If you’re a fan of the game, 2011 has delivered more than its share of shocking and memorable moments the last two months. Moments that will linger horribly for some fans (Braves, Red Sox and, possibly, Rangers) and triumphantly for others (D-backs, Rays and, possibly, Cardinals).
One of the advantages (or rationalizations) for not having your team in the playoffs: You get to enjoy the game purely as a fan. Just sit back, have a beer or two, a burger and enjoy. No agita. No cursing opposing players. No grinding teeth. And, best of all, no heartbreaks. It’s all good; especially this season, thanks to two of the most amazing nights in baseball history.
I live on the West Coast, and usually I’m still working at game time. Fortunately, I high-tailed it to FOX Sports Bar in downtown Seattle and saw these two magical evenings of storybook baseball. First, there was the greatest day in regular-season history on the final day of the season. I will never forget the pain on the face of the lone Braves fan as he rested his head on the bar in utter disbelief after the Phillies came from behind to end Atlanta’s season. Then, 20 minutes later, I watched the only two Red Sox fans in the restaurant transform from fist-pumping fanatics to frozen and stunned corpses after the Orioles unthinkable comeback and Evan Longoria’s game-winning, Boston-eliminating one-iron down the left-field line. I didn’t think the baseball gods had it in them. But then the gods go and one-up the final night of the season with last night’s epic. Incredible.
I made it to FOX Sports Bar last night with the score tied 3-3 after four innings. Listening to internet radio, I was aware the game was anything but classic up to that point. Little League errors, questionable managerial decisions, sloppy base running. It was far from a masterpiece. But from the seventh on, everything changed. It was like your first trip to Disney World – ooh-and-ah-inducing wonder.
Exactly how spectacular was it? ESPN’s Jayson Stark listed some of the first-time-evers this game will be remembered for most.
- Only World Series game where the winning team was down to its final strike … twice.
- Only game ever to have the winning team trail five times.
- Only game in which the winning team was losing both in the ninth and extras.
- Only game to have two players (Josh Hamilton and David Freese) hit go-ahead homers in extra innings.
- Only game in the history of postseason baseball – 1,330 games in all – to have the winning team score in the eight, ninth, 10th and 11th innings.
These stats illustrate the magnitude and improbability of this game for the ages. It would be like a Super Bowl with the winning team scoring on three consecutive drives, capping off the come-from-behind victory with a 40-yard TD reception as time expired. I have yet to see a game quite like last night’s in any sport.
I must say, though, I was not alone in thinking the Cardinals season was over heading into the ninth, especially after Allen Craig didn’t even offer at Neftali Feliz’s third-strike pitch for out number two. The Rangers fans at FOX in Seattle were jumping wildly. You could feel the bounce. Some Cardinals fans in our section were sadly donning their coats and scarves while others ordered a final round to help drown their sorrows. Prior to Craig’s K, the walk to Lance Berkman caused scarf-wrapping pauses and St. Louis fans to stand at their tables – and it seemed more to be for a quick exit than a game-tying celebration.
After striking out Craig, Feliz did the unthinkable: deliver a hittable 1-2 pitch. It wasn’t even a borderline strike, it was there for the taking. And Freeze jumped all over it. Although Rangers fans are blaming Nelson Cruz for not catching the ball, my response is “have you ever played right field when a righty scorches a tailing line drive?” It’s a very difficult catch and much harder than it looks – add to it the pressure of the moment and it becomes the hardest catch in the history of baseball.
Suddenly, the scarves and jackets came off and, joyously, there was more baseball to be played. (Thank you gods!)
Then comes Josh Hamilton. He without a homer in 80+ plate appearances, delivers the Rangers to the brink once again. Back on go the jackets and scarves. Although, this time, the Cardinals fans weren’t so quick to leave. Heck, if they did it once before, they can do it again.
And that they did. First Berkman, then Freeze yet again. Baseball nirvana.
FOX and sports bars all over the country benefitted tremendously from the final three innings: Three rounds of congratulatory drinks were bought in 40 minutes – two for the Rangers and one for the Cardinals.
I’m still giddy. And now it’s a one-game season. Would it be asking too much from the baseball gods for one more memorable game? Let us pray.