The Baseball Posts: Game Six And The Secrets Of The Universe by Adam Bunch

Oh, it was an ugly game. At first. The pressure was on: if the Texas Rangers won, they would clinch their very first championship in fifty years; if the Cardinals won, they would have a chance to win it all in the final game on Friday night with their best pitcher — former Blue Jay Chris Carpenter — on the mound. And if the pressure weren't enough, it was also really freaking cold. Numb fingers and racing minds are a dangerous combination in this sport.

The first six innings of last night's game provided some of the worst baseball the World Series has ever seen. In the 4th inning, Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday raced in to catch an easy fly ball — while screaming, for some strange reason, for his shortstop to take it instead. The players collided; the ball bounced off Holliday's glove. A few batters later, pitcher Fernando Salas tried to get a guy out at second and threw a ball into centrefield instead. In the bottom of the inning, Rangers first basemen Michael Young blew an easy ground ball. And then he did it again in the 6th. Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus threw one ball sailing past first base and then, on another easy play, froze up completely and didn't throw it anywhere until it was too late. Maybe most embarrassingly, in the 5th, Cardinals third baseman David Freese let a pop fly bounce off his head.

There were injuries too. At one point, the Rangers pitchers walked three straight Cardinals to load the bases. Holliday was on third base, with a chance to help make up for his dropped fly ball. Instead, he made another dumb mistake, letting himself get picked off third base on a throw from the catcher. That hadn't happened in a World Series since 197freaking2. He bruised his finger trying to slide back into the bag and — maybe mercifully — got pulled from the game. The catcher who threw him out, Mike Napoli, has been having an absolutely amazing Series. But only two innings earlier, it had seemed as if his season was over. Running into second base, he twisted his ankle into such an unnatural and gruesome angle that I'm not even going to post the photo here because it's so gross. (Click here instead.) It looked like he'd snapped his leg in two. He kept playing.

It wasn't until the 7th inning that either team did anything to suggest that they might actually want to win the game. By then, it was tied 4-4. Both starting pitchers had been knocked out of the game. The Rangers had turned to Derek Holland, an endearingly crazy 25 year-old with a teenager's peach fuzz moustache who had thrown an amazing 8 1/3 innings to win Game Four just three days earlier. The Cardinals had turned to Lance Lynn, who had accidentally pitched in Game Five thanks to a bizarre mix-up with the bullpen phone: they had misheard manager Tony LaRussa when he asked for someone else.

It was Lynn who cracked. First, he gave up a home run to Adrian Beltre (who had also hit one in Game Five, in spectacular fashion as he fell to one knee). And then another one to the very next batter, Nelson Cruz (who had hit six of them in the previous round of the playoffs — a new record). By the time the inning was over, the Rangers were up 7-4. The Cards answered with a homer in the 8th, but that wasn't going to be enough. Heading into the bottom of the 9th, they were still down by two. And they were going to have to face the Rangers' fireballing closer, Neftali Feliz.

Neftali Feliz looks to God sometimes
Feliz is good. So good, in fact, that I instinctively cheer for the other team when he pitches — not only can he throw the ball at more than 100 mph, but his pitches move too, whipping around like the downed electrical wire that kills Elijah Wood in The Ice Storm. It's not fair. Last year, he won the Rookie of the Year Award and helped take the Rangers all the way to the World Series. But they lost. This time, they were going to win. All he had to do was get three outs.

The first batter was no problem. Strike out. One down. But then Albert Pujols — who had blown everyone away with three home runs in one of the greatest offensive performances in World Series history during Game Three, but hadn't had a single hit in any of the other games — doubled. The next guy walked. The tying run was on base.

But Feliz bore down. The next guy didn't even swing at strike three, he just watched it go by. Two down. The Rangers were one out away from their first World Series championship. And it would be the first not just for the fans in Texas, but for every single player on the entire team. By some strange coincidence, every one of the 25 men on the Rangers roster had never won a championship. Feliz got one strike. And then a second. They were one strike away.

And then...

David Freese. He was born in Texas, but grew up in St. Louis as a Cardinals fan. In high school, he was considered to be one of the best players in all of Missouri, but when he didn't get drafted right away, he grew tired of the game. He was offered a baseball scholarship, but he turned it down. A couple of years passed before he realized how much he missed the game; he walked into a local community college and asked for a spot on their team. A few years later, he had made it all the way to the majors, and then the World Series, only to let a pop fly bounce off his head. Now, in the 9th, he was going to make up for it. With two outs and two strikes against him, he was going to hit a 98 mph fastball — and he was going to hit it far. It flew over the head of the outfielder in right. He kept running until he was standing on third. Triple. Two runs scored. The game was tied. Extra innings.

In the top of the 10th, the Rangers sent their superstar, Josh Hamilton, to the plate. Hamilton, like Freese, had also spent some time away from baseball. But for much darker reasons. In 2001, he and his parents were in a car accident — hit by a dump truck. As he recovered, with no baseball to play, living away from his parents for the first time, he fell in with the wrong crowd. Starting drinking too much. Doing drugs. Bad drugs. Like crack-cocaine bad. His addiction spiraled out of control. After repeatedly failing drug tests, he dropped out of baseball entirely. He didn't play in a game for three years. Then he found God, sobered up, and hit .359 with 32 home runs last year, enough to be named the American League's Most Valuable Player.

Josh Hamilton
This season, however, has been a challenging one for Hamilton. In April, he broke his arm. In July, he tossed a ball to a fan in the stands. The fan leaned out over the railing to catch it and fell to his death. In the World Series, Hamilton's playing with a painfully pulled groin. He can only swing with the upper half of his body, which means most of his power has disappeared. Heading into the extra innings of Thursday's game, he hadn't hit a home run in more than a month.

"I would tell y’all something, but y’all wouldn’t believe me," he told reporters after the game. "The Lord told me it was going to happen before it happened. He said, 'You hadn’t hit a home run in a while. You’re about to right now.'"

With Hamilton's blast clearing the fence in the 10th, the Rangers found themselves with a two-run lead. Again.

And it still wasn't over. The Cardinals were going to come up in the bottom of the inning with the weakest part of their order scheduled to hit. With St. Louis already having used up their entire bench, the third man to the plate would have to be the pitcher. Things did not look good. But the impossible kept happening anyway. A ground ball snuck through for a single. A little blooper landed in the outfield for another. The pitcher laid down a successful bunt to move the runners up. A ground ball out brought one run home.

The Cardinals were now only down by one, with a runner on third, but the Rangers were, again, only one out away from winning the game — and the Series.

Albert Pujols came to the plate, but Texas intentionally walked him to face Lance Berkman instead. He's a veteran — with lots of grey in his playoff beard. Plenty of people thought he was washed up after a sub-par 2010. In 2011, he has been fantastic, winner of the National League's Comeback Player of the Year Award. But he let two strikes get past him. The Rangers were, for the second time, one strike away.

Berkman singled. A run scored. The game was tied. Again.

It's a long, unfathomably complicated thing, a baseball season. It's impossible for a mind to wrap itself around all the pieces and interactions involved: the hundreds of players, the thousands of games, the hundreds of thousands of individual plays that can be broken down into millions of distinct elements. It can be an awe-inspiring experience, watching it all unfold. The almost quantum-like fluctuations of individual pitches gradually build themselves into larger structures over the course of the summer, into the baseball equivalent of planets and stars: games, seasons and careers. At times, chance and human agency come together in a sequence of events that seem to defy the laws of reason and logic and chance — producing moments that seem nearly miraculous. The central argument in baseball — as in so many other fields — is just how much of it all can be attributed to chance, and how much to human agency and free will. For some, like Josh Hamilton, the only plausible answer is divine predestination.

Whatever the balance of the mechanisms at play in St. Louis on this crazy, memorable Thursday night, they would ultimately prove to be working against the Texas Rangers. In the bottom of the 11th, David Freese came to the plate again. This time, his fly ball would clear the wall in centerfield entirely. A home run. The Cardinals, who had already made a next-to-impossible month-long comeback in September to make the postseason, who had already played an improbable David to the Goliaths of both Philadelphia and Milwaukee to earn their spot in the World Series, and who had already been within a single strike of the end their season twice that very night, had won the game.

Freese was greeted at home plate by a swarm of ecstatic teammates as fifty thousand fans roared around them. The entire baseball world watched in stunned and wonderful awe.

For the first time in nearly a decade, the World Series is going to Game Seven.


Photo: The Cardinals celebrate their victory as Mike Napoli walks away from home plate in disappointment

The Baseball Posts are series of posts about, um, well, baseball. You'll find them all here. Adam Bunch is the Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at


Alex said...

Oh my gosh, I was on the edge of my seat just reading this. Kinda wish I had watched the game...

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