Can you be “zoned in” as a fan watching a game on TV?
Players can be dialed in as they focus with great intensity during a game. But me in my La-Z-Boy?
You better believe it! I was in the zone for Game Six of the 2011 World Series Thursday night.
I was in full bunker mode, with my beloved St. Louis Cardinals trailing the powerful Texas Rangers three games to two: no channel changing, no computer, no telephone, no texting friends and family. It was me and my Cardinals.
The Cards had played an up-and-down series, squeaking by the Rangers 3-2 the previous Wednesday but blowing a 1-0 lead in the ninth inning the next night for a 2-1 loss at Busch Stadium.
On Saturday night in Texas, the Cards unleashed the big bats in a 16-7 win that featured one of the most amazing individual performances in baseball history: slugger Albert Pujols going 5-6 with three homeruns and six runs batted in.
The Cardinals were on a roll, right? Nope. They looked listless in a 4-0 loss Sunday night, then dropped a 4-2 decision on Monday in an odd game that featured manager Tony La Russa unable to communicate properly with the bullpen to bring in the pitcher he wanted, resulting in the Rangers plating two runs in the eighth to win the game. The Cards were 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position that night.
The Cardinals looked more like bunglers than ballplayers.
But they were coming home.
Game Six was rained out Wednesday night, costing me a chance to see Game Seven Thursday night in St. Louis, where cousin Nathan had a ticket waiting for me. With Game Seven – if needed – to be played opposite the Lovell Bulldogs’ playoff game Friday night, and with the Lady Bulldogs playing at the state volleyball tournament, I stayed in Wyoming and focused on the task at hand – willing the Cardinals to victory Thursday night.
It was truly one of the most incredible games in World Series history, maybe ever. The game was tied 2-2, 3-3 and 4-4 in the early innings, and then Texas struck for three runs in the top of the seventh and seemed to be on their way to victory. After all, the Cardinals had played sloppy ball to that point, dropping a fly ball and a pop-up, and getting picked off base. It looked like the Rangers would win their first World Series title. I was muttering to myself.
But the Cardinals had other ideas. Allen Craig, who came up with several timely hits during the series, homered in the bottom of the eighth to cut the lead to 7-5, and the Cardinals were within striking distance.
With one out in the bottom of the ninth and flame-throwing Texas ace reliever Neftali Feliz on the mound, Pujols, who had been something like 0-16 since his big game three, pounded a double to left. Cleanup hitter Lance Berkman walked. But Craig was called out on strikes, and when Feliz got two strikes on third baseman David Freese, I had my finger on the remote control to change channels, not wanting to watch the Rangers pile on top of each other in glee with a World Series victory.
But the hometown boy came through. Freese, who grew up in the St. Louis area, blasted a triple off the right field fence to score Pujols and Berkman to tie the game. I set my remote down as the game went into extra innings.
The Rangers had no quit in them and came right back to score two runs in the top of the 10th against Cardinal closer Jason Motte on a homerun by fan favorite Josh Hamilton. Again, the Rangers appeared to have the game in hand.
In the bottom of the inning with two runners on and no outs, the Cardinals had no batters left on their bench so pitcher Kyle Lohse pinch hit and successfully bunted runners to second and third. A ground out scored one run, but the Cards were still down 9-8 with two out. The Rangers walked Pujols intentionally, but on a two-strike count and my finger again on the remote, Berkman singled to center to tie the score. I set the remote back down. The Cardinals just would not quit.
The Cards blanked the Rangers in the top of the 11th, and in the bottom of the inning, hometown hero Freese struck again, blasting the game-winning, walk-off homerun to center field. The Cardinals won the game 10-9.
How do you describe a game like that? Amazing? Incredible? Heart-stopping? Jaw-dropping? Exhilarating? Crazy?
All I know is that the Cardinals simply would not give up. They fought and fought and fought, and while watching the game I died, cheered, died again, then couldn’t believe my eyes as the Cards won the game.
Only after the game was over did I turn on my cell phone to the “ping, ping, ping” of many messages. I emerged from my bunker and reveled with friends and family.
The next night was almost anticlimactic. Texas scored two runs in the top of the first off Cardinal starter Chris Carpenter, pitching on three days rest, but that was it as the tough, old ace and four relievers blanked the Rangers the rest of the way. Freese came up big again, doubling home two in the bottom of the first. Craig homered in the third, and the Rangers, emotionally spent, walked in a run and hit a batter to force in another run in the fifth.
St. Louis recorded a 6-2 win for the team’s 11th World Series title, by far the most in the National League and second only to the huge market New York Yankees. I didn’t even watch the game until later, occupied at the time with the Lovell win over Burns in the football playoffs. But I will never forget Game Six, nor will others who watched it.
Baseball has many detractors. Some say it is boring and lacks the action and pizzazz of the NFL or NBA. But think what you want, football and basketball fans, there is no game like baseball when it comes to agonizing drama and a team always having a chance to win. There is no clock and the game is not decided until the last out. As Yogi Berra put it, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”
Indeed, the World Series win capped an unbelievable late-season run for the Cardinals that saw them come from 10½ games behind to make the playoffs with a late-August/September push, then upset the highly-favored Phillies and Brewers in the National League playoffs. They then overcame a 3-2 series lead against the Rangers and won Game Six despite being down to their last strike not once but twice.
The Cardinals proved in Game Six that baseball is the greatest game, and I’m glad I pushed the world away that night and soaked it all in. It was one for the ages.