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.
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.