Game 7 makes 2011 World Series great but not the greatest

The St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series on Friday, and despite the fact that they were barely good enough to make the playoffs, the end result hardly feels like a surprise.

The Cardinals seemingly answered the bell at every turn since late August, making the playoffs on the final day of the regular season by overcoming what was at one time a double-digit game deficit in the NL wild card chase. They knocked off the favored Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers, then went toe-to-toe with the two-time AL champion Texas Rangers.

And with their backs against the wall – down to their last strike on two different occasions in Game 6 – the Cardinals staved off elimination Thursday night, then dispatched of the Rangers rather handily in Game 7 on Friday.

Yadier Molina

St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina can celebrate another title. Associated Press

After the wild ride in Game 6, the Game 7 result was rather predictable. Even after the Rangers jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, I really didn’t figure the Cardinals were going to be held in check by Matt Harrison and Co. The Cards quickly scored two runs in the bottom of the first and never looked back.

We can paint this as a Cinderella story, but when you look at the Cardinals, I’d hardly say they were worried about the clock striking midnight. They have the best player in the game in Albert Pujols, and undoubtedly in Game 7 had an advantage in the pitching matchup thanks to the veteran Chris Carpenter.

This was baseball’s first seven-game series since 2002, putting an end to an extremely exciting season (Twins struggles excluded).

While I think Game 6 of the 2011 Series ranks up there among the best games ever played, I think the World Series as a whole – for all of its excitement – will be considered great but not one of the best. And that’s largely due to the finish. When talking about the best World Series ever played, you always have a great Game 7 to cap it. 1991 and 2001 are recent examples of that.

So while I think this one ranks up very high, I wouldn’t put it ahead of, say, 1997, when the Florida Marlins rallied in Game 7 in the ninth inning before winning in extra innings. And I wouldn’t put it ahead of the Twins’ 1991 victory or the D’Backs’ 2001 title.

But that matters not. Still an outstanding display of baseball and proof of the pull it can have on this country. There were tight games, highlighted by extra-inning theatrics. And two of the games – Pujols’ three-homer night and Game 6 – will be remembered for years to come.

This was the kind of series that will have me hungry throughout the winter for spring training’s arrival.

Twenty years later, 1991 World Series still stands out

I can be pretty slow to act after DVD purchases. It’s not uncommon for me to pick something up that I HAVE TO HAVE and then not watch it for a few months.

That had been the case with the 1991 World Series DVD set I purchased a few months ago. I’ve been watching it from start to finish off and on for the last few weeks and am finally on Game 7. And wouldn’t you know it, today is the 20th anniversary of that game.

Twenty years later, and the significance of that World Series hasn’t been lost, especially within the region. A big reason for that is the failure of major sports franchises like the Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves and Wild to fill that title void since 1991. But the reason that World Series is still as fresh in my memory today as it was 20 years ago was because of its greatness.

In 2003, ESPN named the 1991 Series the greatest ever played. And having watched the first six games of it again, I can’t argue with it. Every game is nail-biting aside from Game 5′s blowout victory for the Braves. But the World Series rebounded from that lopsided game with extra-inning thrillers in Games 6 and 7.

When I wrapped up Game 6 a few days ago, I’m not embarrassed to say that I got goosebumps when Kirby Puckett hit that 11th-inning game-winning homer off Charlie Liebrandt to force a decisive seventh game. Wow, what a moment, although as he was rounding second base and heading to third, I couldn’t help but think about a man whose life was cut too short. Off-the-field turmoil led to Puckett leaving the spotlight, and he never reconnected with the franchise that he put up on his back.

I’ve been holding off on watching Game 7 until today. Seems like an appropriate way to pay homage to the best World Series ever played.

Here are some great videoes I dug up on YouTube of the 1991 season:

Kirby Puckett’s blast in Game 6

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SIW_pPmaps8

Willie Banks and Denny Neagle taking part in some ‘Super Bowl Shuffle’ spin-off for the 1991 Twins

 

Plenty of intrigue surrounding Week 7 of the NFL season

I’m pretty pumped to watch some NFL action on Sunday. Here’s what I’m looking forward to:

  • Ponder’s debut: Rookie quarterback Christian Ponder will make his first NFL start against the Green Bay Packers. Tough task for Ponder, but the long term is now more important than the short term for the Vikings. I thought Ponder looked pretty good in the preseason.
  • Tebow’s return: Back by Denver Broncos fans’ popular demand, Tim Tebow is back as the Broncos starting quarterback. Tebow gets to take on the hapless Miami Dolphins. But I think it’s less about the opponent for Tebow. He just needs to throw the ball accurately.
  • Will we see Carson Palmer?: Palmer won’t start Sunday after coming over to the Oakland Raiders in a trade earlier this week. But judging from the Twittersphere, backup QB Kyle Boller – who will start – doesn’t seem like a very popular guy. If the Raiders are struggling, will they bring in Palmer? My guess is “no,” but you never know.
  • Bears vs. Bucs in London: Not a big fan of having NFL games in England. Do the British even know about the game? They’re probably all focused on Manchester City vs. Manchester United.

Week 7 NFL picks

Had a 3-2 week last week.

Browns by 3 vs. Seahawks: Browns

Raiders by 3 1/2 vs. Chiefs: Chiefs

Cowboys by 10 1/2 vs. Rams: Cowboys

Steelers by 4 vs. Cardinals: Steelers

Saints by 14 vs. Colts: Colts

Ponder thoughts and a World Series pick

When it became clear Tuesday that Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier wasn’t going to publicly announce his starting QB until Wednesday, the writing was already on the wall. Teams don’t wait to announce that the incumbent will remain the starter (i.e. Kyle Orton vs. Tim Tebow last week).

But the agent for rookie quarterback Christian Ponder went to Twitter later Tuesday to state that his client will start Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers.

This is the right move for the Vikings. I was never a big fan of the Donovan McNabb signing, and I mentioned before the season that I thought Ponder would start games this year (didn’t really go out on a limb there, huh?). I told people in the newsroom before the season that Week 5 was my prediction for Ponder’s relief debut, so the McNabb experiment lasted longer than I expected already.

I think all can agree that McNabb isn’t completely to blame for the Vikings struggles. That much is obvious. But if this were any other position besides quarterback – let’s say that the Vikings had a first-round draft pick at safety sitting on the bench and the starter ahead of him were underperforming – a change would have been made weeks ago. However, the Vikings wanted to avoid throwing Ponder into the fire.

But to me, if a guy can play, he can play. It might not hurt if – a la Aaron Rodgers – he sits on the bench for a couple of years. But the Vikings aren’t in position to do that. They need to win games, and they need a new stadium. Don’t think for a second that the latter doesn’t also factor into the equation.

And does anyone think Ponder’s play will actually be worse than McNabb’s? I don’t. I thought Ponder looked good in the preseason, and he had moments in relief on Sunday. So why not give the kid a chance? They’re not winning games right now anyway.

World Series prediction

It’s Texas vs. St. Louis in the World Series. Not exactly what I expected to see, even as late as a few weeks ago. I keep thinking the Cardinals will go down every series they play, but here they are.

But I’m not a quick learner, so I’ll keep picking against them. Gimme the Texas Rangers in six.

As for who I’m rooting for? First and foremost, I’d just like to see a seven-game series, just like fans in Minnesota and the country witnessed 20 years ago.

Allen, Robison need to shine against Bears

It’s Bears-Vikings week. Growing up, the two times a year that these two teams played were always exciting. Unfortunately, my brother or myself was usually pretty upset by the end of it, depending on the winner of the game.

We both had stretches of prolonged success (the 1990s weren’t real kind to my beloved Bears).

After watching last week’s Bears-Lions game, I’m left with one thought: What are Jared Allen and Brian Robison going to do to this team? My guess? Plenty.

The Bears offensive tackles logged downright embarrassing performances last week against Detroit. I believe they were whistled for seven or eight false starts in addition to the usual lack of quarterback protection that I’ve become accustomed to seeing over the last year-plus.

Jay Cutler played well Monday, and I’m always left wondering after a game like that how good Cutler could be with a better offensive line. But before too long, bad Cutler shows up again, and I soon forget about that first thought.

But this is a big game for both teams. The Vikings are coming off of their first victory of the season, but in either team’s case, they’re quickly slipping out of the NFC North race.

If the Vikings are going to win Sunday, I think Allen and Robison need to have huge games. A combined four QB sacks from them perhaps?

Week 6 NFL picks

Packers by 14 1/2 vs. Rams. Packers (I must be outta my mind!)

Saints by 5 vs. Bucs. Bucs

Jets by 8 vs. Dolphins. Jets

Patriots by 7 vs. Cowboys. Patriots

Falcons by 6 vs. Panthers. Panthers

Going all-in on Tebowmania

Yeah, I’m that guy. You know the guy in your fantasy league that dropped everything to get Tim Tebow this week? That’s me. And I did that in both of my leagues.

Tebow was named the Denver Broncos starting quarterback earlier this week. And he’ll be behind center when the Broncos come out of their bye week and face the Miami Dolphins on Oct. 23.

Tim Tebow

Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. Associated Press photo

I’m not a huge Tebow fan, certainly not one of those nuts that paid to have billboards placed in the Denver area stating why he should have already been the team’s starting quarterback.

And I’m not sure if he deserves the job now. By the way, isn’t it strange how the Broncos did everything they could to bury Tebow on the depth chart during the preseason, only to make him the first QB off the bench to replace a struggling Kyle Orton in Week 5? I’m sure fans can be comforted in knowing they have that much pull over in an organization. But they probably shouldn’t be comforted by that notion.

So I have my doubts on Tebow as an NFL quarterback. No idea what to expect.

But from a fantasy football point of view, I couldn’t pass it up. Tebow was a machine in fantasy leagues at the tail end of last season. I heard on NFL Network earlier this week that he was the highest scoring fantasy player – at any position – during the final three weeks of the 2010 season.

That point is supported by the fact that he’s rushed for a touchdown in seven of the last eight games he has played in, even though many of those games he appeared in spot duty only. The guy is his own goal-line running back.

I don’t know how the Tebow Experiment Part 2 will work. But it’s added a little intrigue to the NFL season.

Vikings stadium seems like an inevitability

The Minnesota Vikings stadium push earned a big victory Tuesday when a Ramsey County panel decided not to leave a potential stadium in Arden Hills, Minn., up for a public vote. And I don’t think Wednesday’s news was a roadblock in any way.

A commission report revealed Wednesday said that a Vikings stadium wouldn’t be ready until 2016 or 2017, and that the total cost would be around $1.1 billion. Those are some big bucks in a state that recently had a rather lengthy government shutdown due to a battle over a budget deficit.

But there’s no doubt an NFL stadium is going to get built one way or another. Even if the Vikings were to break the hearts of their fans by uprooting themselves and heading to Beverly Los Angeles, Minnesota would want an NFL team again. And – a la Cleveland – a stadium would be built for that new team, whether it be an expansion team or a relocated one.

Some would argue these are too difficult times to build a stadium. Others would say because these are difficult times, the Vikings – at least a good Vikings teams – are as much needed now as they ever were.

You can argue both sides of the coin until you’re blue in the face. All I’m going to say is – now that it’s not up to a public vote – that I have no doubt a stadium will be on the way soon.

Twins still talking low-revenue talk, and NFL picks

Long gone are the days of 90-loss Minnesota Twins teams drawing crowds of 10,000 a night. This is the Target Field era, where a 99-loss team had 3 million fans cheering it on this past season.

But despite that, the Twins still seem to be using the “woe is us” talk when it comes to free agents.

Take this quote from Twins manager Ron Gardenhire in an MLB.com story:

“I think we’re all smart enough to figure out that free agents out there, as far as pitchers go, if they’re really good they’re probably going to require a little bit more money than we’re willing to pay them,” Gardenhire said at the end of the season. “All the big shooters. And there’s going to be a market for the rest of them.”

It appears the comment was in reference to soon-to-be free agent pitcher C.J. Wilson of the Texas Rangers.

The Twins reportedly have about $30 million to use on free agent this offseason. That would still lead to a drop in payroll, but not a major one. (BTW I saw the Star Tribune’s Joe Christensen opine in a blog that while the Twins likely won’t pick up Joe Nathan‘s $12 million option for 2012, he could see them offering a two-year, $14 million deal to him. Wow. I’m clearly in the wrong line of work if he could still garner $7 mil/season.).

With the Twins now among the top payroll teams in baseball, it’s pretty head-scratching to see the manager talk like this. With $30 million, the Twins have two options: 1) Spend like they used to, which means signing a bunch of free agents at $4 mil/season and hope one pans out (which never happens). 2) Add a couple of really good pieces at $12-15 mil/season. I’d rather see them try the latter. That’s not specifically in reference to Wilson, as I for one have no idea what the asking price is.

I’m sure deep down – though they would never admit it – members of the organization are probably not thrilled about giving one player a ton of money after what happened with Mauer (i.e. once bitten, twice shy). Plus, there are so many holes to fill. But $4 mil/year players would just be plugging holes with chewing gum.

The Twins should locate a couple of areas in particular that need improvement and fill them, then do the best you can internally or with cheap free agents on the remainder. You got to get lucky from time to time (see Shane Mack and Brian Harper, 1991 Twins).

Week 5 NFL picks

I had a 2-3 week last week to put me at 10-10 for the season. Big week this week.

Steelers by 6 1/2 vs. Titans. Titans

Vikings by 3 vs. Cardinals. Cardinals

Texans by 5 1/2 vs. Raiders. Texans

Chargers by 6 vs. Broncos. Chargers

49ers by 2 1/2 vs. Bucs. Bucs

Reaction from Vikings fans is a little refreshing

If an 0-3 start wasn’t enough, a loss to the previously winless Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday has cemented the fact that the Minnesota Vikings are in the midst of a lost season. It seems unlikely at 0-4 that the Vikings could possibly make the playoffs, especially considering the 4-0 starts by fellow NFC North foes Green Bay and Detroit.

Vikings fans seem to be taking it in stride. That’s probably due to the fact that expectations weren’t that particularly high to begin with. But they were certainly higher than 0-4.

Did anyone else catch the audio that Monday’s SportsCenter had of Philadelphia Eagles calling into a radio show complaning about the Eagles’ 1-3 start?

Granted, I’m sure ESPN picked the most extreme callers to highlight on its flagship show. But a couple of the upset Eagles fans were pretty disturbing. This one guy was just screaming and talking about how his life is over because of the team’s struggles.

Time to get a grip.

Vikings fans can be intense, and they love their team as much as anyone. But having spent plenty of time in the car on Monday listening to sports talk radio in the Twin Cities,  I didn’t hear anyone calling into radio shows on Monday morning responding like that.

Although, I suppose Vikings fans are used to the phrase, “Wait ’til next year.”

 

Saturday mailbag: Who is to blame for Vikings’ struggles?

Happy Saturday to readers of The Forum. October has entered like a lamb today. My guess is it will leave like a lion, but I hope not.

There are a lot of things on my mind today, and it did get me thinking: I’d like to do a weekly Q&A, maybe every week on Saturdays. I’ll open it up on my own this week, but in future weeks, feel free to fire me a question at hgoethe@forumcomm.com and we’ll see how it goes. If I get some response, I’ll keep it going.

Who is to blame for the Vikings’ second-half stumbles?

I think it has to start with the head coach Leslie Frazier. Seems obvious, but I feel like he is getting a bit of a free pass right now. It’s up to coaches to make second-half adjustments at halftime. And the Vikings have clearly failed in that regard.

But if I had to blame one unit, I’d blame the offense. The Vikings have failed to generate a touchdown in the second half this season. I think the offense’s inability to move the football and keep drives alive has forced the defense to be on the field way more than it can handle. I don’t think this Vikings’ defense is deep enough for that.

In a league that has become pass happy, the Vikings are really struggling in the air. Percy Harvin is one of the team’s two best playmaking threats, and he needs the ball in his hands a lot more than it has been. Same goes for Adrian Peterson really. If Donovan McNabb can’t find Harvin, the Vikings need to put in a quarterback who can.

So why did Tracy Stallard talk?

I’ve fielded this question almost every time I told one of my friends the long story about tracking down the man who gave up Roger Maris‘ 61st home run in 1961. Now 74, Tracy Stallard lives in Wise, Va., which isn’t far from where he grew up.

I did a couple of different interviews with Stallard for my Saturday story. He has become notorious for his ability to avoid the interview, leading to some major publications – including the New York Times – to publish stories about him not returning phone calls during Mark McGwire’s pursuit of Maris’ record in 1998.

I think there’s two reasons why he chose to talk to me. 1) He was in Fargo for the Roger Maris Celebrity Golf Tournament in 1987 and had a good experience talking to The Forum reporter who interviewed him at the time. 2) He said our first interview went well and that, “You’re the only one I talked to and the only one I’m going to talk to.”

I’ve had some cool assignments while working at The Forum. I’ve met and interviewed Cy Young-winning pitcher Johan Santana, NHRA legend John Force and NASCAR Cup champion Kurt Busch. And I’ve interviewed tennis stars Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick over the phone. But tracking down Stallard and getting a story from him is one of the things I’m most proud of.

What would I do if I were in charge with the Twins?

I’ll have to expand on this in an upcoming post. First off, I don’t re-sign free agents Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel. I know that’s a tough pill for some Twins fans to swallow in Cuddyer’s case, but that’s how I feel. He had a great season, but I’d thank him for it and move on. The Twins would be buying high on Cuddyer after his 2011 season, and I think the team has done way too much of that lately. He just doesn’t fit into my blueprint for the type of team I think the Twins need to win a title at Target Field.

To build a winner, I think the Twins need swing-and-miss pitching (which they don’t have), speed in the outfield (which they have some of), and solid defense and run producers in the infield (which when healthy they have a little of). So there’s a lot of needs. Fortunately, though, the Twins should have about $30 million to play with.

My main focus would be starting pitching help. Gone are the days where simply having strike throwers like Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey is enough. It’s time to bid good-bye to these guys (I can’t believe I’m finally giving up on Slowey). This area must be upgraded. And the Twins need to take a page from the Tampa Bay Rays and figure out how to rebuild that bullpen in one year.

Week 4 NFL picks

I had a 3-2 week last week to put me at 8-7 for the season. Here are my picks for this week:

Cleveland by 1.5 vs. Tennessee: Browns

Buffalo by 3 at Cincinnati: Bills

New England by 6 at Oakland: Patriots

Baltimore by 3.5 vs. New York Jets: Jets

Indianapolis by 10 vs. Tampa Bay: Colts