is the irony that the Phillies swept the Atlanta Braves to end the season. Without that sweep, they would not have had to face the Cardinals.
The other is that the Cardinals have twice before overcome large September deficits to make it to the postseason. In 1964 they trailed by 7.5 games and went on to win the World Series. The team they trailed, and swept in the second to last series of the season to get to the World Series (there were no playoffs yet) was the Philadelphia Phillies. There, they beat the New York Yankees.
In 1934 on September 1 they trailed by 5.5 games and by 7.5 games on September 5. They again went on to win the World Series where they beat the Detroit Tigers.
This one is from baseball-reference, though it was also mentioned numerous times in the broadcast. This was only the third time in postseason history that a deciding game was settled 1-0.
Additionally this is the second game in postseason history where the only run of the game came from the hitter that led the game off. In Game 3 of the 1995 NLCS the Braves' Gerald Williams led off the game with a walk and scored the only run.
This was the only game in postseason history where the only run of the game was recorded before there was a single out recorded.
Again, we've got tidbit from Elais that shows how extraordinary the game was.
Roy Halladay allowed only one run in eight innings pitched. Carpenter and Halladay are the third pair of pitchers to throw at least eight innings and allow no more than one run in the same winner-take-all game. Montreal's Ray Burris and Los Angeles' Fernando Valenzuela hooked up in Game 5 of the NLCS; and St. Louis' Matt Morris and Arizona's Curt Schilling dueled in Game 5 of the 2001 NLDS.
Game Score is a stat derived by Bill James which assesses the quality of a pitcher's performance. In Morris' loss, he had a Game Score of 67. In Burris' loss he had a Game Score of 68. In Halladay's he had a Game Score of 72.
Based on that you can make the argument that this was the best game ever pitched by a pitcher in a losing effort in a deciding game.
It should also be pointed out that in the other two games the final score was 2-1. In those games both pitchers gave up one run. Halladay pitched the best game ever in a deciding game without a single bit of run support.
If Halladay's game was the best game in a losing effort in a deciding game, that should tell you something about Carpenter's performance. As they say, in order to be the best, you've got to beat the best. Our last tidbit again comes from Elias.
Chris Carpenter threw a three-hit shutout and did not walk a batter as the Cardinals eliminated the Phillies. Carpenter is the third pitcher in postseason history to throw a shutout and allow three or fewer hits in a winner-take-all game. The Yankees' Johnny Kucks threw a three-hit shutout in Game 7 of the 1956 World Series in Brooklyn; and the Dodgers' Sandy Koufax also threw a three-hit shutout in Game 7 of the 1965 World Series in Minnesota. But, both Kucks (three) and Koufax (three) walked batters in their gems. Based on this information, you can make a case that this was the greatest pitching performance in a do-or-die game in baseball history. Jack Morris might object since he threw a 10-inning shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series against the Braves. Morris allowed seven hits and walked two in that game.
If Halladay threw the best game by a losing pitcher in a deciding game, and Carpenter threw the best game by a winning pitcher, this certainly has to be on radar as best pitchers' duel in postseason history. Of course the stage wasn't the same as Morris and John Smoltz in Game 7 of the World Series.
Wherever you rank it though, this game surely was a game for the ages.