The (New) Greatest Game Ever Played?
There are few more universally recognized baseball images than Carlton Fisk, staring desperately towards left field. His hands, thrown up in the air, seemingly in an effort to will the baseball right of the foul poll, and up over the mountainous green monster in Fenway Park. In the foreground, Pat Darcy slumps, forced to watch the manifestation of his mistake sail over the wall, and costing his team a chance at winning the World Series (of course history tells us that the Reds would eventually win Game 7, and the series, but ya know… details, right?). The date was October 21, 1975, and it was called “The Greatest Game Ever Played”, and for a long time, it really was.
The year is 2011, and the Texas Rangers are back to the World Series for the second straight year (having lost to San Francisco in 2010), facing off against the St. Louis Cardinals, who came roaring into the postseason, completing one of the greatest late-season comebacks in the history of the game. The series as a whole saw many memorable moments, such as Albert Pujols three home run performance in Game 3, Elvis Andrus defensive heroics in Game 2, or Derek Holland’s dominant performance in Game 4. The Rangers had taken control of the series, at four games to two, and momentum seemed to be on their side. The Cardinals looked like a team trying to save face after manager Tony La Russa’s misadventures with his bullpen the night before, resulting in having the incorrect pitcher out of the bullpen twice in the late innings. Texas was confident, feeling as though if they could gain the lead in Game 6, they could ride bullpen arms Alexei Ogando and Neftali Feliz to a title.
By the end of the first inning, the game had an aura of epicness to it. Seeing-eye base hits, defensive miscues, and moonshot home runs caused the lead to change 6 times in the first 6 innings. In the bottom of the 6th inning, the Cardinals seemed to be regaining momentum, thanks to a Michael Young error on what seemed a tailor-made double play ball created a bases loaded situation. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Mike Napoli throws a seed to third base, and Matt Holliday is picked off, abruptly derailing what seemed to be a prime situation for a Cardinals rally. The Rangers would answer with back-to-back home runs by Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz to take the lead, (and almost all hope) from the Redbirds. The game went to the ninth inning with the Rangers leading 7-5, and Texas called upon the fireballing arm of Feliz to close out the game and bring the Texas Rangers their first World Series title.
The inning started out well enough, striking out Ryan Theriot. One out. Next batter, Albert Pujols, in what many believed to be his last at-bat in a Cardinal’s uniform. It seemed poetic, that the greatest hitter to wear that red uniform since Stan Musial would end his career with it by ripping a double. Standing on 2nd base, he watched as his team put runners at second and third, bringing David Freese to the plate. There were two outs, and in the blink of an eye, Freese was down in the count, one ball, and two strikes. The Rangers were just one strike away. Freese lifted the pitch towards the right field wall, but playable. Nelson Cruz began moving backwards. He was not the fastest man, but he strode like a fielder who had a solid read on a catchable ball… except he didn’t. The ball continued to sail, and despite a desperate leap at the last second, the ball fell behind him, three runs scored, and by the time David Freese slid into third base, the Rangers lead had been erased, and the game would require extras to be settled.
If there was ever a time for an MVP to be, well… an MVP, this was it. Josh Hamilton stepped to the plate in the 10th, and Elvis Andrus on first base. The man many called “The Natural” swatted a majestic, booming home run off Jason Motte, giving the Rangers a two run lead, and another chance to close the book on a championship.
Lance Berkman lumbered to the plate in the bottom of the inning, with two runners on base and the count even at two. For the second time, the Rangers were one strike away from a title. Instead, Berkman singled up the middle, and the game was now tied. For the second time, the Rangers had failed to put away the St. Louis Cardinals. For the second time, David Freese strode to the plate, with a chance to change history. A pitch came in, and when the ball landed in the batter’s eye, and Joe Buck echoed the sentiments of his father saying that “We’ll see you, tomorrow night!”, the Cardinals had won Game 6. The hero of the day touched home plate, and the Rangers title hopes were put on hold.
The Cardinals eventually took Game 7 as well, robbing the Rangers of their first ever title, instead holding the crown for the 11th time. Like in
1975, Game 6 was not ultimately the final game of the series, but was so fiercely fought that many believed it had so deflated Texas, they simply could not bring themselves to finish the job.
Game 6 of the 1975 Series is an epic game, and truly worthy of being one of the greatest games ever played. It’s time for it to cede to the new champion though, where two swings from one man changed the course of baseball history.
Author: Adam MacKinnon (@AdamCMacK)