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Game 7 of the World Series produces best theatre in sports

If you missed Game 6 of the World Series Thursday night, and you didn't see the five errors, or the Cardinals score six runs from the eighth inning on, or the Rangers come within one strike of winning the Series in both the ninth and 10th innings, or Josh Hamilton hit an apparent game-winning homer in the 10th inning despite barely being able to walk, or St. Louis native David Freese hit the game-winning home run for St. Louis in the bottom of the 11th ... well, if you missed all that ... uh ... don't worry. Nothing interesting happened.

But you might want to tune in tonight.

• POSNANSKI:Nothing like an amazing comeback

The two best words in the English language are "free beer," but the two best words in sports are "Game 7." Baseball gives us the most alluring Game 7s, because baseball has the best postseason.

CORCORAN:Previewing Game 7

Everything that makes people hate baseball in the summer should make them love it right now.

Football is America's most popular sport, and not just because we're flattered when people abuse other people for our entertainment. Football is always fun. It's true. On Sunday, the Saints beat the Colts 62-7 on national television in a game that had as much raw drama as a hard-boiled egg cook-off. It drew an 8.2 television rating, which is better than some recent World Series games have drawn.

That's the kind of hold that football has on the American public. When you turn on your TV in December and the Kleenex Pocket Pack Bowl is on, featuring two 6-6 teams, you are drawn to it. High school football across the country draws crowds of people who are genuinely into the game.

Baseball, meanwhile, can bore you to the point where you forget if you're supposed to peel peanuts while you watch or peel your eyeballs so you don't have to. Games in May can feel like they take 12 hours, or 14 if they involve the Yankees and Red Sox. Many baseball games feel like lulls interrupted by breaks. There is nothing more redundant than a ballplayer in the third inning of a Tuesday night game in mid-May asking the umpire to call timeout.

But precisely because football is always fun, the biggest games simply feel like ... a little more fun. By the NFL playoffs, football fans are almost numb to the entertainment their sport provides. They have been heavily into it for five months at that point -- watching their favorite NFL team, their alma mater, their spouse's alma mater and following all six of their fantasy teams every week. The NFL postseason doesn't have to pull us in because we've been pulled in already.

Meanwhile, baseball slowly grips us. It goes from springtime amusement to summer intrigue to pennant-race tension. And then it gets mesmerizing.

All those elements that make baseball boring in May make it riveting in October. The pauses between pitches ratchet up the tension. The things that seem quirky in midseason -- a rookie reliever throwing a few straight shutout innings, or a kid flying in from Triple-A to hit two home runs in a game -- become legendary in October.

This Rangers-Cardinals Game 7 is so overflowing with storylines already, it's hard to believe that a dozen more will emerge after the first pitch. The Cardinals were 10 ½ games out of a playoff spot in late August, then climbed out of their coffins, clinched a playoff spot on the last day of the regular season, upset the heavily-favored Phillies in the NLDS and won Game 6 of the World Series in such preposterous fashion that when Disney makes the movie, the plot will have to be toned down. Can the Cardinals complete one of the most amazing championship triumphs in baseball history? Will starter Chris Carpenter, who beat Roy Halladay in a breathtaking deciding game in Philadelphia a few weeks ago, win Game 7 on three days' rest?

And can the Rangers even get out of bed today? Texas was one strike away from the first championship in franchise history -- twice! Can the Rangers recover from such a devastating defeat in less than 24 hours? Most teams don't.

• CHEN:Don't count out the Rangers

We have no earthly idea what Albert Pujols will do in this game. That can be maddening during the regular season -- you spend $200 on tickets, parking and a 17,000-calorie meal for everyone in your family of four, and in nine innings, the best player on the field might do nothing of consequence. But in the postseason, anything can happen and that's wonderful.

Consider the last four Game 7s of the World Series:

2002: Angels-Giants. The Angels scored four early runs off Livan Hernandez and rode five strong innings from John Lackey before the bullpen finished off a 4-1 victory. Everybody watched the Giants lineup turn over because we wanted to know when Barry Bonds would bat again. He was at the peak of his pharmaceutical phase and was the best player in baseball. He went 1 for 3 with a single and a walk.

2001: Yankees-Diamondbacks. One of the great games in any sport in the last 20 years. Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling did not allow any runs through five. Arizona went up 1-0 in the sixth. The Yankees tied it in the seventh and went up 2-1 in the eighth. And of course, against the longest of odds, the Diamondbacks scored twice off Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the ninth to win it on a broken-bat hit by Luis Gonzalez.

1997: Indians-Marlins. The Indians led 2-1 in the ninth inning and were just two outs away from winning the World Series. The Marlins tied it on a sacrifice fly by Craig Counsell and won it in the 11th on a single by Edgar Renteria.

1991: Braves-Twins. Young future Hall of Famer John Smoltz against old future Hall of Famer Jack Morris. No scoring for nine innings, which meant outrageous tension for nine innings. The Braves put nine guys on base but couldn't score. Dan Gladden led off the 10th with a double, then went to third on a sacrifice. Atlanta manager Bobby Cox responded with two intentional walks to load the bases. The Twins sent Gene Larkin to the plate as a pinch-hitter. He was a career .266 hitter with no power. No matter. Larkin hit a deep-fly ball that landed for a single to win the World Series.

The beauty of the postseason is that you never know who will win, or how -- but you know that team will be deserving. This is why Major League Baseball should leave the postseason alone. Don't water it down with more teams. Don't make it feel like a gimmick, with one-game playoffs to get in the real playoffs. Just let it be.

Baseball is somewhat predictable for a season but unpredictable for a night. In 1991, Twins star Kirby Puckett hit the game-winning home run in Game 6, but Larkin had the game-winning hit in Game 7. Any pitch in this Rangers-Cardinals Game 7 could decide the World Series.

Postseason baseball is incredibly slow-moving and absolutely riveting. Game 7. Tonight. How can you not watch?

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