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Monday, October 24, 2011

Putting the “Classic” Back in the Fall Classic

The Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals have played four games in the 2011 World Series. We have no more vision as to who will emerge as the champion than we did before the series started.

The series started even; the series is currently even at 2-2. St. Louis had one more home game available to them on the schedule before the series started; St. Louis still has one more home game available to them on the schedule remaining, with Game 6 and Game 7 (if necessary) in St. Louis. After clinching their respective pennants, the following game for the Rangers and Cardinals would feature Chris Carpenter on the Mound for the Cardinals against C.J. Wilson for the Rangers. The next game will feature Carpenter vs. Wilson.


Baseball has fallen far…FAR behind the NFL in popularity over the past 25 years. World Series games are receiving television ratings under 10.0, comparable to a prime time NFL regular season game between two high profile teams. For the Fall Classic to appeal to the casual fan, it has to have story lines. The ready-made story line would be any World Series involving baseball’s high profile, historic franchises.

Television executives can sit back and wait for the ratings to roll in should teams such as the Yankees, Red Sox, White Sox, Dodgers, Phillies, or Cardinals be involved. Half of that equation has been filled in, but the Rangers are a team with relatively less legacy and almost zero postseason accomplishment to speak of prior to 2010.

St. Louis slipped into the National League Wild Card spot by the skin of its teeth on a combination of its miraculous September rally combined with the epic collapse of the Atlanta Braves. The Rangers won their second consecutive American League championship this year. Yet, ironically, the Rangers are the weak link for television appeal. For this series to be memorable, both teams needed their big players to step up big in big situations.

This country will never be as captivated, ever again, by a World Series as it was by the 1986 World Series (Mets vs Red Sox). That doesn't mean the games aren't really good! 1


To say that Texas has stepped up in key situations is an understatement. This series could conceivably be over had key Rangers not stepped up when the heat was on. Trailing 1-0 in the 9th inning and facing the prospect of falling into an 0-2 hole in the series, the Rangers had two options: score at least one run or be forced to win 4 of their next 5 games to win the World Series, a rarity in postseason play.

What happened? Powerful, speedy Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler delivered a clutch single with no outs, followed by the biggest display of testicular fortitude by a base runner in this postseason, narrowly stealing 2nd base and getting into scoring position. The success or failure of the stolen base may have determined the outcome of the game and, perhaps, the series. After being moved to third on a subsequent single, Kinsler scored on a long sacrifice fly RBI by reigning American League MVP Josh Hamilton. Elvis Andrus of the Rangers would score what would turn out to be the winning run on a subsequent sacrifice fly by Michael Young.

Last night, trailing 2-1 in the series, the Rangers faced another near-must-win situation. A loss would put the Rangers down 3 games to 1, a kiss of death in the vast majority of best-of-seven series in American sports. Derek Holland, a good pitcher, but seldom dominating, spun a gem.

Holland pitched 8.1 scoreless innings, with 7 strikeouts, before being relieved by Neftali Feliz for the Rangers’ shutout win over the very potent Cardinals lineup. Holland pitched four shutouts in the regular season, but had an ERA of close to 4.00 and a batting average against of .262. In other words, Holland was a feast-or-famine pitcher in the regular season. He feasted when his team absolutely needed him to do so.

Even Dubya had to stand up and get crunk for Derek Holland. 2


The Cardinals stars also rose in a way that helps put the “Classic” in “Fall Classic”. In Game 1, Chris Carpenter gave the Redbirds six solid innings, followed by a posse of five relief pitchers, strategically inserted by Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa. The Cards pitching performance concluded with a save, earned by Closing Pitcher Jason Motte in the 9th inning.

Game 3 treated baseball fans to a performance for the ages. Rangers fans would have been thrilled if they were told, before Game 3, that the Rangers would put up 7 runs. Fortunately for the Cardinals, Albert Pujols put up a historic performance, going 5 for 6 with 3 homeruns and 8 RBIs. Pujols joined elite company, as only Babe Ruth (1926, 1928) and Reggie Jackson (1977) hit three homeruns in a World Series game prior to Saturday night.

Pujols didn't just "go yard", he "went legend". 3


Through four games, the Rangers and Cardinals have given even the most casual fans of baseball something to talk about. If you have been following the action, I need not explain more. If you have not been following, but have some interest in baseball, or did once upon a time, you will have at least two, possibly three, opportunities to reconnect with the game in what has been a compelling and intense World Series.

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