Sunday, October 28, 2012

Greatest World Series Moments: Greatest Game Part 1

The Reds were ahead in the 1975 World Series three games to two.  Fenway Park was oddly quiet.  Even with a three run lead in the top of the fifth and one out the fans in Boston seemed to be waiting for something bad to happen.  At the half way mark there was little about this game that would lead anyone to think this was a classic.   

Ed Armbrister pinch hit for pitcher Jack Billingham, already the Reds third pitcher of the game, and walked.  Pete Rose followed with a single and suddenly, with Ken Griffey, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez due up next, the Fens buzzed with anxiety.

Fred Lynn was on the move with the crack of the bat.  He had already put the Red Sox ahead 3-0 with a first inning 3 run home run and now he had a chance to break the Reds' back with another sensational catch.  This was a rookie but you couldn't tell from his performance in the biggest week of the baseball season.  He tracked the ball towards left-center field, that big green wall.  It wasn't headed to the monster, it was that little angle where the odd dimensions of Fenway converge.  Fred Lynn had only played in this park for a year but he had learned to trust his abilities and trust the other outfielders.

(Fred Lynn had an amazing rookie year in 1975.  He became the first player to earn Rookie of the Year and MVP honors in the same year.  Not until Mike Trout, for the 2012 Angels, would another rookie have the impact that Lynn had for the 1975 Red Sox)

Griffey had driven the ball hard but Lynn knew that he had it.  Even if he didn't reach this ball Dwight Evans and Yaz would be there to play the ball off the wall.  He had the ball timed perfectly.  He took two strides onto the warning track and jumped toward the wall.  It was an amazing effort to reach the ball in the first place but this was what Freddie had done since he came up from the minors.  He stuck out his right foot to brace himself against the wall.  It was his first mistake all year.  The metal cleats hit the concrete wall.  No traction.  Moving at full speed the foot slipped straight down and his momentum twisted his body.  Suddenly, the back that had carried the Red Sox to one of the most improbable championship runs smashed against the concrete wall and Fred Lynn crumpled to the warning track motionless.  Fenway went silent, like a funeral. 

(Ed Armbrister was involved in a controversial play in game 3 that led to a Reds win.  He pinch hit in Game 6 and earned a walk, scoring on Ken Griffey's triple)

The ball shot off the wall and Dwight Evans was there to field it and fire it back into the infield but not before Armbrister and Rose had scored and Griffey stood on third with a triple.  New England held their collective breath as Yastrzemski, Evans, manager Darrell Johnson and the team trainer stood over a body.  It was a bad sign when Yaz had to help Lynn straighten out his legs which had staid in that position since he had hit the wall.

Eventually Lynn was helped up.  He rolled his head around a few times, did a few bends and nodded to the trainer that he was OK.  He got a quiet, reserved standing ovation from the Boston fans, but the moment had come.  This was the beginning of the end, Sox fans were sure.  Just like every other disappointing year since 1918. 

The Reds were able to tie the score in that inning but that was it.  The Sox weren't losing, but still, there was a sense of doom hanging over Boston as the city waited for the other shoe to drop.  It came in the top of the 7th.  Luis Tiant was the heartwarming story of the series.  His career had been resurrected in Boston after some tough years in Cleveland and Minnesota.  He now had a chance to become the first pitcher to win three games in one World Series since Denny McLain for the Tigers in 1968 and had a chance to do it in front of his parents.  After leaving Cuba to become a Major League pitcher over ten years ago, he had not seen his parents, who still lived in Cuba.  That was until a deal was made with Castro to allow the senior Tiants to visit the US to see their son perform in the World Series.  He had not disappointed but the tired arm could hold out only so long. 

He had breezed through the first 4 innings.  Gave up three in the fifth after Lynn's crashing attempt but had settled down in the 6th.  The Reds batters didn't like his pace.  It was too quick.  So they started to slow the game down themselves.  Calling time late.  Stepping out of the box late.  Taking time in between pitches.  Making Tiant work.  He gave up two runs in the 7th but got out of further trouble then gave up a lead off home run to Cesar Geronimo to start the 8th.

(Luis Tiant used a deceptive pitching motion to keep batters off balance.  Leading up to the series the Reds argued through the press that Tiant's motion was a balk.  In Game 1 he was called for a balk.  Tiant nearly became the first pitcher since 1968 to win three World Series games.)

Suddenly the Sox were three runs down, their pitching star demoralized and only six outs left to save their season.  The conversation went from Tiant being able to win three games in one world series and turned instead to Rawly Eastwick of the Reds having a chance to win three games in one series.  As the game moved to the bottom of the 8th it seemed like little more than a wake for the World Series hopes of the 1975 home town heroes.

Lynn started the 8th with a single to leftfield and Rico Petrocelli worked a walk.  Runners on 1st and 2nd.  0 out.  Any momentum that was being built was quickly quieted as Evans struck out swinging and Rick Burleson flew out to leftfield.  That brought up the pitchers spot.  Darrell  Johnson went to his bench for a pinch hitter.  Bernie Carbo walked to the plate.  He had hit a pinch hit home run in Game 2 and Johnson hoped he might be able to do it again.

Eastwick's 2-2 pitch was low and inside.  Carbo couldn't decide what to do: take it or swing.  Too close to take and now too late to get a good swing.  The ball was nearly in Bench's glove when Carbo finally decided he better do something, so he awkwardly dropped the bat head in the direction of the pitch and fouled the ball off.  Tom Adelman, in his great book The Long Ball:  The Summer of '75- Spaceman, Catfish, Charlie Hustle and Greatest World Series Ever Played (honestly one of the greatest books I have ever read), would call this the ugliest swing in the history of baseball, and it is hard to argue.    Red Sox fans had essentially thrown in the towel.  The next 2-2 pitch came in and Carbo swung again.

Dick Stockton had called every Red Sox game that year and watched the ball off the bat.  "Deep centerfield!  Way back, way back!  We're tied up!"

Fenway erupted as the wake ended and the crowd awoke.  Carbo clapped his hands as he rounded second, knowing he would be a Red Sox legend for life.

(Bernie Carbo was originally drafted by the Reds.  When Reds manager Sparky Anderson cut him several years later Carbo was bitter.  Carbo hit two pinch hit home runs in the 1975 World Series tying Chuck Essegian (1959 Dodgers) for most pinch hit home runs in one series)
A game six in any playoff series is a bizarre animal.  One team has to be ahead three games to two.  One team has a chance to gain a series win.  One team has to fight with everything they have to avoid having their season end.  This game six had now gone from a good game to a desperate struggle and each team had three outs left to decide if this was the end or if they would play tomorrow for all the glory.

It would be hard to say that the Big Red Machine could ever be desperate with a future hall of fame manager, three future hall of fame players (two or three others that should be in the hall of fame and one more who would be in the hall of fame if not for his own poor life choices).  This team would not give up and the big bats would be coming up.  Morgan, Bench, Perez.  If anyone would scare the Red Sox relievers, these guys would.  If anyone was scared on the Red Sox they didn't show it.  Morgan, Bench and Perez went down quickly raising the pressure on the Red Sox.

(The 1975 Big Red Machine lineup: Catcher Johnny Bench (5), First Baseman Tony Perez (14), Second Baseman Joe Morgan (5), Shortstop Dave Concepcion (13), Third Baseman Pete Rose (14), Outfielder Ken Griffey (30), Outfielder Cesar Geronimo (20) and Outfielder George Foster (15).  The team won the World Series in 1975 and 1976.)
Score one run and the game is over, the series moves to tomorrow.  Fail to score and the momentum switches right back to the Reds.  The bottom of the ninth had a promising start.  Denny Doyle drew a walk.  Yaz, the legend in the flesh, shot a single to right field, sending Doyle to third.  1st and 3rd.  0 out.

Baseball fans immediately recognize the situation.  Bottom 9th.  Tie Game.  Runner on third. Less than 2 outs.  A fly ball wins the game.  The Reds had few choices with Fisk, Lynn and Petrocelli due up next.  Sparky Anderson paced the dugout trying to decide what to do.  He finally held out his hand with four fingers extended and Fisk was walked to load the bases.  Facing Lynn was certainly no less dangerous than facing Fisk but at least it set up a force play at any base that might save the day.

Lynn just needed a fly ball to get the run in from third.  He got it, but as soon as it was hit he could tell it wasn't deep enough.  Foster ran to the foul line and lined up the catch.  Fenway's odd dimensions came into play again.  The foul line along leftfield runs very close to the wall and gives a right handed outfielder throwing home a hard time to get good arm extension on a throw. 

Before the pitch Don Zimmer, coaching third base, had yelled in Doyle's ear:  "Anything in the air you tag up immediately.  Wait for me to tell you if you're going."  Doyle stood on third watching Foster come in to make the catch.  Zimmer knew right away it wasn't deep enough so he was surprised when he turned and saw Doyle heading toward home.

"NO, NO, NO!" Zimmer yelled to Doyle.  Doyle later said he heard Zimmer yelling "Go, Go, Go!"

Foster made the catch at the wall, took one step back and fired a perfect strike to Bench at home.  Doyle's out, double play and the momentum back to the Reds.  Petrocelli grounded out to end the inning and the stadium fell silent again.  This game was getting better as it went along.  Pinch hit home runs, plays at the plate, extra innings.  If the fans there only knew what they were about to see they would have laughed at how excited they were getting over these small things.

(Denny Doyle took off from third on George Foster's catch in the bottom of the ninth.  Bench waited with the tag.)

The game moved to the 10th.  The Reds got a one out single and a steal of second by Dave Concepcion but they stranded him there. Momentum to Red Sox.  Boston sent Evans, Burleson and Carbo to the plate.  They went down in order.  Momentum back to Reds. 

Rose was hit by a pitch to start the 11th.  Or was he?  The pitch was inside and Rose spun  around but there was no clear contact with any part of his body or his uniform.  Never one to argue with a free base, Rose tossed his bat and sprinted down to first.  Who knows what it hit but the umpires gave Rose first. Griffey tried to sacrifice Rose to second.  The bunt was in front of the plate and slightly down the third base line.  Fisk moved quickly, made eye contact with Burleson, grabbed the ball and fired down to second.  Burleson stepped on second and forced Rose.  It wasn't a double play but it was an amazing reaction nonetheless.  With Griffey on first, Joe Morgan stepped up.  Joe Morgan, little Joe as his teammates knew him, was the engine that powered the Big Red Machine. Anytime something happened, he was driving the momentum for the Reds.  Morgan drove a 1-1 pitch to right field.  This was it.  The moment that would turn the game and put the Reds up. 

                                                    Photo Courtesy of Bleacher Report
 (Joe Morgan was the leader of the Big Red Machine. He was a 10 time All Star, 2 time MVP (1975 and 1976) and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990.  After his playing career, Morgan became a highly successful analyst for ESPN)

Griffey moved on contact.  It wasn't what the fundamentals said but it was clear that this was over the head of Dwight Evans.  At worst extra bases and a run scores.  At best a two run home run.  Evans had been playing in and broke back on contact.  He ran back.  Straight back.  Turned his back to the plate and just ran.  Kept running.  He knew it was hopeless.  He just ran.  The ball was over his head, headed to the freakishly short wall, a sure home run.  Evans made a desperate jump as he hit the warning track.  Not only was it over his head when he jumped, the ball was moving behind him.  He just threw his hands up and back.  The ball stuck in the glove. Evans landed, stumbled to the wall and braced himself awkwardly. It was one of the greatest catches ever made in a World Series game but Evans didn't have time to celebrate.  It was only out number 2. 

Griffey was past second by the time he realized the ball was caught.  He slammed on the brakes and came back around second.  Evans steadied himself, turned to the infield and heaved a throw towards first.  After having made one of the best catches in history, he now made one of the worst throws.  It was not only off line, Yaz had to come past the firstbase coach's box to field it.   Over 35,000 people in the stadium held their breath as Griffey came tearing back towards first.  There was no way they would catch him and Johnny Bench would walk to the plate.

Yaz heard someone yelling.  "First base, first base!"  It was Burleson.  The shortstop had sprinted across the diamond, racing Griffey back to the bag.  The Reds firstbase coach was screaming to Griffey to get back.  Griffey didn't know what was happening or where the ball was.  It was hard enough to believe Evans had reached the ball but to believe that the throw back to the bag was so far off line and then to look at first and see the shortstop standing there  It was chaos.  Yaz tossed to Burleson in plenty of time.  Double Play. Inning Over.

(Dwight Evans was one of three rookie outfielders to make a significant impact for the 1975 Red Sox.  Along with Lynn and Jim Rice, the Red Sox appeared to have a trio of Outfielders for decades to come.  Rice did not play in the 1975 Series because of a broken wrist.  Evans, seen here making one of the greatest catches in World Series history, followed the catch with one of the worst throws ever.)
It was one of those moments that make fans think their team is destined to win.  For this unbelievable play to happen Evans had to make an unbelievable catch.  To save the Red Sox from allowing Griffey to get back to the bag, Yastrzemski had to be aware that Fisk had not moved up to back up first base, that the pitcher had backed up third on the play and that he had to get off the bag to save the throw from going wild.  To allow for the double play Burleson, whose job was to cover second (Doyle would be the cut off man) had to realize as soon as the ball left Evans's hand, that the poor throw would leave firstbase uncovered.  Momentum back to the Red Sox. 

If ever momentum would give a team a kick in the rear this had to be it.  Rick Miller pinch hit for Dick Drago to start the bottom of the 11th.  Miller, Doyle and Yaz went down in order.  Momentum back to the Reds.  It was well into Sunday morning by this time.  Late night programming was being delayed but no one in the stadium could have cared less.  Back and forth.  This game seemed like it would never end.  This game had gone from constant runners on base and big hits to a pitchers duel with no warning.  The Reds fighting to not have to play later today and to celebrate tonight, or what was left of tonight.  The Red Sox punching back to get one more chance at the title.

The Reds put two runners on in the top of the 12th but couldn't move anyone along.  Momentum back to the Red Sox but momentum was getting tired.  Everyone was getting tired.  The Red Sox had Fisk, Lynn and Petrocelli due up this inning but at this time of night it didn't seem to matter.  It was late.  It was cold.  It was damp October weather and everyone was exhausted.

Pat Darcy warmed up on the mound and Bench could see his pitches were not sharp.  Fisk and Lynn tried to stay warm in the on deck circle, watching Darcy warm up.  Fisk used the weighted bat, swinging it one armed like a windmill.  Fisk turned again and watched Darcy.  He watched another flat fastball barely pop Bench's mit.  Fisk turned to Lynn, pounded the knob of the bat on the ground to dislodge the weight and said:  "I got a good feeling.  I'm going to drive one off the wall.  You drive me in, OK?"  Pudge wasn't joking.  Pudge never joked about baseball.  This was serious.  Lynn smiled.  Nodded his head.  Didn't say anything.  What can you say to a guy calling his shot?

Fisk stepped into the batters box.  He had a routine.  Used the right hand to lift the jersey off the left shoulder, it got rid of the constriction on the swing.  Arms up to shoulder height.  Jerk them back quickly with a severe motion to loosen the shoulder muscles.  One.  Two.  Hold the bat above the head, bend back, bend to the left bend to the right.  Adjust the jersey on the shoulders again so it doesn't constrict the swing.  Now you're ready.  First pitch was a ball.  Bench was concerned.  If Fisk had told Lynn he had a good feeling Bench would have told someone he did not.  Fisk stepped out and repeated the routine.  He stepped back in to the plate.

The 1-0 pitch came in belt high over the plate and he turned on it.  He drove it towards the wall, that big green monster of a wall in left.  Depending on the angle of where you sat it was fair, it was foul, it was off the wall, it was an out, it was a home run.  Fisk had the perfect view straight down the line.  So did Bench and the umpires.  It was high.  It was far.  Fair or Foul?

Fisk hopped down the line once.  Fair or foul? He waved his arms across his body towards first base, hoping, begging, pleading for the ball to stay fair.  Fair or foul? He hopped again, waved his arms toward first base again.  Desperate for anything that would help that ball get fair.  He hopped again, waved his arms.  Hopped again waved his arms.  Fair or Foul?  The ball bounced off the bright yellow pole above the green monster.  Fair ball!

(Carlton Fisk begs the ball to stay fair as he hops down the first base line.)
(Fisk celebrates as the ball hits the foul pole.  Fisk waving the ball fair is one of the greatest images of all time, sports or otherwise.  It is almost impossible to watch this play and not be excited.)

The stadium exploded.  It was bedlam.  Fisk went crazy.  Hopping each step of the way down to first base.   Fans poured onto the field.  Fisk had to fight his way through the  madness. Pushing people out of the way.  Fans patting him on the back, wanting to shake his hand.  He still had to reach home plate for the run to count.  He almost had to elbow two teens as he ran down the third base line.  The hallelujah chorus played on the stadium organ as Fisk landed on home plate.

Outside the stadium New England was full of crazed fans.  Church bells rang.  Bars emptied. People poured into the streets.  Children were woken up to experience the thrill that would never be experienced again.

This was only Game 6.  What would game 7 have in store?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Greatest World Series Moments: Most Supernatural

Washington: First in war, first in peace and last in the American League.

It was a stale old joke that started in 1901with the start of the American League and the Washington Senators were sick of it.  In the first ten years of the league they had finished above 7th (out of 8 teams) twice, and both of those seasons they only reached 6th.  They weren't a baseball organization, they were  a punchline.

Fans of the Senators had one silver lining: they had the greatest pitcher in the history of the game pitching for one of the worst teams of all time.  The next time you hear someone say the Padres need to trade Chase Headley, the Pirates need to trade Andrew McCutcheon or the Rockies need to trade Carlos Gonzalez because no player with that much talent should have to play in a baseball grave yard you can reply with one simple answer:  Walter Johnson. 

(Walter Johnson won 417 games in his career, second only to Cy Young's 511.  He is regarded by many as the greatest pitcher of all time.  If anyone wants to read a great baseball book I recommend reading the biography Walter Johnson: Baseball's Big Train  by Henry W. Thomas.)

He ended his career with 417 wins, winning 20 games or more 12 times including 33 games one year and 36 another.  What makes his career even more amazing is the fact that he achieved these numbers on a terrible team.  He won more games by one run than anyone in history but the best stat of all is that he lost more games by 1-0 than anyone else.  26 times in his career he held the opponent to one run and lost the game because the pathetic Senators offense couldn't push across a single run.  Imagine the number of wins he could have had with just slight run support.  In an era where celebrity was new and baseball ruled the sports world, Johnson was adored.  Ruth and Cobb got headlines for  the wrong reasons.  Johnson got headlines for being polite, humble, ethical, an example to the youth.

As the years went on and Johnson plugged along, there were small signs of improvement in the nation's capital and fans tried to be excited.  They reached second place three times, a distant second, but they quickly slipped back into the lower division.

(Walter Johnson spent his entire career with the lowly Washington Senators.  Between 1908 and 1923 the Senators finished in the top three only four times.  Even in those years they finished 6.5, 14 and 29.5 games behind first place.  Little was expected of the Senators as they entered the 1924 season.)

Leading up to the 1924 season Bucky Harris, a young secondbaseman in only his fifth year in the league, was named player-manager.  The predictions were dismal and little was expected.  Their team was made up of young players who had shown little promise and older veterans seemingly on their way out.  Their shortstop, Roger Peckinpaugh, was best known for making an error in the final game of the 1921 World Series, allowing the only run of the game to score.

1924 was different somehow.  The Senators went 20-4 from mid June to early July and took over first place.  You could almost hear the nation chuckle.  The Senators in first place.  It's like when Jerry stands next to an electrical socket and picks up Tom's tail, then winks at the audience.  You know what the joke is but you watch it anyways and you laugh when it happens.

The longer they stayed in the race, the bigger the comedic payoff  was expected to be when the Yankees would catch them by the tail.  Funny thing was, the Yankees grabbed the tail a few times and tied for first place for a day or so but they could never quite get the punch line to stick.  Washington took over first place for good on September 19 and Walter Johnson was named MVP of the season with a 23-7 record.  Suddenly this wasn't a  joke.  This was real.

(Bucky Harris took over as manager before the start of the 1924 season.  He was a young, inexperienced manager.  He had the support and respect of his teammates and lead the team to their first ever American League pennant.)

Certainly the punch line was just being delayed.  The Giants would drop the banana peel for sure.  The Giants were the opposite of the Senators.  A power house full of cocky, experienced future hall of famers (no less than seven), the Giants had been in the World Series eight times out of the first 19 (it easily could have been an even ten).  This was their ninth visit overall and their fourth straight appearance.

 In 1921 and 1922 they beat the Yankees and lost to the Yankees in 1923.  John McGraw, arguably the best manager of all time, was furious about that loss.  He hated Ruth for ruining the game with all these home runs, hated the Yankees for cutting into his New York profits and hated the American League for too many reasons to go into in this article.  His Giants had been beaten last year by those AL punk Yankees.  The entire 1924 season was about proving that the Giants were still kings and they certainly wouldn't lose to this lousy team.  It was almost insulting to lower the great Giant name by beating a second rate organization like the Senators.

(John McGraw managed the Giants from 1902-1932.  During that time his teams reached the World Series nine times and won three.  He is considered by many the greatest manager of all time.  Entering the 1924 season he was still angry at the team's World Series loss to the Yankees in 1923.)

The Senators were not only the underdog fan favorite, Walter Johnson was the nation's favorite.  The nation wanted to see Walter succeed.  The pressure was on Walter to make his supporters happy.  In game 1 he took the loss, though it would be hard to say he deserved to lose it.  He pitched 12 innings and lost 4-3.  Another 1 run loss.  Johnson's second appearance in game 5 was less heroic.  He gave up six runs in eight innings and lost again.  He was dejected, feeling he had let down his supporters, his team mates and Clark Griffith, the Senators' owner.  Almost inconsolable, Johnson felt he had lost his one opportunity at a world title.

As the series moved to game 7, no one wanted to see the punch line land anymore.  It wouldn't be funny.  It would just be cruel, tragic.

Game 7.  Bottom 8th.  2 outs.  Runners on 2nd and 3d.  Washington 2 runs down.

The basic fundamentals of baseball tell the runners in this situation that they run like hell as soon as they hear the crack of the bat.  When you have played the game as often as Nemo Leibold and Muddy Ruel you can often tell from the sound of the bat whether it will be worth the effort.

Bucky Harris made contact and the runners were in motion.  The sound was not encouraging.  A routine ground ball to thirdbaseman Fred Lindstrom, a great fielding thirdbaseman and a future hall of famer early in his career.  Leibold moved the ninety feet and touched home plate, a seemingly useless routine.  Ruel also moved on contact and ran as fast as he could, which unfortunately was not that fast.  Ruel was generally considered one of the slowest runners in either league.  As he neared third base he expected to see the Giants walking toward the dugout as the routine play was executed to end the inning.  What he saw instead was the third base coach with his arm spinning fast enough to tear the shoulder out of the socket and screaming at the top of his lungs to get his ass moving.  It was too loud for him to hear what was being yelled.  Ruel ran faster, or tried to, and rounded third.

(Harry Leibold was nicknamed "Nemo" after his resemblance to the comic strip character "Little Nemo".  Nemo had played for the 1919 White Sox and was one of the "Clean Sox" who did not participate in the conspiracy with the "Black Sox".  He scored ahead of Muddy Ruel in Game 7 of the 1924 World Series.)

Lindstrom had seen the ball off the bat and readied to field the ball.  Hands chest high, knees soft, eyes on the ball.  One more hop and he would have it.  Then the second most bizarre, unexpected, unpredictable thing in the history of the World Series happened.   The ball hit a pebble or hard clump of dirt, or something, and took the biggest bounce you've ever seen, ten feet in the air.  Lindstrom jumped as high as he could but the ball went over his head. 

Call it what you want.  A bad bounce, intervention from the baseball gods, luck.  Whatever you call it this game 7 was tied.

(Fred Lindstrom is one of the unluckiest players in history.  A strong fielder and future hall of famer, Lindstrom had no chance to field the ball when it took a big bounce over his head in the 8th.  His day would get worse.

As the top of the 9th started Walter Johnson took the mound.  How much cruelty was this man supposed to take?  The nation stopped waiting to laugh and started waiting to cry.  This time, when Jerry smacked Tom in the face with the frying pan it wouldn't be a punchline it would be a sucker  punch.  Tension mounted as the game moved through the 9th, the 10th, the 11th and the 12th inning.  Walter was courageous as he continued to set down the experienced Giants lineup but he was constantly in danger.  Fans sat on the edge of their seats.  Praying, wringing their hands, rocking in their seats, exhaling with each strike, gasping at each ball.  It was constant tension.

The Giants had runners on 2nd and 3d in the 9th but Walter got a ground ball to work out of trouble.  He walked the lead off hitter in the 10th but got a double play ball to escape danger.  There were two runners on in the 11th when he got a strike out to keep the game tied.  The 12th was the easiest as he gave up a lead off single but nothing else.

The suspense was maddening.  If the game took place today, graphics would start appearing on your screen to compare this game to other extra inning World Series games and announcers would be telling you that the longest game in World Series history was in 1916 when a young pitcher named Babe Ruth won 2-1 for the Red Sox, pitching all 14 innings.  We would see shots of fans praying, hands over their eyes, waiting for something bad to happen.

If the eighth inning divine intervention wasn't enough to make some people believe the Senators were a team of destiny, the bottom of the 12th made it undeniable.  Ralph Miller led off for Washington with an easy ground ball.  1 out.  Muddy Ruel had only one hit in 19 at bats to this point in the series. As he stepped in to bat, and Johnson set to bat next, Senators fans wondered how long Johnson would be able to hold out.  Ruel swung and popped a ball straight up behind home plate.  Hank Gowdy, the Giants Catcher, tore off his mask and tracked the ball.  He threw the mask down.  The ball had gone straight up, then drifted back toward the plate, drifted some more, it just kept drifting.  Gowdy kept tracking it as it came down and was finally ready to pull it in and as he took his last step he planted his foot directly in the discarded catchers mask.  It clung to his foot.  He shook the foot to get it off.  Planted the foot again but the damn mask was still there. He fell to the ground and the ball fell next to him.  

(Hank Gowdy was the hero of the 1914 World Series for the "Miracle" Boston Braves.  He was also the first active Major League player to volunteer for military service during World War I.  The Giants poor luck continued when a drifting foul pop caused Gowdy to trip over his discarded catcher's mask.)

"That mask up and bit Gowdy!"  Clark Griffith yelled from his owner's boxed seats.  No one could believe what they were seeing.

Ruel made them pay with a double to left.  Maybe there was some magic left.  Johnson stepped in to bat and hit a ball right at Travis Jackson, the shortstop, another hall of famer, who couldn't handle the ground ball and his error allowed Johnson to reach safely. 

1st and 2nd.  1 out.  Earl McNeely at the plate.  A base hit would win it.  The Giants moved to double play depth hoping to prolong the game. 

On the second pitch McNeely swung and the ball was grounded toward Lindstrom at third.  McNeely had average speed and Lindstrom might have to hurry but this was a perfect double play opportunity.  Ruel, on second ran like hell, well, as close as someone with his speed could, hoping to decoy Lindstrom into a tag.  Lindstrom ignored him and Ruel saw Lindstrom ready to field the ball.

Then the absolutely most bizarre, supernatural, unbelievable thing  in the history of the World Series happened.  Ruel saw, out of the corner of his eye, a sudden, drastic, desperate motion.  It was Lindstrom.  Leaping.  Reaching desperately to grab the ball that had hit the exact same pebble, or hard spot or whatever it was, and bounced ten feet in the air, over his head.  It was eerily similar.  He saw the thirdbase coach swinging his arm like a propeller ready for take off.

Ruel didn't have time to look around and see what had happened and the ball didn't get that far into the outfield.  As Ruel turned third Irish Meusel ran in from leftfield and fielded the ball.  This would be close.  Meusel dropped his glove hand, fielded, turned, cocked his arm to fire the ball home and... never made a throw.  Ruel came in to score.

(Muddy Ruel scores the winning run without a throw from Irish Meusel.  John McGraw would berate Meusel on the train ride home demanding to know why he hadn't thrown home to make a play on Ruel.)

The crowd had been on the edge of their seat since the 8th inning frenzy.  All the emotions let loose.  The tension, the anguish, the hoping, the decades of disappointment, everything flooded out in a drowning wave of noise.  This play turned the baseball world on end.  Tom had finally caught Jerry.  The Senators were finally World Series Champions.

First in war, first in peace and first time World Champions!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Greatest World Series Moments: Most Heartbreaking Moment

He was the comeback player of the year in 2008.  They probably should have just called him the comeback player of the century.  The first overall draft pick of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1999, a year later he seemed to be just another in a long line of poor personnel decisions that was crippling the young organization, dooming them to year after year of last place finishes. 

(Josh Hamilton in  spring training with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.  He was high on their depth chart entering spring training 2000 but he didn't seem to be able to focus his talents.)
He fell on hard times quickly.  Hard times brought on by his own bad decisions.  Few people had the talent he was born with, but talent only takes you so far.  You have to work hard and apply the talent.  Josh Hamilton found it easier to stay out late and make poor life decisions.  Within two years he was out of organized baseball, having been cut by the Devil Rays.  He hit rock bottom.  He got a job working for a baseball academy in Southern Florida and slept on a mattress on the floor of the supply room.

He finally realized what he had to do.  He got clean and started working and he came back.  After five years out of organized ball he returned to the majors in 2007.   In 2008, after one mediocre year in a crowded outfield with the Reds, he was traded to the Rangers for Edinson Volquez. Everything clicked and the hard work paid off.  He became the golden boy, the feel good story, America's favorite, a shining example of what can happen when you apply your talents and stay clean.  He was humble.  He never claimed to be perfect.  He just kept working and finished the season as an All Star, was 7th in the MVP voting and was voted Comeback Player of the Year.

He never said he was perfect.  He made mistakes.  In 2009 pictures surfaced of him in a bar, in questionable positions with women who were not his wife and alcohol.  He admitted his mistakes and apologized.  He came back and had a great year.  He kept working.  In 2010 he helped the Rangers to their first ever World Series appearance and was the clear MVP of the season.  He stumbled in the World Series and hit a lowly .100 and the Giants easily won the series.

He never said he was perfect.  He fell off the wagon in that off season and apologized again.  He just kept working.  In July of 2011 he made a nice gesture and tossed a ball into the stands to a man attending the game with his son.  Just a little sign of appreciation to the fans who supported him.  The results of the toss were devastating.  The man leaned over a fence to catch the ball,  leaned farther and fell twenty feet to his death on the concrete.  It was a tragic accident.  Hamilton struggled with that but he kept working and came back.

As he ran to his position in Center Field to start the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 6 of the 2011 World Series he knew he had made his biggest comeback yet.  It wasn't an over-confidence.  He wasn't cocky.  It was fact, a matter of formality.

This was one of the greatest World Series ever.  Games going into late innings tied, usually at 0-0.  Late inning lead changes, big hits, blown leads.  The big stars were glowing brightly:  Pujols, Holliday, Carpenter, Beltre, Cruz, Young.  This series had it all, this game had it all.  But Hamilton knew he had ended it for all intents and purposes.  Now, the formality of getting those last three outs.

(Albert Pujols seen here during Game 3 of the 2011 World Series.  Pujols put himself in legendary company with three home runs during Game 3.  Just one of the big stars who had a huge series in 2011.)
This game was what announcers love to call a "see saw battle".  One team would go ahead and the other would tie it.  It was amazing.  1-0 Rangers.  2-1 Cardinals.  2-2. 3-2 Rangers.  3-3.  4-3 Rangers.  4-4.  7-4 Rangers.  7-5 Rangers.  7-7.  Now, 9-7 Rangers.  In a thrilling series, this seemed to be the pinnacle of thrilling games.

The Rangers seemed to have clinched it in the bottom of the 6th and top 7th.   In the bottom of the 6th and the game tied, the Cardinals had the bases loaded with one out and looked to be threatening to blow the game wide open.  With Nick Punto at the plate Mike Napoli made a quick throw to third and caught Matt Holliday napping.  This play alone is mind boggling.  There has to be instant recognition between catcher and third baseman that a quick throw is coming straight to the bag.  The thirdbaseman, playing off the line and several steps behind the bag, has to sprint to the bag without tipping off the runner that something is up.  The catcher needs to fire quickly and perfectly for the runner not to slip the hand back in under the tag.  No one ever gets caught off third on one of those, yet, somehow, inexplicably, Holliday did.  That stalled the momentum the Cardinals seemed to be gaining.  The momentum quickly switched back to Texas in the bottom of the 7th on back to back home runs by Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz and an RBI single by Ian Kinsler.  Texas was up by 3.

                                               Photo Courtesy of Bleacher Report
 (Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz hit back to back home runs and Ian Kinsler had an RBI single in the top of the 7th inning to give Texas an apparently insurmountable 3 run lead and the World Series Championship.)

In the bottom of the ninth their closer, Neftali Feliz, came in with a two run lead.  He quickly got a strikeout (his specialty).  Pujols doubled (it was a blessing it was only a double) and Lance Berkman walked causing some concern.  Feliz recovered and struck out Allen Craig.  Two outs.  David Freese stepped in and took a ball.  Freese was a light hitter.  He had only 99 hits in 2011 and had struck out 75 times.  When you face a strike out pitcher at the top of his game, a ratio like that is what most would call a bad omen.  He took a called strike and then swung through a fast ball for strike two.  One more strike and the Texas Rangers were the world champs.  One...more...strike.

The 1-2 pitch came in fast, at the knees on the middle-inside part of the plate.  Behind the plate, Napoli had done a great job of not tipping the pitch. He stood with knees bent.  As Feliz lifted his leg to start the pitch, Napoli dropped to a normal catcher squat and placed a perfect target.  If the ball made it to his glove he wouldn't have needed to move a millimeter.  Freese made contact on the pitch, another fast ball, and hit a fly ball to right field and an unknown number of TVs in St. Louis clicked off and twice as many curses flew.  It would have been one of those fan reactions.  The thought of "I know what will happen but I don't want to see it end."

(Nelson Cruz hit 6 HR and had 13 RBI in guiding the Rangers to an ALCS win over the Tigers.  His home run following Adrian Beltre's in the 7th looked like it sealed a win for Texas.  He is seen here tracking David Freese's fly ball on what was seemingly the final out of the World Series.)
Nelson Cruz tracked the ball.  Mike Shannon, the Cardinals announcer, gave his normal home run call.  "Get up baby! Get up, get up!".  It was clear, as Cruz neared the wall, that this was a routine fly ball.  The ball kept moving and Cruz kept running.  He still had room and was on course to pull in the ball.  Then Cruz made an odd choice.  He jumped toward the ball...and missed it.  Cruz and the ball hit the wall at the same time but not in the same spot.  They both bounced off the wall and back toward the infield but by the time Cruz reached the ball Freese was crouched on third, clapping his hands and celebrating a two run, game tying triple .  Texas was one..strike...short.

(David Freese stuck a dagger in the heart of Rangers fans and drove a two strike, two out, game tying triple into right field.) 

There was still hope.  They were tied and there were extra innings.  Now it was Josh Hamilton's turn to come back again.  The comeback player of the century did what he always does.  With one out in the bottom of the 10th Elvis Andrus singled and Hamilton stepped to the plate.  On the first pitch he watched the ball float toward the plate and couldn't believe what he was seeing.  If you told a pitcher where to not pitch Josh Hamilton, this was it.  Down and in.  "Right in his wheel-house" Joe Buck yelled.  Hamilton turned on it and the ball launched.  He had gone 84 at bats, the entire post season, without a home run, but his power stroke came back when they needed it most.

(Josh Hamilton had gone 84 at bats without hitting a home run.  He chose the best moment to find his stroke.  He launched a 2 run home run to put Texas back ahead and three outs away from the World Series Championship.)

The Rangers bench erupted and Busch Stadium fell silent. Tony LaRussa watched it for a second then put his cold hands in the pocket of his bright red Cardinals jacket and looked down.  Hamilton didn't pump his fist or pound his chest.  He didn't flip his bat or stare down the pitcher.  He didn't scream and stomp on home plate.  Josh Hamilton ran around the bases, discretely accepted a handshake from the third base coach and knew that they would win this game and be World Champions.

The game moved to the bottom of the tenth.  Three outs away.  It started with two singles and a sacrifice bunt.  1 out.  Runners on 2nd and 3rd.  Then a ground ball that scored a run.  It was fine.  Trade a run for an out.  Runner on second with two outs and they were still one out away from winning the world series.  They wouldn't let Pujols beat them (and the way this series went Pujols would beat them) so they walked him.  The crowd let out a simultaneous boo and in stepped old man Berkman.  Graying beard, slow walk, almost limping and willing his body to walk.  The count went to 2-2.  One more strike and the Texas Rangers would be World Series champions.

The 2-2 pitch came in at the knees.  Berkman swung and you could almost hear the creaking of the shoulders and feel the ache in the knees as the bat came around.  Amazingly, the ball fell in.  Game tied.  Never before had a team been so close and blown a lead...TWICE!

(Lance Berkman had played with the Astros in the 2005 World Series and was part of a late season trade in 2009 with the Yankees.  A well respected veteran, many were pulling for him to finally win one late in his career.  Berkman provided one of many magical moments in Game 6.)

The reaction in the Cardinal dugout was a mirror image of the Rangers' reaction as Hamilton had circled the bases.  Phones in St. Louis went crazy.  Something special was happening.  Friends called friends.  Family called family.  Every TV that was shut off (and then some) when Cruz tracked the fly ball a few innings earlier were turned back on.  All the curses were taken back and around the country people sat on the edge of their seat to see what happened.  The east coast viewers were well into Friday morning.  West coast viewers were delaying the 10:00 news.  No one cared.  This was baseball at its white knuckle, stomach churning, prayer mumbling best.

The 10th inning ended.  Tied again.  Mike Napoli singled for Texas in the 11th but was stranded there.  If this game wasn't good enough yet there was more to come and no one knew when it would end.  Rangers fans had suffered for 39 years through year after year of bad teams and twice, in the last hour, had their hearts ripped out.  Now all they could do was hope.

(Mike Napoli hit .350 and drove in 10 runs in the World Series.  Released by the Angels, he was driven to prove Mike Scioscia wrong about the decision to release him.)

David Freese stepped in to start the inning and took the count to 3-2.  Of the big names in the Cardinals line up, it was small time player David Freese who had tied the game after Hamilton put Texas in the lead.  Like Dane Iorg with a game winning hit for Kansas City in 1985, he was a nobody to the casual fan, getting the hit when the stars couldn't.  He swung at the 3-2 pitch and drilled it.  Dead Center Field.  Almost directly at Hamilton.  Josh went back.  Tracked the ball.  As he reached the warning track he felt he had a play.  He kept running back.  Reached the wall and looked over his shoulder...and stopped. 
(David Freese had a 99 hits/75 K ratio but hit a game tying triple and a walk off home run in Game 6.  The game is considered one of the greatest games in World Series history.)

St. Louis exploded....literally. Fireworks bathed the stadium in a hellish red glow as the Cardinals celebrated at home plate.  The Rangers walked off the field quickly.  Hamilton jogged in slowly, the last to leave.  His path took him from the farthest part of the park, against the wall in center field,
through the infield, past the second base bag he had touched just a short while ago with the assurance of a win.  He jogged with his head high knowing there would be a game 7 but he shot a quick look at the mass of humanity at home plate and felt what America felt.  The window had closed on this year.  One strike away, twice, and no championship.  There was always 2012.  Josh Hamilton would come back.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Greatest World Series Moments: The Most Controversial Moment

Denny Matthews had seen every game, every play, every pitch in the history of the Kansas City Royals and there may have been few innings where he felt more disappointed and sure of what was to come.  Since the Royals entered the league in 1969 Denny Matthews had been in the broadcast booth for every single game.  He had seen the Royals lose to the Yankees in the ALCS in 1977 and 1978.  Saw them lose to the Phillies in the World Series in  1980.  Saw them swept by the powerful Tigers in the ALCS the year before and now he prepared himself to watch the St. Louis Cardinals celebrate a World Series Championship in Royals Stadium.

"Well, for some of these guys it started on February 15th."  He said, settling behind the microphone for, likely, the last three outs of the season.  "Pitchers and Catchers reported for Spring Training in Fort Myers....and what started then boils down to one inning."  There was resigned acceptance in his voice, like he had been here before and he could see what was about to unfold in front of him.

There was still hope.  Miracles could happen in baseball.  This same team had come back from a 3 games to 1 deficit against the Toronto Blue Jays only ten days before.  The Cardinals led this series 3 games to 2 and led this game 1-0 on an 8th inning, pinch hit, bloop single by Brian Harper that scored Terry Pendleton from 3rd.

The Royals best chance to even the score had come in the bottom of the 8th inning.  Lonnie Smith started the inning with a strike out where he argued the third strike call that he had foul tipped the ball into Darrel Porter's glove. (He may have been right but regardless his checked swing was well past the plate and the pitch was likely a strike anyways.  Either way, Smith struck out). Willie Wilson walked and the crowd got on their feet.  Stepping to the plate was George Brett.  If anyone would keep this inning moving it was Brett.  He seemed to be a driving force in keeping this team in the series.  If the play he made sliding into the dugout to catch a foul ball and narrowly missing slamming his head on the concrete steps as he flew out of control didn't show his drive to win this thing, nothing ever would.  Yet, in baseball, even the greatest heroes of all time still fail 70% of the time.  Brett struck out swinging.  This was followed by a Frank White fly ball to center field and the Royals were down to their last chance.  The crowd went silent.

(George Brett, known mostly for his bat, made several amazing plays with his glove during the 1985 World Series)

The Cardinals did nothing in their part of the 9th.  Cue Denny Matthews.  The great thing about listening to old baseball radio or TV calls is that we know what the outcome is.  Denny Matthews had no idea how prophetic his reference to spring training would be.  The first images we see every year of Spring training is the most routine, mundane drill.  A line of pitchers stand at the mound and mock a pitch to the plate.  They immediately head toward first base and take a throw from the first baseman to retire the phantom runner coming down the line.  Every pitcher on every team does this for hours. It's simple. Head straight for the bag, catch the ball, touch the inside part of the bag with your foot. Runner's out. Simple.

The bottom of the 9th started with one of those mini baseball chess matches that casual baseball fans hate but sometimes lead to an amazing chain of events.  Dick Howser, Royals manager, sent Darryl Motley up to pinch hit.  Howser wanted a right handed batter to face the left handed pitcher Ken Dayley.  Whitey Herzog, Cardinals manager, did not want that match up and waited for the Public Address Announcer to officially announce Motley as the pinch hitter, then walked to the mound and brought in his closer, Todd Worrell.  As soon as Worrell was announced, Howser pulled back Motley and sent up Jorge Orta.  ABC went to commercial as Worrell threw his warm up pitches.  Casual fans across America yelled at their TV that they had just seen the "Where's the Beef?" commercial thirty seconds ago and asked why there were so many commercial breaks when nothing had happened since the last one.

(Darryl Motley, seen here in Game 7 of the 1985 World Series, was used as a pawn in Game 6 allowing Manager Dick Howser to get the match up he wanted.)
Worrell's year to this point was a roller coaster.  He started the year in the minor leagues as a starting pitcher.  Around July the AAA Louiseville team got a call from the big leagues.  They needed a relief pitcher and they needed him fast.  Get Worrell converted to a reliever, now.  The second call came in August and ready or not Todd Worrell was a big league closer.  He seemed ready.  From August through the playoffs he became a favorite of the national media.  Everyone was amazed how quickly he transitioned and excelled.  Just a few days ago in this same World Series he had set a record by striking out 6 straight batters in one game.  The roller coaster was on one of those long, calm climbs that lulls you into a sense of calm.  It was about to take one of those unforeseen, spiraling drops.  Like Space Mountain on steroids.

(Todd Worrell had a roller coaster season.  He started the year in AAA Louiseville as a starter.  When the Cardinals needed a reliever he got the call and helped get the Cardinals to the World Series.)

Orta stepped in to face Worrell with a slow, almost defeated walk knowing the end was near.  After two quick strikes Al Michaels, Tim McCarver and Jim Palmer started to discuss the possibility of a record 7th consecutive strike out for Worrell, which would set a record.  The third pitch was fouled off into the crowd.

Then all hell broke loose.  Orta swung at the fourth pitch and made contact.  The ball hit in the dirt right in front of the plate and headed into that little area between first base and the mound.  It was spring training all over again.  Get to the bag.  Get the throw from first base, tag the inside part of the bag with your foot. 1 out.  Let's keep moving.

Another great thing about baseball is that the routine play still has to be executed properly by multiple players in order to get the out.  Orta sprinted down the line but he had seen this play a million times.  It was a simple out.  Just keep running and maybe something would happen.  It did.

Jack Clark, the first baseman, fielded the ball.  This was his tenth year in baseball.  He had made his third All Star game this year and was one of the driving forces in getting the Cardinals to this point, including a three run home run to clinch the NLCS against the Dodgers.  Of the ten years he played in the major leagues, nine of them were played as a right fielder.  This was his first year as a first baseman.  As he fielded the ball there was a split second hesitation. Replays show that he clearly had a slight problem with the transfer from the glove to the throwing hand.  It was the slightest of hesitations.  Clark flipped the ball to Worrell. 

Worrell was moving right.  The ball was moving towards Worrell's left and Orta was still sprinting down the line.  Worrell had to twist to catch the ball and as the ball smacked the glove on his left hand his left foot planted on top of the bag, not the inside corner like you practice, but it had worked.  As Worrell caught the ball, Orta made one last desperate stride, one of those long strides that is closer to a jump and almost never work.

(Todd Worrell takes the throw from Jack Clark (#22).  Replays from all angles show that Worrell beat Orta to the bag.)
As Orta's foot hit the bag, it landed on Worrell's foot, which was already on top of the bag, and Orta launched (or tripped) into a long jump past first base that would have made Jesse Owens proud.  1 out.  Let's keep moving.

Not so fast.  As Orta's foot came down on the bag, Don Denkinger, the first base umpire, threw his arms up and yelled safe.  The reaction was angry and immediate.  Four Cardinals players surrounded Denkinger and yelled.  Fortunately for Denkinger it was probably hard to hear four people yelling at one time so he may have missed some of the worst things that were screamed.  Herzog came out to argue but it did no good.

ABC showed the replay from three different angles while Herzog berated Denkinger, each replay angle confirmed what the live, full speed play had shown.  Orta was out by a full step.  It should not have been even a close call.  Cardinals fans will forever scream that this play stole the World Series victory from them (they have won two more since then so hopefully they can relax a little and move on).

Baseball is usually a calm, structured, organized game.  The greatest moments, the most exciting moments, always seem to happen when chaos takes over for a total of about thirty seconds.  The important thing is never what causes the chaos but how you react after the chaos has calmed.  Do you give into the chaos and panic?  Or do you settle down and execute the plays the way you have all year?

(Todd Worrell and Tommy Herr argue the disputed call with Don Denkinger.  Jorge Orta's helmet and cap can be seen on the ground.  Orta went sprawling as he hit the bag.)
The Cardinals seemed to panic.  Realistically the missed call was not that bad.  The Royals still needed one run to tie and two to win.  There was only a man on first and their closer, who one pitch before was being considered for the World Series MVP, was still on the mound.  Even better for the Cardinals, the middle and bottom of the order were due up.

Following Orta to the plate was Steve Balboni.  The poster boy of the "all or nothing" player.  His job was to bash home runs.  This job comes with the common draw back.  If you swing for the fences and miss, you strikeout.  Balboni struck out 166 times in 1985, the most in the league, and he had not had an extra base hit all Series long.  This was the perfect situation for the Cardinals.  Their strikeout pitcher on the mound and the strikeout king at the plate.
But panic and chaos raged through Royals Stadium. Balboni swung at the first pitch and popped a ball foul towards the home dugout.  Clark moved over towards the dugout.  It was a high pop and he had time to get there.  He got there.  He waited.  He heard footsteps and looked up to see Darrell Porter, the Catcher, coming over to the dugout to back him up.  Clark stopped.  Looked up again to find the ball.  Took two steps in toward the dugout.  The ball seemed like it would be up there forever.  He looked down again to make sure he was not going to fall head first into the concrete dugout.  He took two more steps in then as he looked up he saw it.  That damn ball was finally coming his left.  He tried to recover, stumbled to the left two steps and the ball fell to the ground.  Less than five feet away.  Balboni was still alive.  He made them pay by sending a single to left field two pitches later.

(Jack Clark moved from Right Field to First Base in his tenth year in the majors.  His three run home run in the NLCS was the reason the Cardinals were in the World Series but several misplays in Game 6 led to the defeat.)
The Cardinals were still OK if they could calm down and make the plays they needed to make.  Jim Sundberg was next up to hit.  With runners on first and second with no one out, Sundberg's job was to move the runners up without hitting into a double play.  Sundberg squared around to bunt.  Ball one, well outside.  Sundberg squared around again.  Even farther outside.  Ball two.  Sundberg popped the third pitch foul but Porter couldn't track it down.  Finally, Sundberg laid one down the line.  Clark, charging from first, froze.  Let it roll foul.  It was amazing.  The Royals were trying to give these guys outs and they weren't taking them.  Sundberg bunted the next pitch right back to Worrell who turned and threw to third base and caught Orta on a close play.  After all that, one out.  They still had the lead and would hopefully settle down.

Except that they didn't.  Hal McRae came to the plate and the crowd was getting louder.  The first pitch was a ball.  The second pitch was a passed ball.  Plain and simple.  Porter just missed it.  The ball bounced off his glove to the right and the runners moved up.  As bad as the call had been at first base, what seemed like an hour ago (but was only about five minutes), the Cardinals had completely unravelled.  McRae was walked intentionally to load the bases.

The Cardinals were still OK.  A double play and they were World Champions.  Just two outs away from the ultimate goal.

This brought up Dane Iorg.  That's right.  The guy's last name was Iorg.  He was the last man anyone on the Cardinals wanted to see. They all knew how dangerous he was.  Iorg had played for St. Louis in the 1982 World Series and hit over .500 including four doubles and a triple.  His job now was to beat his old team.

Iorg hit a small blooper into right field and it was obvious the game was tied as the runner scored from third.  What was not clear was how this would end.  It took 4.5 seconds to find out.  Sundberg, not a great runner, came screaming around third.  Andy Van Slyke, with one of the strongest arms in the league,  fielded the ball on one hop and immediately was ready to throw home. It was clear this would be close.

The noise was deafening.

The throw was perfect.  It came in on the fly, no bounces.  It was on line.  Porter was in a position to field it and swipe the tag.

(Andy Van Slyke, seen here in his best years with Pittsburgh, made a strong throw home on the winning run.  Van Slyke was a key part of the strong Pirates teams of the early 90's.  He is currently a coach for the Detroit Tigers and his son is playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers.)
Sundberg dove for the plate.  Literally.  He launched himself from about 5-10 feet out.

Porter swung his glove around behind him.  Sundberg kicked up a cloud of dirt as his momentum carried him straight for the plate.

Porter's glove hit Sundberg on the back of the upper leg about a tenth of a second after Sundberg's hand touched the plate.

Royals Stadium erupted.  The Royals bench emptied.  Iorg got punched in the face by one of his own teammates during the celebration and had a bloody nose during the post game interviews.  The Cardinals were stunned.

Herzog complained long and loud about the horrible call at first base and blamed Denkinger for the loss, completely ignoring the missed pop fly, the passed ball and the inability of his team to settle in and focus.

Amazingly, as I was preparing this article I turned on TBS and saw bottles and cans raining down on Turner Field in Atlanta.  The delay lasted for what seemed like forever and it was ugly.  Why?  Because the fans now blame an umpire for calling an infield fly rule on a ball that was well into left field.  Many of you won't agree but the umpire called this right.  The rule is that an infield fly can be called if any infielder can clearly demonstrate the ability to easily catch a fly ball with runners on first and second or second and third.  Watch the replay again and notice when the umpire calls the infield fly.  When the infielder (although now in short left) calls to the outfielder that the ball is his, turns square to the plate and has demonstrated that he can clearly make the catch the umpire indicates the infield fly rule. 

So the Braves fans will now ignore the three errors that led to three earned runs.  They will ignore the fact that they still had a chance to win in the ninth on a blown call in their favor.  Worst of all, they will ignore the fact that after the long delay, they loaded the bases and had a chance to win in that same inning, but Michael Bourne struck out with the bases loaded.

(The Braves field crew cleans up cans and bottles thrown by angry Braves fans over the disputed Infield Fly Rule call on Friday night.)

It is never important what causes the chaos.  The important thing is what you do after the chaos has calmed.