Cardinals. Giants. Game 7. Get set for the greatest day in sports
SAN FRANCISCO -- How else did you expect it to end? In a year in which the Cardinals and Giants have split 12 games and in a postseason in which seven of the eight postseason matchups were decided by a winner-take-all game -- the ALCS, where the Tigers swept the Yankees, was the only non-competitive series of this tournament -- the National League pennant will be decided by one game tonight. Game 7. It is only the greatest night in all of sports. It is the 55th Game 7 in baseball history, but unlike anything else because of the perilous manner in which St. Louis and San Francisco got here.
The Cardinals are 6-0 in elimination games the past two years, winning all of them against teams with a better record and warding off 22 pitches when they were one out away from elimination, including eight of them when they were down to their last strike.
And yet even such a lengthy history of triumph under duress doesn't earn St. Louis any edge because of what its opponent has done.
The Giants are 5-0 in elimination games
"You look at what they've done," said Cardinals third baseman David Freese, "and the last thing they are is nervous. This is going to be a grudge match. Both teams want it extremely badly."
Said injured Cardinals first baseman Lance Berkman about winning elimination games, "Having done it, it does give you a measure of mastering the situation rather than being mastered by it. I don't think you'll see the choke factor at all with these two teams."
What Berkman alluded to is that Game 7 should be a clean, low-scoring game decided by which starting pitcher comes up with the better game, Kyle Lohse of St. Louis or Matt Cain of the Giants. Eleven of the 12 pitching decisions in this series have gone to starters. In 92 overall LCS innings, there has been only one lead change -- none after the fourth inning.
In raw numbers, this is what we know about the DNA of Game 7s:
• The home team wins 54 percent of the time (29-25), the same "edge" as all postseason games in general. Not a big deal.
• While awaiting the first one-run game of this NLCS, only 13 of the 54 Game 7s have been decided by one run (24 percent).
• In an all-hands-on-deck game (and with both bullpens well rested tonight) it's worth noting that Game 7 almost never turns into a high-scoring game. Only six teams ever lost a Game 7 while scoring more than three runs: the 1925 Senators (9-7), 1960 Yankees (10-9), 1964 Yankees (7-5), 1986 Red Sox (8-5), 2003 Cubs (9-6) and 2003 Red Sox (6-5).
You might think the Giants have the edge because they are the home team, they have the more accomplished starting pitcher and the more experienced manager, they have limited the Cardinals to one run total in the two games in which St. Louis could have clinched a World Series berth, and because Matt Holliday, the Cardinals' third-place hitter, missed Game 6 because of a back injury that threatens to keep him sideline again for Game 7. That all sounds good. But all of that may be overthinking the obvious: Momentum and history give us something to talk about, but everything in this ultimate small sample depends mostly on how well Lohse and Cain throw the ball.
"It's no longer about who has the better team," Berkman said. "It's who gets the better start."
It truly is remarkable how many times these teams have succeeded when down to their last breath -- especially on the road. The Cardinals are 3-0 in elimination games on the road the past two seasons, with wins in Philadelphia, Atlanta and Washington. The Giants are 4-0 in elimination games on the road this month, with three wins in Cincinnati and one in St. Louis -- along with Washington, the toughest NL places for a road team to win this year.
Here's some perspective on how hard it is to win so many elimination games on the road: Since the 1995 postseason expansion, the New York Yankees are 4-8 in playoff elimination games on the road.
I should point out that there is a slight possibility that neither team will win tonight; the winner might be rain. Showers are forecasted for most of the day and evening in San Francisco, though the heavy stuff should be done by midday. Still, Major League Baseball made it clear last week with the postponement of ALCS Game 4 in Detroit in which the tarp wasn't even on the field that it will not start a playoff game unless it is convinced by its weather experts that nine innings can be played without interruption. We might be looking at a lengthy delay tonight, or, in the worst-case scenario, a day game tomorrow -- with World Series Game 1 the following day in San Francisco or St. Louis.
It's been a remarkable postseason in which 31 out of a maximum 34 games have been played. And more than half of the postseason games this year -- 16 out of 31 -- have been an elimination game for at least one of the two teams.
So now you get an idea of why this Game 7 was in the works all along. And if you're looking for the ultimate ending to the ultimate game, know this: Only four Game 7s have gone extra innings, with all of them (here's where the homefield does come into play) won by the home team (the 1924 Senators, 1991 Twins and 1997 Marlins in the World Series and the 2003 Yankees in the ALCS). There have been eight NLCS Game 7s. None have gone extra innings.