We all have that friend. The one that says he is a sports fan but can't get into baseball.
It's boring. It moves too slowly. Explain that "infield fly rule" to me again? Oh, and my personal favorite: "I'm still mad they went on strike and cancelled the World Series."
Of course that happened 17 years ago, but hey, I guess some people have their talking points and just won't let go of them. Here in Wisconsin they all reside in Madison.
If your friend still hasn't been swayed by the last month of baseball, I feel both sorry and worried for him, because he clearly is not in his right mind.
First it was the unbelievable end to the regular season in where we witnessed incredible implosions (Craig Kimbrel and Jonathan Papelbon), clutch play from superstars (Evan Longoria and Chris Carpenter), and stardom from a couple of nobodies (Dan Johnson and Robert Andino).
The Brewers had to wait until the final night of the season to clinch home-field advantage in the first round. The Red Sox were so disgusted with their September swoon they let both their manager and general manager walk. A brilliant rookie season that was marred by a final week meltdown saw one of baseball's bright young stars roaming, intoxicated, through the streets of Atlanta.
And then the real fireworks happened when the calendar flipped to October.
The Brewers had their walk-off win over the Diamondbacks in one NLDS series; the Cardinals were pushed to the brink by the Phillies in the first round before winning on the road in Game 5 in the other. Three of the four Divisional series went the distance.
In fact, the 38 total postseason games tied baseball's all-time record set in 2003. There are only a total possible 41 playoff games that could have been played if all of the series had gone to a deciding contest.
During those 38 games there were a record 13 that were decided by just one run.
The two best teams – record wise – also happened to be the two teams with the highest payroll. They also both got bounced in the first round.
While everyone here in Milwaukee is understandably disappointed the Brewers fell just short of getting to the World Series, if you boycotted the last seven games out of some sort of disgust over losing to the Cardinals again in the postseason, you missed out.
I don't generally engage in much hyperbole, simply because more often than not history proves those that do as fools. However, we just witnessed one of the greatest World Series ever played. The only thud was the series finale that unfortunately didn't have that much intrigue. I'm not the only one that maintains that Game 7 was actually won the previous night. But we'll get to that.
The series opener featured a mind game between Tony La Russa and Ron Washington, won by the dean of Major League managers. Tied at 2-2 in the sixth, La Russa pinch hit Allen Craig for starting pitcher Chris Carpenter. Craig's slicing base hit landed just inches in front of Texas right fielder Nelson Cruz's glove, caroming off his left leg for the eventual game winning RBI.
With his starter out, La Russa relied on his bullpen to get him through the final three innings. They did just that, La Russa burning through five relievers in the process.
Game 2 saw the first frantic ninth inning rally in another one run contest. Down 1-0 in the game's final frame, Ian Kinsler's daring steal against the cannon-arm of Yadier Molina proved to be the catalyst the Rangers needed to plate two runs for the win.
The box score will read that two sacrifice flies scored both runs; however, that does a great disservice to Kinsler's stolen base and John Jay's errant throw that allowed Elvis Andrus to move up an extra base. Andrus then would up scoring on what otherwise would have been just another fly out.
Texas tied the series at 1-1, heading back home to the friendly confines of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, just a stone's throw from where the Packers won Super Bowl XLV in February.
If the first two games were a baseball purist's heaven, a date with the devil was about to take place.
Shoddy defense, terrible pitching, and even a blown umpire's call all contributed to a 16-7 Cardinals rout. Albert Pujols, who had been silent the entire series, exploded in a performance that re-wrote the record books.
His five hits in one game tied Paul Molitor's mark set in 1982. His three home runs tied Yankee legends Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson for most round-trippers in one game. Six RBI's has only been done twice before in the Fall Classic, by Bobby Richardson in 1960 and by Hideki Matsui in 2009. Pujols' 14 total bases is a new record all to himself.
After the Cardinals 16-run, 15-hit offensive barrage, of course the next night they got shut down completely.
Well, not completely. They did manage to get two measly hits – both from Lance Berkman, in a 4-0 shutout pitched by Derek Holland.
All of a sudden, the series was tied, heading into a pivotal Game 5.
Call it "Phonegate" if you will, but the theatre of the absurd took over Rangers Ballpark on Monday night. La Russa couldn't communicate with the bullpen to get the correct reliever up – twice. Then, Pujols apparently took it upon himself to put on a hit-and-run with Craig on first base. Of course, in a hit-and-run, the batter has to protect the runner at all costs. You are taught in high school that if that is the play that is on, even if the ball is out of the strike zone, you at least have to make contact and foul it off.
Pujols kept his bat on his shoulder. Allen was out by about 2 ½ miles.
In the eighth inning, with one out, a sure double play ball caromed off of Cardinals reliever Marc Rzepczynski hand and trickled away. All hands on deck were safe, setting up Mike Napoli's eventual game-winning two-run double.
All things were trending towards the Rangers. In their 50 years of existence, they had never won a World Series. Now they were just one win away, but they had to do it on the road.
So many superlatives have been said already about Game 6. Historical. Incredible. Unbelievable. The Cardinals, down to their last strike in the bottom of the ninth, rallied against Neftali Feliz, one of the best closers over the last two seasons in the American League. All Feliz did was surrender the game-tying two-run triple to David Freese, a St. Louis native who had just demolished the Brewers in the NLCS. Right fielder Nelson Cruz took an odd route to the ball, leaving Rangers fans wondering why the "all-hands team" wasn't in the game for defensive purposes. Turns out, they'll be asking that question for the next...oh...five or six generations.
In the top of the tenth, slumping Josh Hamilton crushed a two-run home run, sinking St. Louis, who some had felt just blown the comeback they had just engineered in the previous inning.
Nope. In the bottom of the 10th, again, down to their last strike, Berkman singled home the tying run. Of course, we all know that Freese did it again in the 11th inning, hitting a walk-off home run that sunk the Rangers chances.
Just as the Boston Red Sox had a chance to come back and beat the New York Mets in Game 7 of the 1986 World Series after Mookie's dribbler went through Buckner's legs in Game 6, there was no way the baseball Gods were going let that happen. The Gods of Baseball, an unforgiving group of deities that oversee the game from the heavens above, were not about to forgive the Rangers for blowing their chance; nor were they about to punish the Cardinals for never dying when they were written off way back in early September.
In so many ways Game 7 was anticlimactic. There was no way anything could live up to what we all saw (some 25 million nationwide, according to the overnight Nielsen ratings) on Thursday night. In reality, the Cardinals won the World Series when Freese's home run went over the fence the night before.
But it was a great series. It was a tremendous postseason. I'm not sure how baseball can ever hope to top something like this ever again. I hope I am wrong. But as the eternal baseball optimist says:
There's always next year!
Doug Russell has been covering Milwaukee and Wisconsin sports for over 20 years on radio, television, magazines, and now at OnMilwaukee.com.
Over the course of his career, the Edward R. Murrow Award winner and Emmy nominee has covered the Packers in Super Bowls XXXI, XXXII and XLV, traveled to Pasadena with the Badgers for Rose Bowls, been to the Final Four with Marquette, and saw first-hand the entire Brewers playoff runs in 2008 and 2011. Doug has also covered The Masters, several PGA Championships, MLB All-Star Games, and Kentucky Derbys; the Davis Cup, the U.S. Open, and the Sugar Bowl, along with NCAA football and basketball conference championships, and for that matter just about anything else that involves a field (or court, or rink) of play.
Doug was a sports reporter and host at WTMJ-AM radio from 1996-2000, before taking his radio skills to national syndication at Sporting News Radio from 2000-2007. From 2007-2011, he hosted his own morning radio sports show back here in Milwaukee, before returning to the national scene at Yahoo! Sports Radio last July. Doug's written work has also been featured in The Sporting News, Milwaukee Magazine, Inside Wisconsin Sports, and Brewers GameDay.
Doug and his wife, Erika, split their time between their residences in Pewaukee and Houston, TX.