Friday, October 28, 2011

We Need to Talk About Game Six of the 2011 World Series

Posted By on Fri, Oct 28, 2011 at 10:33 AM

I wanted this post to be accompanied by a .gif of Nolan Ryan not blinking as his jowls sag inexorably into his shoulders at the rate of continental drift, but the art department isn't in yet, so this post will be accompanied by the chart whose bottom left quadrant explains, really, so much about last night's drop-dead amazing Game 6.

Anyway. My hope, after Game 2, was that this year's series would return to the NL park for games 6 and 7, so we could see which would happen first, Ron Washington burning through all his relief pitchers in a coke-addled arm-waving frenzy, or Tony La Russa playing righty-lefty matchups so fervently, from the third inning on, that he would have no choice in a crucial late-inning at-bat but to let the Rally Squirrel hit for himself.

The latter, apparently. From a text I sent my brother last night:

How do you have a pitcher batting for himself down 2 in the bottom of the 10th in the world series? Anyway, watch La Russa pinch hit for his pitcher with another pitcher, just so that he can do some fucking *managing* right here.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that La Russa would have one pitcher announced as a pinch-hitter, then called back for a different one. He was shortsightedly burning pinch-hitters for matchups even after he ran out of pinch-hitters! Ah, but a savvy move regardless, Buck and McCarver explain, because Kyle Lohse is a better bunter then Edwin Jackson. He then lays down a bunt so bad it went over the head of the charging third baseman. (See chart above.) And of course he doesn't then put Lohse (or Jackson, obviously) in to pitch, because in Jake Westbrook La Russa had a worse pitcher who could go multiple innings ready to go.

Then, in the top of the 11th, with the Rangers putting a runner on against the run of play, Buck and McCarver applaud Washington's seeming inclination to let Scott Feldman hit for himself so he could pitch the bottom of the 11th, despite their crack production team having cut in for repeated sweaty, tear-choking, butt-clenching close-ups of Feldman during the Berkman at bat—I spent my entire childhood and adolescence playing on overmatched baseball teams, and I've never seen somebody who so manifestly didn't want to throw the next pitch. It was like Ben Gazzara trying to work himself up to kill the Chinese bookie. When Feldman walks from the on-deck circle back to the dugout before a pinch-hitter is even there to relieve him, Buck and McCarver are confused, which frankly demonstrates an Asperger's-level inability to recognize basic facial cues.

La Russa had to let his pitcher hit because his incredibly intrusive and aggrandizing managerial logic left him with no choice, but Ron Washington was all about it! (He was also all about sprinting out of the dugout and windmilling his arms like a guy trying to land a plane from the ground below as an AL starting pitcher in a warm-up jacket sprints around to score from second on a bloop single.) With two guys on, up 4-3 in the top of the 5th, a chance to break the game open, he leaves in Colby Lewis, who's given up three runs in four innings already, even with his Game 4 winner ready to go on his side day.

None of which matters in the end, of course, because Nelson Cruz, like a reverse version of Reggie Sanders on the Spezio homer in Game 6 of the 2002 series, completely loses track of where the wall is, leaping almost before the warning track.

(Off the top of your head: can you remember a World Series that ended on an excellent defensive play? I really cannot.)

Sloppy defense—of which, whoo boy, there was plenty!—actually makes for panicked, exciting baseball, and adds another comic, human dramatic dimension to a game with no shortage of straight-up heroism, tragedy, and historical quirk.

The Cardinals losing their #5 hitter and leftfielder to a jammed pinky incurred getting picked off third base in the 6th inning of a tie game in a possible clinching game of the World Series. Gimpy Josh Hamilton one-arming a go-ahead home run after the deflating Freese triple; Darren Oliver, an 18-year veteran whom the Rangers traded away twice, once to the Cardinals and once for Carl Everett, and the Cardinals cut lose twice, coming out to try to close the game; Pujols, quiet all game, squaring up on a bad pitch and doubling to start the rally. The Rangers being "one strike away" in both the bottom of the ninth and the bottom of the tenth. The fact that we get to do it again tonight, the first Game 7 in almost a decade. I have never been prouder to be an American.

For the record: Teams with walk-off extra-inning Game 6 wins in an era's undisputed greatest baseball game are 1-1 in Game 7.

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