October 29, 2011 [LINK / comment]
The Cardinals are world champions again
Against all odds, the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series for the eleventh time last night. Game 7 (the first one since 2002) started off exciting, with both teams scoring two runs in the first inning, but after that the Rangers stagnated while the Cardinals added more insurance runs. Rather anti-climactic after that unbelievable Game 6. Ironically, as the word got around about what a great game that was, many "fair-weather" baseball fans tuned into Game 7, drawing the biggest TV audience (25.4 million viewers) since the 2004 World Series. (see MLB.com), even though that game itself was comparatively lackluster.
The way things turned out, one has to wonder whether Destiny or some other Supernatural Force was manipulating things on behalf of the Cardinals. I still can't get over David Freese's two-out, two-run game-tying triple in the bottom of the ninth inning, with two strikes on him. The Rangers only needed one more strike to become world champions, but relief pitcher Neftali Feliz apparently got over-anxious, and just threw it hard without thinking about location. Likewise, in the bottom of the tenth inning, the Cardinals were down to their last strike when Lance Berkman tied it with an RBI single. No team had ever come from two or more runs behind in the ninth or later inning twice in one World Series before -- yet another in a long list of historical records set by the 2011 postseason. And when that same David Freese hit that walk-off home run to the center field grass slope in the bottom of the 11th, it seemed just too perfect to be real. Why more people aren't serious fans of baseball, I don't know. Maybe that will change, with all the buzz generated by this postseason.
On October 24, I wrote that Mike Napoli was almost a sure bet to be named the World Series MVP, depending on who won Game 6 and Game 7. Well, those games went the Cardinals way, so it was almost a given that one of their players would get the MVP nod. Indeed, it was David Freese who received the award.
Some things I should have pointed out during the last few tumultuous days: Rangers starting pitcher Derek Holland pitched superbly in Game 4, only allowing two hits over 8 1/3 innings, but his only other pitching was for two innings as a reliever in Game 6. Too bad the rotation schedule didn't give him another chance to start. Another big factor behind the Rangers' success was their manager, Ron Washington. He is dead serious about the sport, and keeps a calm attitude in the face of adversity, but he is also as excitable as a kid while rooting for his player from the dugout. He's not just inspirational, he is a great strategist. If Neftali Feliz had thrown a different pitch and struck out David Freese, the Rangers would have won and Washington would have been acclaimed as a genius.
It's the first time since 1982 that a National League team has won the World Series for two years in a row. Coincidentally, it was the Cardinals who won that year. In both cases, a California team won in the preceding year: the Dodgers (in 1981) and the Giants (last year).
Some day I hope to actually see a World Series game in person (in Washington, perhaps?), but in the mean time it's a good feeling to say I was in that ballpark just ten weeks ago, walking in the same dugout where Tony LaRussa was "directing" the dramatic spectacle, and his boys were resting between innings.
It was the first time the World Series went a full seven games since 2002, and in fact, for the 2011 postseason as a whole, only three potential games were cancelled because a team had already clinched the respective title. The table below tabulates, for each series since the turn of the century, how many games were skipped in each round because one team had already clinched a series win.
(max. 20 games)
(max. 14 games)
(max. 7 games)
(max. 41 games)
In other words, only three of the maximum scheduled 41 games were skipped, which is a 93-percent rate. See for yourself on the Postseason scores page.
The fact that the last four World Series games this year were won by the home teams made me wonder how often that has happened in the recent past. The answer: in 2011, 2008, 2006, and 2002. (It also happened in 2004.) Then I noticed another curious pattern: In the year prior to the most recent three of those years, the away team won the last two games of the World Series: in 2010, 2007, and 2005. (Those series were either swept in four games or won in five games.)
Finally, I updated the Annual Chronology page with the World Series results, etc.