Game 7 Recap

The Comeback For The Ages came to an end on Friday night in St. Louis, as the Cardinals completed their incredible run to the 2011 World Series title with a decisive 6-2 win over Texas.  In recapping Game 7, it seems rather anti-climactic. After touching Chris Carpenter for two early runs, the Ranger offense shut down and their pitchers were in and out of trouble most of the night. In reality, Game 7 was won two nights ago when a rain delay pushed everything back a day and enabled Carpenter to get the ball instead of Kyle Lohse, who’d been hit hard in Game 3, as was Texas counterpart Matt Harrison who did pitch for the Rangers. The rain delay shifted the pitching dynamic away from the Ranger strength, which is depth and to the Cardinal strength, which was the having the single best starting pitcher available in the Series.

Yadier Molina had the biggest at-bat of the seventh game, when he came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth. St. Louis held a 3-2 lead and this was their second straight inning with men on at least second and third. Had the Rangers escaped only down a run they could have gotten a needed momentum shift going into the final four innings. As it was, Molina walked on a 3-2 pitch that was just a hair outside—a close call, but I thought it did just miss—and then Rafael Furcal was hit by a pitch for another run, and the rest was just counting down the outs.

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I’ve pointed out this out before on the Notebook, but it has to be said again. This comeback story isn’t just about the two obvious storylines of Game 6 or of being 10 ½ games out of the wild-card on August 25. By themselves, those are pretty compelling points regardless, but there’s more. They were down 4-0 in Game 2 of the Division Series against Philadelphia, with Cliff Lee on the mound, ready to face an 0-2 hole. They won that game. Most important, St. Louis was left for dead all the way back on February 23 when it was announced Adam Wainwright was lost for the year with elbow surgery. This was one of the National League’s best pitchers, the undisputed ace of the staff, and he was gone. St. Louis, by all rights, should have been finished right there. By rights, we should have saluted them for maybe an 85-win season that was testimony their ability to at least have a winning record without their ace. As it was, they won a title.

Which brings me to a final point. I know a lot of people are going to look at this as yet another example of how regular season success really means nothing in the playoffs, and that October is about nothing more than who happens to get hot.  And the Cards will be seen as an example. I disagree. There’s no denying their victory over the 102-win Phils in the Division Series was a big upset, but once the Phils were out of the picture, St. Louis was as good as anyone left in the field. If Milwaukee’s Shawn Marcum would have pitched as badly in the first half as he did in the second half, the Cards would’ve won the division. All of the American League teams were good, but had flaws—no different than St. Louis. There’s no question you do have to be hot to some extent, and you might need one miracle, as the Cards did in Game 2 in Philadelphia. But once they got that miracle, they were an even matchup with everyone the rest of the way and in the end just found to get it done. This wasn’t about “randomness” as I’ve heard sabermetric types argue. This was about a veteran team with a lot of big-time hitters that knew how to get it done in big games. They did it, over and over again. It’s rare for hitting to trump pitching in the postseason, but Pujols, Berkman, Freese, Molina and Allen Craig made it happen.

And actually I do have a second final point to make before we go into the offseason. The single best thing Albert Pujols could do for himself and the fans of St. Louis is to go elsewhere. How can he possibly top this moment  in St. Louis? I’m not suggesting he go to the Cubs or anywhere in the National League, but what if say, a benign American League team like the LA Angels put out big money to get him. He’d be out of the league, would have make an interleague stop every once in a while and the lasting memory of Albert in St. Louis would be him dancing on the field the night of October 28, 2011.