Cardiac Cards and an Ode to Game 7
Baseball, for its arguably excessive preoccupation with statistics, is a game unconstrained by numbers, unique among sports in how it exists ungoverned by the binds of space and time.
Beyond the holy measurements of 90 feet between the bases and 60 feet, six inches from the pitching rubber to home plate, no outfield fence or foul territory are of the same dimensions. No game clock, no timers, no periods or halves to mark the game’s progress. There are numbered innings, of course, but they act merely as markers in a game that lives as a series of moments.
Most contests end after nine frames, but sometimes fewer, if the weather decides otherwise. There is no end to extra innings, not until one team puts a score on the board that the other cannot match.
The only time this indefinite, perpetual nature of baseball is truly threatened, and what makes it so special, is Game 7 of the World Series. After spring training, an entire season’s worth of baseball and an October’s worth of playoffs, Game 7 is the one deadline that is non-negotiable.
For after Game 7, there is no more. No more practices, no more batting practice, no Game 8s. It is the the only elimination game for both teams, and after the last out, there is only a cold winter, filled with what could have been for one team and glory for the other.
For baseball fans, the Cardinals-Rangers matchup was a tremendous World Series. Games 1 and 2 were managerial chess matches, Albert Pujols homered three times in a historic Game 3 performance, Derek Holland responded with a pitching gem in Game 4 and Game 5 will be remembered by an inexplicable bullpen miscommunication that gave Texas a 3-2 advantage.
And then there was Game 6. For the baseball purist, this Game 6 was memorable only because of how bad the baseball was. A combined five errors and two passed balls/wild pitches, coupled with mental mistakes and subpar pitching, made the game more a comedy of errors than a competition between the last two remaining teams in baseball.
But what Game 6 lacked in fundamentals it made up for in drama, and its wild finish will be forever etched into baseball lore. Twice, the Cardinals rallied from two-run deficits. St. Louis was down to its last strike two times, once in the ninth inning and once in the10th. And finally, after four-and-a-half hours, David Freese, the hometown hero who grew up rooting for the Cardinals, homered in the 11th to send the series to Game 7—the first time it had gone to seven games since 2002.
The Rangers scored two runs in the first inning of the final game of the series, but when the Cardinals answered with two runs of their own, it became clear that they were not going to lose this game.
They had faced too many last outs and last strikes to lose it now. They had come back from the brink of defeat too many times and clawed back into a playoff race in what should have been far too late.
But here they were in Game 7 playing for the world title, and no deficit could deter them now.
If any team was going to make it to Game 7, it was going to be the Cardinals. St. Louis was left for dead when it fell 10.5 games back in the National League wild-card race late in August. The Cardinals just barely snuck into the postseason after a frantic push for the playoffs was realized on the last day of the regular season.
They went on to beat two division champions—the Philadelphia Phillies and the Milwaukee Brewers—to get to the World Series. And then they beat the Texas Rangers, a team that had not lost consecutive games since August 25th, in the season finale. It was one the greatest comebacks in baseball history, and the Cards are possibly the most unlikely champs ever.
Not only did the Cardinals have the slimmest of chances to win the World Series (AccuScore calculated St. Louis had a 0.2 percent change of just making it to the playoffs, let alone the World Series), but the postseason heroes were not a typical bunch to lead them to victory.
Lance Berkman, who looks like he may not know what a gym is, resurrected his career with the Cardinals this year after a disappointing interlude with the Yankees last season. In the decisive Game 6, he went 3-for-5 with four runs, three RBIs, a crucial walk in the ninth inning and a game-tying single with two outs in the 10th inning.
Most people outside of St. Louis did not know whether it was Allen Craig or Craig Allen before the series, but the utility man who bounced around the outfield made a name for himself with his clutch pinch-hitting heroics.
A godly performance was expected of Albert Pujols, and he delivered, as immortals always do, but every time he stepped up to the plate, the television announcers reminded us that it might be the last time we would ever see him in a Cardinals uniform.
It was a sublime end to the baseball season. A record 38 postseason games were played this year, and a record 13 were decided by a single run. Only the Cardinals ended with a champagne shower.
For everyone else, there’s always next year.
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