The Cardinals Rally To Overcome…The Cardinals?

Was that the greatest World Series game ever played?

For games in which a team, having put itself on the precipice of elimination because of managerial and/or strategic incompetence, then stumbles all  over itself in all the fundamentals for eight innings, and still manages to prevail? Yes – Game Six, Rangers-Cardinals, was the greatest World Series Game of all-time. I’ve never seen a team overcome itself like that.

But the Cardinals’ disastrous defense (and other failures) probably disqualifies it from the top five all-time Series Games, simply because it eliminates the excellence requisite to knock somebody else off the list. Mike Napoli’s pickoff of Matt Holliday was epic, and the homers of Josh Hamilton and David Freese were titanic and memorable. But history will probably judge the rest of the game’s turning points (Freese’s error, Holliday’s error, Holliday’s end of the pickoff, Darren Oliver pitching in that situation, the Rangers’ stranded runners, Nelson Cruz’s handling of the game-tying triple, the failures of both teams’ closers) pretty harshly.

For contrast, in chronological order here are five Series Games that I think exceed last night’s thriller in terms of overall grading.

1912 Game Eight: That’s right, Game Eight (there had been, in those pre-lights days at Fenway Park, a tie). The pitching matchup was merely Christy Mathewson (373 career wins) versus Hugh Bedient (rookie 20-game winner) followed in relief by Smoky Joe Wood (who won merely 37 games that year, three in the Series).  Mathewson shut out the Red Sox into the seventh, and the game was still tied 1-1 in the tenth when Fred Merkle singled home Red Murray and then went to second an error. But the Giants stranded the insurance run, and in the Bottom of the 10th, as darkness descended on Fenway (the first year it was open) there unfolded the damnedest Series inning anybody would see until 1986. Pinch-hitter Clyde Engle lofted the easiest flyball imaginable to centerfielder Fred Snodgrass – who dropped it. Hall of Famer Harry Hooper immediately lofted the hardest flyball imaginable to Snodgrass, who made an almost unbelievable running catch to keep the tying run from scoring and the winning run from getting at least to second or third. Mathewson, who had in the previous 339 innings walked just 38 men, then walked the obscure Steve Yerkes. But Matty bore down to get the immortal Tris Speaker to pop up in foul territory between the plate and first, and he seemed to have gotten out of the jam. Like the fly Holliday muffed last night, the thing was in the air forever, and was clearly the play of the inward rushing first baseman Merkle. Inexplicably, Mathewson called Merkle off, shouting “Chief, Chief!” at his lumbering catcher Chief Myers. The ball dropped untouched. Witnesses said Speaker told Mathewson “that’s going to cost you the Series, Matty” and then promptly singled to bring home the tying run and put the winner at third, whence Larry Gardner ransomed it with a sacrifice fly.

1960 Game Seven: The magnificence of this game is better appreciated now that we’ve found the game film. And yes, the madness of Casey Stengel is evident: he had eventual losing pitcher Ralph Terry warming up almost continuously throughout the contest. But consider this: the Hal Smith three-run homer for Pittsburgh would’ve been one of baseball’s immortal moments, until it was trumped in the top of the 9th by the Yankee rally featuring Mickey Mantle’s seeming series-saving dive back into first base ahead of Rocky Nelson’s tag, until it was trumped in the bottom of the 9th by Mazeroski’s homer. There were 19 runs scored, 24 hits made, the lead was lost, the game re-tied, and the Series decided in a matter of the last three consecutive half-innings, and there was neither an error nor a strikeout in the entire contest.

1975 Game Six: Fisk’s homer has taken on a life of its own thanks to the famous Fenway Scoreboard Rat who caused the cameraman in there to keep his instrument trained on Fisk as he hopped down the line with his incomparable attempt to influence the flight of the ball. But consider: each team had overcome a three-run deficit just to get the game into extras, there was an impossible pinch-hit three-run homer by ex-Red Bernie Carbo against his old team, the extraordinary George Foster play to cut down Denny Doyle at the plate with the winning run in the bottom of the 9th, and Sparky Anderson managed to use eight of his nine pitchers and still nearly win the damn thing – and have enough left to still win the Series.

1986 Game Six: This is well-chronicled, so, briefly: this exceeds last night’s game because while the Cardinals twice survived two-out, last-strike scenarios in separate innings to tie the Rangers in the 9th and 10th, the Met season-saving rally began with two outs and two strikes on Gary Carter in the bottom of the 10th. The Cards had the runs already aboard in each of their rallies.  The Red Sox were one wide strike zone away from none of that ever happening.

1991 Game Seven: I’ll have to admit I didn’t think this belonged on the list, but as pitching has changed to the time when finishing 11 starts in a season provides the nickname “Complete Game James” Shields, what Jack Morris did that night in the 1-0 thriller makes this a Top 5 game.

There are many other nominees — the Kirk Gibson home run game in ’88, the A’s epic rally on the Cubs in ’29, Grover Cleveland Alexander’s hungover relief job in 1926, plus all the individual achievement games like Larsen’s perfecto and the Mickey Owen dropped third strike contest — and upon reflection I might be able to make a case to knock last night’s off the Top 10. But I’m comfortable saying it will probably remain. We tend to overrate what’s just happened (a kind of temporal myopia) but then again perspective often enhances an event’s stature rather than diminishing it. Let’s just appreciate the game for what it was: heart-stopping back-and-forth World Series baseball.

32 Comments

Your point about Cruz was right on. Any above average Right Fielder catches that sucker and game/series over.

As terrible as Cruz’ fielding was there, it doesn’t come close to the fielding incompetence of Bill Buckner that gave the Mets the win in Game 6 in 1986. 999 out of 1,000, any first baseman good enough to play Major League Baseball catches Mookie’s grounder, and the game is over with the Red Sox winning the World Series. Cruz’ fielding on that play was terrible, but Buckner’s error was probably the single-biggest f-up by a fielder in World Series history.

I completely disagree with your opinion on the blunders. If anything, they make the game better. A dropped fly ball is more exciting than single through the infield and carries way more drama with it. That game last night was crazy and was definitely the best baseball game (or game, period) that I’ve ever watched.

I was thinking the same thing.

Don’t see how you can disqualify last night because of the blunders and then talk about 1912, 1960, and 1986, which had their fair share of blunders as well.

Absolutely – in ’86 the tying run scored on a wild pitch! The winning run went through a dude’s legs! Pretty it was not. This year’s Game 6 had healthy doses of horror and excellence. Despite Nelson Cruz’s misadventures, Freese really did a phenomenal job of hitting. His game-tying triple was on a 98.6 mph heater (the fastest pitch he’s hit in his entire CAREER). And the walk-off homer was on a changeup from Mark Lowe. Before that moment, righthanders had seen 44 changeups from Lowe. They put only 3 of them into play, all for outs.

1986 was ultimately won because of an error.

Won’t knock what the Mets did to set things up prior to that error, but the fact is almost any other first baseman out there other than Buckner makes the catch and the game is over with the Red Sox winning the World Series. There was an enormous amount of luck in how that game turned out for the Mets.

It’s interesting to read about Fred Merkle in 1912 considering what happened in 1908 against the Cubs (a historic moment I oddly hadn’t heard of until I was watching Countdown with Keith Olbermann a few years ago). But speaking of boneheaded plays, I don’t think a game has to be well-played to be a classic. It just has to be memorable. And last night’s game had everything. My family didn’t have a TV when I was a kid and they hate baseball (the Republicans!) but somehow I was able to see Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. I don’t think that could be topped. For one thing, you can have blunders like Holliday and Buckner (to compare smaller things with large) but the greatest World Series moments have been between powerhouse teams. These Cardinals and Rangers are feisty and entertaining but they aren’t great teams. The Red Sox and Mets had great teams– Game 6 of the NLCS was arguably more entertaining than Game 6 of the World Series, meaning the Mets had to get past a tough Astros team with ex-Met Nolan Ryan and Scott with his nail file. The story behind the film footage of 1960 is almost as interesting as the game. The Old Groaner Bing Crosby was too nervous to watch the game or didn’t want to jinx it so he had it taped, and then Mazeroski hit it where the blue of the night meets the gold of the day. I was watching my Yankees DVD the other day and Whitey Ford was talking about how he should have pitched Game 1 and been lined up to pitch Game 7. The most memorable Game 6 for me: 2009. It ended eight years of misery.

Gary Carter wasn’t the only batter to come up that inning with two strikes on him in 1986. Every Mets hit came with two strikes on the batter. Look at how many big hits that the Mets had in Game 7 with two strikes on them.

And beyond that – even if Buckner fields the ball, no way that he gets Mookie Wilson at first base. Watch the bottom of the screen on the replay. As the ball goes through, Mookie is turning first and heading for second. No way that Buckner (a terrific player for his whole career) beats him to first and Bob Stanley (who has never gotten “credit” for his contributions in that game or the Bucky Dent game in 1978) wasn’t covering first. At the best for the Red Sox, it would have been men on 1st and 3rd with Howard Johnson coming up.

You and Keith are both wrong. Carter hit a single on 2-1. Knight was in the hole 0-2. That was the only time the Mets were one strike away from elimination (this year’s Game 6 featured 2 such moments, to Freese and Berkman). As for “how many big hits” the Mets had in Game 7 with two strikes – only 2 of their RBI’s came with two strikes, both times from Ray Knight.

And I just watched the Buckner replay again. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree, b/c to my eyes it looks like he has Mookie easily at first if he fields the ball cleanly. But I do agree about Bob Stanley – I think his wild pitch was more damaging to the Red Sox than Buckner’s error (that’s even born out mathematically – the WP lowered the Red Sox odds of winning by 41%, the error, 40%… although of course that’s on average, and might not be true in this context).

Carter was 0-2. Bob Murphy (a great announcer, who is truly missed by Mets fans) was doing the play by play on the Mets broadcast prefaced the pitch that Carter hit by saying “And so, my friends…” as if he thought the next pitch would be the third strike. Kevin Mitchell and Ray Knight’s singles were with two strikes (I’m not sure what the count was otherwise) and Mookie’s grounder was with two strikes as well.

It looks to me that Mookie would have been safe to me even if Buckner had fielded it. Buckner was not a short distance from the base, because he had shifted a little bit towards second to compensatre for Marty Barrett, who was edging towards second, trying to pick off Ray Knight, who was way off of second (something Joe Garagiola noticed in the NBC broadcast, but not Bob Stanley). All of that contributed to Buckner’s error.

The other point about Stanley – go back to the Bucky Dent game. He threw two pitches to Thurman Munson and Reggie Jackson that became additional Yankee runs that actually won that game, rather than Bucky’s homer. Red Sox fans must shudder at the memory of him coming out of the bullpen.

I’m just checking the box score on Baseball Reference – Carter was 2-1 on his single, Mitchell was 0-1, and Knight was 0-2. But I will concede that your memory may be more accurate than the box score (that sounds sarcastic but it’s not).

Okay, now I’m CERTAIN you’re wrong. Just watched a video replay of the bottom of the 10th on MLB.com. Carter definitely hits a 2-1 pitch for his single, Mitchell hits an 0-1 pitch.

Edwin –

The game was tied when the ball got past Buckner. Even if he had fielded the ball the game was going on.

Do you not rate game 6 of the ’91 series? That belongs in the top 10 as well. Puckett with TWO iconic plays.

I don’t think “best game” should be confused with “best played game”, so I have to disagree with you here. I think you’re talkin’ about best played game as if that makes it the best game. A lot of people seem to be forgetting the difference today. Last night’s game had a lil’ of everything in baseball all wrapped up into one. It was like a supreme pizza burrito or something. Those games you mentioned… aren’t quite that. At this point in time, I’m still trying to decide if 2011’s game 6 was the best game ever or just one of best ones. Still, don’t confuse “best game” with “best played game”. Errors make it so lively.

Actually, there was one error in 1950’s Game 7. In the bottom of the 2nd, Bill Virdon singled to right, which scored Don Hoak and Bill Mazeroski. Roger Maris, playing right, mishandled the ball which allowed Virdon to take 2nd. He was stranded there, so Maris’ error didn’t figure in the scoring. Compliments of Baseball Reference.

Sorry, that’s 1960’s Game 7, of course.

Read “The Glory of Their Times” to get several perspectives of the 1912 game, including that of Fred Snodgrass. Must have been a heck of a game to see.

And once again, KO’s anti-Cardinals bias shines through. But now that one of the greatest series of all time is over, I’ll be interested in seeing if he’ll finally give credit where it’s due, or spin yet another anti-LaRussa screed.

Should be interesting. I’ll thank KO for the prediction, rather than give a hearty “In your face!” Graciousness in victory.

I’d be remiss, though, if I didn’t give props to the Rangers. Classy team with a classy manager. I hope they win one someday…just not against the Cards!

2006 Game 6 tops 1975 Game 6 for one reason:

The Red Sox didn’t win the 1975 World Series.

Remember Pujols’ epic 2005 NLCS Game 5 HR that kept the Cards alive for one more game? The Cards were down to their last strike, trailing by two, bases empty, and David Eckstein gets a base hit, followed by Edmonds getting walked, followed by Pujols hitting a shot heard round the world that bounced off the windows in Minute Maid Park. Oh, and this was all done against Brad Lidge, who was by far the most lights out closer in the National League in 2005. That home run by Pujols probably would have gone down as the greatest October HR in a non-WS game in baseball history. If the Cards had won that NLCS. We all know what happened afterwards – the Cards went home, and lost Game 6 in a heartbreaker in the final game ever played in the old Busch Stadium. As such, Pujols HR will always be an exciting memory for Cards fans, but it ultimately didn’t give them enough to finish the job. Hence, its significance was greatly diminished from what it might have been had the Cardinals took advantage of the opportunity it provided.

Back to the 1975 Red Sox – epic as their Game 6 was, epic as Pudge Fisk’s walk-off HR was, we all know what happened 24 hours later. Red Sox Nation went from being on top of the world to being on suicide watch. What Fisk’s monumental HR did was give the Boston Red Sox the opportunity to end a 57 year World Series Championship drought.

The 2011 Cardinals DID.

Lance Berkman said it best after Game 6:

“The reality is that, if we don’t win tomorrow, this game becomes just a footnote to a nice season. But if we win tomorrow, this is the stuff of legends.”

The Red Sox did not capitalize on the opportunity provided to them by the Game 6 heroics of Carlton Fisk. The St. Louis Cardinals DID capitalize on the opportunity given to them by the Game 6 heroics of David Freese.

That makes all the difference in the world.

THIS. Well said. Thank you.

It was the greatest World Series game I have ever seen. Though it was the ONLY one I’ve ever seen, I will never forget it! My DISH was out so I went to my expert baseball man’s place to watch it. He was able to explain everything I didn’t get. Thanks to Baseball Nerd, I was just able to read this blog and understand it! How old were you in 1912? Best!

J.D–Thank you for continuing to point out Keith’s total bias when it comes to issues regarding the St. Louis Cardinals. I have been a fan of Keith’s for many years but his anti Cardinal rants are wearing thin on me. I understand not liking LaRussa, I don’t care for him myself, but his obsession with this hatred has made me question Keith’s objectivity and dare I say it, credibility, when it comes to baseball commentary. I realize it is Keith’s blog and he can say what he wants, but he has a reputation for being a smart baseball man and his obsession with his LaRussa hate impacts his credibility.

Hate LaRussa if you want Keith, but judge the team and its performance fairly and not through hate filled eyes. There is plenty to admire about the Cardinals despite LaRussa and his politics or whatever other issues you have with him. Give the team and the organization a break.

The Cardinals and Rangers both demonstrated in this game that they are great teams but not good teams. Some of the baseball they played was a reminder, as Bill Madden pointed out in the New York Daily News, of how badly played the game now is. But it was exciting, it was fun, it was riveting, and it was annoying–everything we want in a game. Now if only the announcers had been Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola, as in 1986 … or, for that matter, as one suggestion went for the best possible announcing crew, Vin and Teller.

Couldn’t agree with you more, Michael. What the great Mr. Scully could have done with the last few innings of the 6th game…

Hey Keith, wouldn’t you agree with me that the 7th game of the 1962 Series should rank up there? 1960 loser Terry, still in there in the 9th, giving up a bunt single to the late Matty Alou, who didn’t try to steal second AND didn’t score on May’s screaming double to right (due to a great play on the ball by Roger Maris!)
Finally the McCovey shot that grabbed to end it.
Keith, you’re too good to be remiss….

(Richardson grabbed it at second…)

No one has mentioned Game 7 of the 2001 Series?

2001 recap:
1. Kind of a good pitching match-up: Curt Schilling (arguably the greatest post-season pitcher of all-time, and especially untouchable in this particular post-season) vs. Roger Clemens (20-3 that year, and again…one of the greatest pitchers of all-time).
2. Great plays by major stars: Derek Jeter, Matt Williams, Bernie Williams, etc. Paul O’Neill, playing in his final game, cracked a double and an RBI single (scoring Jeter).
3. Alfonso Soriano’s thrilling golf-ball homer off Schilling, a go-ahead shot late in the game (8th inning), that seemed to be the final nail in the coffin. Why? Because:
4. In came Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer in baseball history. In that 8th inning, he did Rivera-type things; struck out 3, and, in particular, made Luis Gonzales, the Diamondbacks best hitter, look absolutely helpless.
5. Randy Johnson comes in to pitch for the D-Backs, despite ZERO days rest; he had thrown 7 strong innings the day before.
6. Mark Grace, one of MANY “Hall of Very Good” players in this game, stuns Rivera with his third hit of the game, starting an almost unbelievable 9th inning rally.
7. Gonzo caps it off with a single juuuuust over Jeter’s head (and Jetes was only “playing in” because the bags were loaded, with the Series-winning run on third base).

Did I mention that this was November baseball? Or how about that it was less than 2 months after 9-11? Or that the Yankees were the Goliath of the era, having won 4 of the previous 5 World Series, including the previous 3 straight, and the D-Backs were an expansion team, in only its 4th year of existence?

Kind of a dramatic game.

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