The period from September 28 – October 28, 2011 is already being proclaimed the best month of baseball in the history of the game.
But like the Greeks, who add two months that don’t exist to the calendar so they can pay workers higher wages and claim to stay within monthly pay limits, I want to add a few days and take the personal view that September 25th – October 28th is the best month of baseball – ever!
I go back to the 25th of September, because that’s when our Washington Nationals wrapped up their own surprising September and closed out the home season with a thoroughly satisfying win over the Atlanta Braves. On that day the Nats – rather than playing out the string – took the rubber game of a three game series from the Braves and did their part to help the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals even make it into the playoffs.
Then of course, there was the ridiculous night of September 28th when within minutes of each other the Boston Red Sox and the Braves completed their historic collapses, allowing the Rays and Cards to take the wild card berths. That night will go down in my mind as the best single day of baseball, with three of the four do-or-die games coming down to implausible, but nonetheless real, endings.
Since then the incredible play has continued. On the satisfaction scale, the two large-budget teams (Yankees and Phillies) took early leave from the playoffs, turning the stage over to cities that have struggled in so many ways in recent years but which have proud baseball traditions (Detroit, St. Louis, and Milwaukee). We got to watch Ron Washington – the hardest working man in a baseball dugout – do the “Wash” night after night as Texas rolled through the American League playoffs to return to the World Series. Cardinal Ace – and grizzled veteran – Chris Carpenter beat his best friend in baseball with a classic 1-0 win over Doc Halladay and the 102-win Phillies in the elimination game of the National League Division Series. The racing sausages in Milwaukee took their act deep into the playoffs.
After all that we were treated to an amazing World Series. After Texas took Game 2 in St. Louis the pundits were certain that the Cardinals were toast. Then Albert Pujols put on a hitting clinic with his three home-runs, and the Cards reclaimed home-field advantage…which they would desperately need. Who can forget NAP-O-LI, NAP-O-LI! You thought Texas Stadium had been transformed into a World Cup site. This series was terrific in part because of the show put on by the two great catchers: by the end of Game 7 Mike Napoli and Yadier Molina couldn’t have a healthy bone in their bodies. Tony (the genius) LaRussa goes brain-dead and Phone-gate results in Game 5. Again the pundits on ESPN declared the series all but over. Why even bother to play Game 6? Let’s just give Texas the trophy.
Oh, but we’re so glad they did. David Freese lives out every kid’s dream – playing for his hometown team in the World Series, getting 21 RBIs and saving the Cards in that classic Game 6. I almost went to bed with the score 7-4 Texas. But Allen Craig’s solo home run – after replacing an injured Matt Holliday – convinced me that the Cardinals weren’t dead just yet. Watching the 9th and 10th innings – where Texas was one strike away in each instance from pouring the champagne – was worth only getting four hours of sleep that night. Then Freese sends the crowd into a frenzy with a dead centerfield walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th. You can’t make this stuff up.
Game 7 didn’t have the same dramatic ending, but Texas showed some resilience by jumping out 2-0 in the first. But, in a fashion so typical of this season, the Cardinals score two runs and essentially rip the heart out of Texas in the fifth. Here’s how Tom Boswell described it:
In the fifth inning of this final game, when Texas trailed only 3-2, various Rangers pitchers, now perhaps headed to witness protection, handed the Cards a walk, a hit batter, an intentional walk, a walk and another hit batter, for two gift runs without so much as a single hit.
You can’t make this stuff up.
So we head into the long dark period of no baseball (it is cold and rainy here in DC – which is as it should be). But we have enough from this last month – that period from September 25th to October 28th – to more than last the winter.
And remember: pitchers and catchers report in February!
More to come…