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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

October 27, 2011 at 11:13 PM

That’s why we love baseball

(Photo by Associated Press)

I’m utterly drained — emotionally, mentally, intellectually — and I didn’t even have any real attachment to the two teams playing in that wonderfully jumbled, crazy mess of a Game 6. The emotional attachment was to the game itself, as exciting, compelling, maddening, heart-stopping, agonizing (for the Rangers), exhilirating (for the Cardinals), and satisfying a game as you’ll ever hope to see. Maybe I’m gushing right now, but that’s OK — that’s how this one made me feel. It’s been over for 90 minutes, and I’m still shaking my head in wonderment.

There’s an unfortunate tendency these days to want to label everything the best this or the greatest that, and I’ve been quick to tisk tisk those who do so for lacking any historical context. But I’m tempted to say that World Series game was the best I’ve ever seen, considering what was on the line and the twists and turns it took on the way to an amazing conclusion. Mariners fans will point, of course, to Game 5 of the 1995 Division Series, which was magnificent in so many ways. But that was the Division Series. This was a potential clinching game of the World Series, and it had everything — strategic decision to first-, second- and third-guess, almost unbearable tension, amazing comebacks, and a fittingly heroic conclusion. Yes, it was sloppy at times, but that only adds to the lore; they’ll be talking about this one whenever they’re listing epic games.

I honestly don’t see how the Rangers come back from this punch to the gut. Maybe I’m missing a few, but in the last 30 years, I can think of four similar Game 6s where one team absolutely had the game won, was practically tasting the champagne, and had it snatched away from them in the most devastating fashion possible. And in each of those cases, I don’t think the team ever recovered from the emotional shock, and wound up losing Game 7.

The most recent instance was the Steve Bartman game in 2003, when the Cubs led 3-0 in the eighth, with five outs to go for the pennant and no one on base. They gave up eight runs to lose 8-3 to the Marlins. They lost the next night, 9-6, and are still trying to end their World Series drought. Cubs manager Dusty Baker, unbelievably, had endured something quite similar the year before — in the World Series, no less — when his Giants led the Angels 5-0 heading the bottom of the seventh, and ended up losing the game that would have won the World Series, 6-5. Of course, they lost the next night as well, 4-1. Then there was the Bill Buckner game in 1986 — enough said. The Red Sox, one strike away (like the Rangers were, in two separate innings), lost that game 6-5, then were beaten by the Mets in Game 7, 8-5. And then there was Game 6 the year before, in 1985, when Don Denkinger blew the call in Game 6 that helped the Royals rally with two in the ninth for a 2-1 victory over St. Louis. They beat the Cardinals the next night, 11-0.

The Diamondbacks withstood some heartbreaking defeats in 2001 to win the World Series, but those were in Games 4 and 5. I think you have to go back to 1975 to come up with a scenario that will give the Rangers some hope. In Game 6 that year, needing a win to clinch, the Reds — playing at Fenway Park — led 6-3 going into the bottom of the eighth, only to allow the Red Sox to score three runs to tie. That game — the highlight of an amazing World Series that was credited by many with reviving interest in baseball — was the one in which Carlton Fisk hit his classic walkoff homer in the 12th inning.

You’d think that the emotional drain of that loss would have buried the Reds, and the lift would have carried the Red Sox to victory in Game 7 — especially when they went up 3-0 in the third. But this was the Big Red Machine at the height of its power, and the Red Sox at the height of their curse. The Reds scored two in the sixth, one in the seventh, and one in the ninth (on a Joe Morgan base hit that scored Ken Griffey Sr.) to break the hearts of the Red Sox and their fans.

For the sake of this analogy, the Rangers had better hope that David Freese is Carlton Fisk, and they can produce their own Joe Morgan. But no matter what happens, this World Series is a timely reminder of the very best that baseball has to offer.

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