ST. LOUIS -- Last night's Game 6 of the World Series started as the worst-played game of the Series and quickly turned into maybe the best fall classic game in a quarter century, and perhaps ever. It was full of twists and turns, and ultimately comebacks, for these cardiac Cardinals, who rallied from two runs down and one strike to go in both the ninth and 10th innings before winning in the 11th on hometown boy David Freese's walk-off home run and fittingly sending this crazy World Series to a decisive Game 7 on Friday night.
Let's revisit the good, bad, ugly, clutch and clumsy from one of the most exciting games played in any sport or any venue, a 10-9 Cardinals victory over the Rangers that will be talked about for years.
Most Clutch: That could be almost anyone from Texas' Josh Hamilton, the gimpy superstar whose two-run homer in the 10th triggered thoughts of Kirk Gibson with every single person in attendance but Hamilton ("no fist-pumps for me,'' Hamilton said); to St. Louis' Lance Berkman, who delivered the second game-tying, two-out, two-strike hit following a 10th-inning intentional walk to The Great Albert Pujols; to of course Freese, the suburban St. Louis product who came through twice late, first providing the game-tying, two-out, two-strike triple just over the head of right fielder Nelson Cruz in the ninth inning and then winning it with a home run onto the center field berm in the 11th that sent Busch Stadium into delirium. "You can never count this team out,'' declared Cardinals owner Bill Dewitt in the afterglow.
Most Clutch (team category): Obviously, the Cardinals, who scored in the eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th innings. Who does that? Until them, no one.
Most Inspirational: That has to be Mike Napoli, who badly wrenched his ankle on some kind of a weird pop-up slide in the second inning, dusted himself off, walked it off, and caught, heroically, the next nine innings. Afterward, the Rangers X-rayed the ankle to be sure that it wasn't broken and found that it wasn't. If the foot's still attached, the great Napoli, who is more popularly known these days as "Na-Po-LI" for the way Rangers fans have chanted his name this postseason, will be out there for Game 7.
Most Clumsy: That probably has to be Freese, too. There was a comedy of errors early, but no one missed an easier play than Freese, a routine popup right on the third base bag that he bungled. But what he giveth, he taketh away. Freese wound up hitting the triple that Cruz didn't quite get a glove on in the ninth, then the game-winning homer. "He's got it. I don't know what 'it' is. But he's got it,'' Lance Berkman said. "He's one of the players ... the moment is never bigger than he is.'' Freese said he had never before hit a walk-off home run, let alone the 15th walk-off homer in World Series history.
Best Defense: In a game filled with buttered fingers, Freese's third-base counterpart, Adrian Beltre, remained the one shining Gold Glove out there. He completed a pickoff tag on Matt Holliday by blocking Holliday's right hand at third base while receiving the throw from catcher Napoli. Beltre is having one of those Series and one of those postseasons when folks are finally starting to realize how great he is with the glove. It may not be quite a Graig Nettles or Brooks Robinson postseason, but it seems pretty special.
Best Strategy: It's got to be legendary Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who mostly put the Game 5 bullpen phone shenanigans behind him to outmanage Ron Washington. Though really, maybe Washington undermanaged La Russa.
Washington took a page out of the La Russa book to pull closer Neftali Feliz, who'd blown a two-run lead in the ninth inning, with a two-run lead in the 10th to get the lefty-on-lefty thing that La Russa likes so much. It seemed improbable that the 98-mph-throwing Feliz could blow two straight two-run leads. He had never blown a save in the postseason before, and he hadn't blown one at all since way back on Aug. 6. Instead of Feliz, Washington summoned 41-year-old lefty Darren Oliver for the 10th inning.
La Russa named the one time in the game when he thought his Cardinals were in big trouble, and of course it's when Feliz entered to protect the two-run lead. "Well, I thought when you're down two runs to their closer in the ninth, I mean, this guy is a legitimate one, two, three [outs] and they're shaking hands.'' There would be no hand-shaking after Wash opted for Oliver, the former Cardinal who has called La Russa the best manager he ever played for. (He didn't say whether he disagreed with Wash's call to go to him for the 10th.)
Two left-handed hitters were coming up, Daniel Descalso and Jon Jay, and Washington felt the urge for a left-hander, even an old one. The result was two straight singles and the setup to a second straight two-run comeback inning for the Cardinals. "Bringing Ollie in on those two lefties, I thought maybe we could get those two lefties out, having the pitcher come up, I don't think it could have been more perfect. But it just wasn't to happen tonight,'' Washington said. He trusts his guys, to his credit. And sometimes to his detriment.
La Russa, probably the best manager over the past three decades, seemed to have a senior moment himself in that inning. Out of position players and with the pitchers' spot coming up, La Russa at first called upon Edwin Jackson to pinch hit, but then realizing it was a bunt situation, went to Kyle Lohse, who squirted a too-strong bunt over outstretched third baseman Beltre to put runners at second and third with two out. After Ryan Theriot's groundout brought the Cardinals within one run -- and within one out of elimination again -- Washington walked Pujols as the potential go-ahead run with Lance Berkman on deck.
Washington's decision to intentionally walk Pujols was understandable in that no manager who let Pujols beat them late and close in the World Series would ever hear the end of it. But mathematically speaking, since he gave Berkman, no slouch himself, a chance to win with a homer or double, it probably was not the percentage move.
Berkman also needed just a single to tie the game. "I've never prayed to God for a hit. But I did pray to let me stay calm, and don't let my emotions take over,'' Berkman said. "I was really calm. I was really at peace.'' Berkman singled to center off Scott Feldman to re-tie the game and re-ignite the crowd.
La Russa loses points for pinch hitting twice with pitchers in one at-bat. But La Russa was, after all, the one who switched from the ailing Holliday to Berkman to bat behind Pujols before the game.
Most Mysterious: Again, that has to be La Russa, who seems to be having the time of his life despite taking as much heat as everyone else combined. La Russa, who joked about everything including Moneyball, which he saw on the rainout day and didn't find true to life (what did he like? "great acting''), once again wouldn't reveal who will start Game 7. He said, "Might just roll Jake [Westbrook] back out there.'' But of course, no one was buying that. Lohse did bunt successfully in Game 6, but that doesn't seem to qualify him for the enormity of the task. Jackson is also rested, but hasn't seemed to be himself this October. Rather, it must be Carpenter, who is 6-0 with a 2.07 ERA in postseason games at home. The issue would be that he's had only three days' rest. But no one could reasonably conceive that it'll be anyone else. Not baseball officials, not Rangers officials, not anyone. Though, of course, La Russa has surprised us before this postseason. Maybe he could put both Lohse and Carpenter out in the bullpen to warm up, and make one of those funny calls to that pen of his where he only names one of the two pitchers and nobody knows who's pitching until the bullpen door swings open.
• The Red Sox are expected to make a play for Carlos Beltran. The incumbent Giants are also thought to be in the hunt.
• The Yankees are expected to exercise Nick Swisher's 2012 option.
• The Tigers will soon pick up Jose Valverde's $9 million option.
• If the Reds can't get a multiyear deal with Brandon Phillips, they'll just pick up his $12 million option. Cincinnati is still thinking about closer Francisco Cordero's own $12 million option.
• Baseball insiders see the Nationals going hard for C.J. Wilson, who might also have the Red Sox, Yankees, Marlins, Royals and others pursuing him, as well. Others are not expected to include the Rangers, who may move Feliz and Feldman into the rotation, and of course return Alexi Oagndo to the rotation, as well. The best guess for Wilson is $75 to $80 million over five years. But not from Texas.
• Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik is believed to have his eye on Prince Fielder, whom Zduriencik drafted when he was scouting director of the Brewers. Heaven knows that Seattle could use the offense. It isn't known whether Mariners ownership will take the plunge, however. It also isn't known whether Fielder would want to play in such a pitchers' park.
• Nobody expects the Yankees to do anything but pick up the options on Robinson Cano's deal for $14 million and then $15 million.
• People expect La Russa to come to an agreement to manage the Cardinals for at least one more year. He seems to be going year-to-year these days, but he appears so pleased that maybe he goes for two years this time.
• Joe Nathan is "very excited" about free agency, his agent, David Pepe, said. Nathan, who's never been a free agent before, wants a job as a closer, not a set-up man. He had a 1.00 WHIP in the second half last year and finished the season with 14 saves, his first year back from Tommy John surgery.
• Dodgers coach Tim Wallach seems to be a hot name. He got credit for Beltre's big year in L.A., and also Matt Kemp's big year this year.
• MLB and the players' union are closing in on a new CBA, which would avert a work stoppage once again. It is believed that there might be a compromise on the big issue of a slotting system for draft bonuses. Commissioner Bud Selig has sought slotting, whereby dollar figures would be attached to draft slots, but the sides were believed discussing a compromise tax system or something similar that may slightly curtail signing bonuses. The union has been against slotting as it views it as a pseudo cap.
• Best news yet this week was MLB negotiating with Frank McCourt to get him to sell the storied Dodgers. After making himself so unwanted, though, he's naming high prices to leave.