Opening Day … What A Day!

And so it begins.

The 2018 season began with a BLAST as Ian Happ launched the first pitch he saw from Jose Urena into the right field seats. And Marlins Park erupted … thanks to the overwhelming presence of Cubs fans in Miami. So, the first pitch of the Major League season included the first strike, first hit, first extra-base hit, first run scored, first home run, and the first (of what looks to be many) Marlins deficits.

Giancarlo Stanton hit his first HR as a Yankee – and, wouldn’t you know it, he did so with a little flair. In his first AB in the new uni, he hit the hardest opposite field home run in baseball, since 2015. Oh, and just for kicks, he also was the first Yankee to have 3 XBH and 4 RBI on Opening Day since Roger Maris.

The Orioles’ pitching dominated the Twins all day long. And, with a 2-0 lead going into the 9th, the Orioles sent in their closer. But, a lack of control by Brad Brach, led to some very patient at-bats by the Twins hitters. And, after giving up 2 walks and 2 hits, the game was all tied up. But, two innings later, it was Adam Jones who stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 11th. And, on the first pitch he saw from Fernando Rodney … swing, drive, home run, game over. 3-2 Orioles.

The Red Sox looked like they were going to cruise to an easy victory over the Rays, as they were up 4-0 heading into the bottom of the 8th. But, the Rays scored six runs in the inning. It culminated in an impressive at-bat by the veteran, Denard Span. With the bases loaded, a full count, and two outs in the inning, Span turned on a pitch, and drove a triple into right field, giving the Rays a 5-4 lead. They would go on to win 6-4.

The A’s came from behind twice to tie up the Angels. Once, when they were trailing by 4 in the 5th inning, and again in the 7th when they were down a run. Then, it was a wild 11th inning. With one out, Boog Powell hit a drive that just barely went off the top of left-fielder Justin Upton’s glove. Powell hustled out a triple, on a close play at 3rd. Then, Scioscia decided to walk the next batter, and go with a 5-man infield, with a slider-pitcher on the mound – hoping the batter would roll over a pitch and into a double play. Marcus Semien didn’t oblige – hitting a line drive into center-field (where no one was located) for a walk-off single.

The Phillies were up by five going into the bottom of the 6th. But, after 2 runs by the Braves in the 6th, and 3 runs in the bottom of the 8th, it was a whole new ballgame. Then, in the bottom of the 9th, with 2 outs, and a runner on 2nd, the Phillies decided to intentionally walk Freddie Freeman. So, what does Nick Markakis do? He drives a 3-run walk-off HR into right-center.

Extra innings, walk-off home runs, 21 runs scored in a single game . . . this is why Opening Day is one of the best days of the year.

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2015 Playoff Confidence Picks

Even though the playoffs have technically already begun, it’s now time for playoff predictions.  The only reason I don’t like trying to make predictions for the Wild Card game is because it’s a single game, and pretty much anything can happen in those games.  And, that’s why baseball is usually played in series.  The better team is almost always going to come out on top in a series.  Single games can be decided by a pitcher who’s blazing hot (Arrieta last night), an offense that has caught fire at the right time (Kansas City last year), or any number of individual players or plays that send one game spiraling out of control for one team.  This is also the argument some use who are opposed to there being any portion of the playoffs decided by a single game.  But, I happen to like the Wild Card game as it is, and that’s really a discussion for another post.

Now that the final 8 teams are set, I’m going to give you my “confidence” picks.  I will rank each team in 5 categories: starters, bullpen, offense, defense, and manager.  These rankings might be based on the full season of work, but will be influenced by the last month or two of the season (just look at last year’s World Series teams to understand why that’s so important).  The team with the lowest score will automatically advance to the next round of the playoffs.  So, here we go…

Starters

American League

  1. Toronto
  2. Houston
  3. Texas
  4. Kansas City

Not only does Toronto have a Cy Young candidate at the top, but Marcus Stroman has been lights out since his return from the DL.  And, when your #3 and #4 starters are R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle, you’re in pretty good shape.  Keuchel and McHugh are a great 1-2 punch in Houston.  But, beyond those two, there isn’t really anything terribly impressive.  Cole Hamels is great in Texas, but he can’t start every game for them, unfortunately.  And, I think the Kansas City starting rotation’s issues have been well documented, so let’s move on.

National League

  1. New York
  2. Los Angeles
  3. St. Louis
  4. Chicago

The Mets have 4 studs that could go out and pitch shutout baseball on any given day.  That’s a nice commodity to have in the playoffs.  The Dodgers have 2, and then a lot of question marks.  St. Louis doesn’t really have one single dominating starter.  But, they don’t really have a glaring weakness #1-4, and Wainwright could be the ace up their sleeve.  The Cubs have one legit Cy Young candidate (who will only get to pitch once in the NLDS), one starter whose playoff resume is excellent, and then some pretty huge question marks.

Bullpen

American League

  1. Kansas City
  2. Houston
  3. Toronto
  4. Texas

No question the Royals’ bullpen is stellar.  What’s interesting is that the remaining three teams in the AL all have bullpens that are . . . well, less than impressive.  Houston’s closer has an ERA over 3.00.  Toronto doesn’t have a single guy with an ERA under 2.50.  And, Texas has multiple guys with ERA’s over 4.00.  These teams better hope they score early and often.

National League

  1. St. Louis
  2. Chicago
  3. New York
  4. Los Angeles

The Cardinals have one of the most reliable bullpens in baseball right now.  The only team in the NL that would have ranked higher than them would have been Pittsburgh, had they won last night.  The Cubs have a closer that has been lights out since July 1st (1.21 ERA, and just one blown save), and Rodney has turned out to be a great pick up.  The Mets have an excellent closer . . . and not much else.  The Dodgers have an up-and-down Jansen, and the hopes that Kershaw & Greinke can pitch 8 innings.

Offense

American League

  1. Toronto
  2. Texas
  3. Kansas City
  4. Houston

This gets really tight once you get past Toronto.  No question the Blue Jays have the best offense in the AL.  But, the remaining three teams are in varying order depending on which stat you go with.  I’m going to give Texas the nod, because they really caught fire the last two months of the season.  And, I’ll give KC the slightest edge over Houston, because in the playoffs I trust a team that is able to get on base and pressure their opponents’ pitchers/defense, more than I trust a team that relies so heavily on the HR.

National League

  1. Chicago
  2. New York
  3. Los Angeles
  4. St. Louis

The Cubs scored more runs than any NL team remaining in the playoffs.  The Mets’ addition of Cespedes and the return of D’Arnaud has made them a much more serious threat the last couple months.  The Dodgers have the best OPS in the group, but somehow managed to finish 8th in the NL in runs scored.  And, St. Louis’ best stat is OBP, where they finished 6th in the NL, which is just 3rd best in this group.

Defense

American League

  1. Kansas City
  2. Houston
  3. Toronto
  4. Texas

All around the diamond, KC is impressive defensively.  Three Gold Glove winners last year, and a 4th who was a finalist last year.  There are no holes in their defense.  But, Houston is right on their tail.  Correa is outstanding, and they are solid all the way around.  Toronto has some excellent fielders (Donaldson & Tulo), but they also have some aging guys that aren’t exactly elite fielders (Martin, Bautista, etc.).  They’re still above average, but they definitely lag behind KC & Houston.  And, Texas . . . well, let’s just say it’s a good thing their offense is as good as it is.

National League

  1. Los Angeles
  2. New York
  3. St. Louis
  4. Chicago

The Dodgers had the best fielding percentage in the NL this year.  And, that’s probably the only team on the NL side that I would suggest might have an excellent defense.  The Mets are second on this list, because they’re good, not great.  Meanwhile the Cardinals and Cubs have to put their hopes in other parts of the game.

Manager

American League

  1. Kansas City
  2. Toronto
  3. Texas
  4. Houston

Ned Yost is the only “known” quantity here.  While I don’t place a ton of confidence in him (kinda felt like KC got to the World Series in spite of some of his moves last year), he does have the experience that none of the others do.  I’ll give Gibbons a lot of credit for keeping his team’s confidence high when they were struggling early in the season.  Bannister and Hinch are virtual unknowns.  The only reason I’ll give Bannister a slight edge is because he managed the team that overtook Hinch’s team in the last month of the season.

National League

  1. Chicago
  2. New York
  3. Los Angeles
  4. St. Louis

Let me start by saying that I don’t lack confidence in any of these guys.  Unlike the American League choices, all of the NL options have proven to be quality leaders.  Maddon should be Manager of the Year, considering how many rookies are on that team.  Collins did a good job with a very young pitching staff, and some new faces at the trade deadline.  Mattingly received a lot of undeserved heat in last year’s playoffs, but he still needs to prove he can carry the team deeper into the postseason.  Matheny has led his team far, but there are a lot of question marks regarding some of his decisions.

There you have it.  Those are my rankings.  Now, let’s see how that all adds up.  The numbers in parentheses are each team’s totals from the above categories.

ALDS

  1. Toronto Blue Jays (10) def. Texas Rangers(16)
  2. Kansas City Royals (10) def. Houston Astros (14)

NLDS

  1. New York Mets (10) def. Los Angeles Dodgers (13)
  2. Chicago Cubs (12) def. St. Louis Cardinals (15)

ALCS

Kansas City Royals (10) def. Toronto Blue Jays (10)  [I gave the tie-breaker to the team that was ahead of the other team in the rankings more often.]

NLCS

New York Mets (10) def. Chicago Cubs (12)

 

World Series

Kansas City Royals defeat the New York Mets in 7 games.

I think this could be a great Series.  I give the edge to KC, because I think they have the edge in bullpen, defense, and manager.  The Mets definitely have the edge in starting pitching, but I don’t think that’s enough.  No matter what, I think this is going to be an exciting postseason!

World Series Preview

Between life and the crowded playoff schedule, I haven’t felt as though there wasn’t quite enough time to write a new post.  But, we have a break now before the World Series starts, and it looks to be an exciting Series.  Detroit was absolutely dominant against the Yankees, after taking 5 games to eliminate the Oakland A’s.  In fact, games 3 & 4 in that series are the only games Detroit has lost this postseason.  And, their starting pitchers are 5-1.  But, San Francisco is this year’s St. Louis, and this year’s version of 2010’s . . . well . . . San Francisco.  They might not have looked great most of the season, and when they lost the first two games at home against the Reds, I wrote them off.  But, they never quit.  They won 3 consecutive games to win the series against the Reds, then followed that up by doing the same to come back from a 3-1 deficit against the Cardinals.  They’re on a roll, to say the least.

So, I guess the question is . . . who wins?  The team that has dominated their run through the playoffs?  Or the team that is hot right now, and has the momentum?  Since we looked at the typical things in my previous “confidence” picks (see here), I wanted to take a look at some of the less tangible differences between these teams that might impact this series.

1. Home Field – The Giants have home field advantage in this World Series.  The team with home field advantage has won 13 of the last 17 World Series.  This year is the exception to the rule regarding my objection to the All-Star game deciding home field in the World Series (why should players that won’t even sniff the playoffs have any impact on home field in the postseason???).  The reason this year’s the exception is because the team with the best record in the regular season is the team with home field advantage.  The winning pitcher in the All-Star game (Cain) happens to also be on the team with home field advantage in the World Series.  And, the losing pitcher of the All-Star game (Verlander) happens to be on the team without home field advantage in the World Series.  Normally, I’d be throwing a fit about who has home-field, but I’ll save that for another time – the Giants have the edge here.

2. Momentum – The Giants have the advantage here, as well.  Even though some might suggest the Giants could be worn down due to such a difficult series against St. Louis, we’ve seen the last couple years that the team that gets hot can stay hot, and carry that to a championship.  Meanwhile, the Tigers haven’t played a meaningful inning since last Thursday.  It will have been 6 days since the Tigers last played.  The Tigers themselves have been through this in 2006, when they lost the World Series in just 5 games to St. Louis.  They had swept Oakland in the ALCS, while the Cardinals took 7 games to defeat the Mets in the NLCS.  Now, Leyland has been trying to help his team keep from losing their focus & timing by having them play scrimmages against each other.  But, will that have the effect he hopes?

3. Starting Pitching – the one thing that the time off will allow the Tigers to do is set up their rotation the way they want.  Verlander will set the tone, and give Detroit the best chance to take at least one away from the Giants while in San Fran.  The Giants’ clear leaders in their rotation are Cain and Vogelsong, but neither of them will be able to pitch until game 3 in Detroit.  In fact, unless they go on short rest, the two of them will pitch in 3 games at most in this series.  If he went on short rest, Verlander could pitch that many on his own!

I don’t know about you, but I’m excited about this World Series.  It should be fun to watch.  Who do you think wins it all?

Confidence

Not sure how much you listen to sports on the radio, but I’m a big fan of Mike & Mike in the Morning.  I think they’re very entertaining, while also providing some quality perspectives and information on sports.  One of the things they do each year for the NFL playoffs is “confidence picks.”  They rate each team in certain areas based on how confident they are in that team’s ability to succeed.  It’s a little subjective, but still based on the empirical information regarding how the teams have played up to that point.  Well, as I often do, I want to take their idea, and apply it to the baseball playoffs which begin today!

Here are the categories in which I will rate each team: Offense, Starting Pitching, Relief Pitching, Defense, and Manager.  At the suggestion of my good friend, Nick, I went ahead and made my “gut” picks before I ranked the teams in their confidence categories.  So, let me first show you what my gut says will happen this postseason:

Wild Card:

Texas Rangers def. Baltimore Orioles & Atlanta Braves def. St. Louis Cardinals

ALDS:

New York Yankees def. Texas Rangers & Detroit Tigers def. Oakland A’s

NLDS:

Washington Nationals def. Atlanta Braves & Cincinnati Reds def. San Francisco Giants

ALCS:

Detroit Tigers def. New York Yankees

NLCS:

Washington Nationals def. Cincinnati Reds

World Series:

Detroit Tigers def. Washington Nationals

Up until the LCS round, I thought making those picks was fairly easy.  But, if the NLCS is Washington v. Cincinnati – wow, that could be good.  7 games easily.  And, the same for Detroit v. New York – what wins out, the Tigers pitching or the Yankees offense?  So, now for the confidence picks.  Here’s how I ranked each team in the 5 categories:

Offense:

  1. Yankees – most consistent and productive all year.
  2. Nationals – good all year, very good of late.
  3. Tigers – tailed off a bit toward the end, but very good.
  4. Cardinals – ditto.
  5. Rangers – still good, but clearly not who they were a year ago.
  6. Giants – really turned it on the latter part of the year.
  7. Orioles – ditto.
  8. A’s – solid, but nothing stands out.
  9. Braves – somewhat inconsistent, and not a daunting lineup.
  10. Reds – a daunting lineup in name only . . . very inconsistent.

Starting Pitching:

  1. Tigers – Verlander, Scherzer, Fister, Porcello & newly acquired Sanchez. They’re good.
  2. Nationals – no Strasburg = no #1 ranking. Still very good with Gio & Jordan at the top.
  3. Cardinals – very good all year, and Carpenter’s back.
  4. Giants – Lincecum isn’t the same, but Cain & Vogelsong are very good.
  5. Reds – Cueto is legit, and Latos has improved as the season went on.
  6. Braves – much improved of late, thanks in large part to Medlen.
  7. A’s – struggled a bit down the stretch; rookies getting tired?
  8. Yankees – who’s going to step up behind Sabathia & Kuroda?
  9. Rangers – Lewis & Feliz both on DL, Darvish is the ace? Bad news.
  10. Orioles – not just the bottom of this list. One of the worst in baseball.

Relief Pitching

  1. Braves – Kimbrel & Co. are nearly unhittable.
  2. Reds – waned a bit toward the end, but still very impressive.
  3. Orioles – very good, out of necessity with that starting rotation.
  4. Giants – quietly impressive (6 with ERA’s under 2.90).
  5. Rangers – good most of the year, but inconsistent lately.
  6. Yankees – ditto.
  7. Cardinals – not great most of the year, but turned it on at the end.
  8. Nationals – Storen & Clippard can be nasty.  But, who else?
  9. A’s – lots of unknown commodities.
  10. Tigers – always an adventure.

Defense:

  1. Braves – unbelievable outfield.
  2. Reds – consistently reliable.
  3. Rangers – cover a lot of ground, and rarely make mistakes.
  4. Yankees – sub-par range, but they don’t mess up what they get to.
  5. Nationals – slightly above average . . . maybe.
  6. Cardinals – average at best.
  7. A’s – great speed, but error prone.
  8. Orioles – slow and error prone; bad combo.
  9. Tigers – not exactly error prone, but not doing their pitchers any favors.
  10. Giants – (see Oakland A’s).

Managers:

  1. Tigers – Leyland is one of the best in the game today.
  2. Rangers – back-to-back World Series – you gonna argue?
  3. Yankees – Girardi’s young, but seems to know what he’s doing.
  4. Giants – [see World Series champs 2010]
  5. Orioles – Showalter is great for this team
  6. Reds – Baker is Mr. Almost – can’t seem to win the big ones.
  7. Nationals – Davey has a championship . . . 26 years ago.
  8. A’s – Melvin has done well in several places.
  9. Braves – Gonzalez’ first playoff experience, in his 6th year as manager.
  10. Cardinals – Matheny’s young and inexperienced.

Here are the total tallies for each team:

  • Atlanta – 26
  • Baltimore – 33
  • Cincinnati – 25
  • Detroit – 24
  • New York – 22
  • Oakland – 39
  • San Francisco – 28
  • St. Louis – 30
  • Texas – 24
  • Washington – 24

So, based on the confidence scores, the playoffs would look like . . .

Wild Card:

Rangers def. Orioles & Braves def. Cardinals

ALDS:

Yankees def. Rangers (barely) & Tigers def. A’s

NLDS:

Nationals def. Braves (barely) & Reds def. Giants

ALCS:

Yankees def. Tigers (barely)

NLCS:

Nationals def. Reds (closest series in the playoffs)

World Series:

Yankees def. Nationals (barely)

But, this is where the fun begins.  Even though the confidence scores suggest the Yankees should continue through to a championship, I’m going to point out something that changes my overall confidence in this happening.  You’ll see that in order for the Yankees to win, they have to play 3 consecutive tight series.  In my opinion, their pitching staff isn’t suited for that.  They need Sabathia and Kuroda to pitch as much as possible.  Therefore, since it would appear to be unlikely that they could set up their rotation as desired for the ALCS against the Tigers (while the Tigers could likely win their Division Series in 5 or 6 games), I’m going to say the Yankees don’t make it past the LCS.

Thus, the World Series matchup would be the Detroit Tigers (24) vs. the Washington Nationals (24).  I find this to be an intriguing matchup.  They have the same total confidence score.  When it comes to offense and pitching, they’re right there together.  Then, Washington has the slight edge on defense, while Detroit has the edge in coaching.  They both would be coming off of tough Championship Series’.  Washington would have home field advantage (thanks to the dumbest rule in baseball).

But, in the end, I think I still would go with Detroit.  While they share the same overall score, I feel as though the gap in the areas in which Detroit is ahead of Washington is greater than the gap in the areas in which Washington leads Detroit.  Detroit’s starting pitching is good and deep.  Leyland is considerably more reliable than Davey Johnson.  So, the bottom line:  Detroit Tigers will be 2012 World Series Champs.  (now watch them lose to Oakland!)

Not Your Everyday Baseball

I have my friend Paul Merideth (who’s a baseball newbie) to thank for this one.  I hadn’t heard about it until he mentioned it.  It was just a week ago today.  It’s the top of the second inning in Philadelphia.  Cliff Lee is pitching to the Mets’ pitcher, R.A. Dickey.  There’s a runner on first with less than two outs, so naturally the Mets pitcher is going to bunt him over into scoring position.  The bunt is executed perfectly, and the entire play is exactly what you see hundreds of times every year in the National League.  It’s what happens after the play is completed that is certainly not your everyday baseball . . . .

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=20584151&topic_id=&c_id=mlb&tcid=vpp_copy_20584151&v=3

What was he thinking???  This is as bad as the guys that actually get fooled by the “fake to third, throw to first” move so many pitchers try.  Or, maybe you’ve seen it actually work, when the first baseman is holding the runner on, and he pretends like he threw the ball back to the pitcher, and the runner actually takes a step off the bag and is immediately tagged out by the first baseman.  Ah, the trickery of baseball.  Anything to get an out.  And, you certainly can’t blame Jimmy Rollins for trying it . . . because it worked!  You’ve gotta keep your head up, and know exactly what’s going on in this game.

Another friend of mine, Nick Gill, asked a question that I didn’t know the answer to when he saw this play.  He wondered why the Phillies had to tag Thole at all.  He thought that once Thole had made it to second base, if he retreated back to first he was immediately called out.  So, he looked it up on MLB.com’s website for me, and here was the first rule he found:

Rule 7.08(i): “Any runner is out when – After he has acquired legal possession of a base, he runs the bases in reverse order for the purpose of confusing the defense or making a travesty of the game. The umpire shall immediately call “Time” and declare the runner out.”

In addition to thinking that the umpires might have made the Phillies do more than was necessary in this instance, we also thoroughly enjoyed the language of this rule!  “for the purpose of confusing the defense or making a travesty of the game”  That’s fun language – and, a reminder of the way the game of baseball was held in such regard in years gone by.  But, be that as it may, Nick quickly realized there was a note at the bottom of this rule that clarified what exactly happened in this game:

“If a runner touches an unoccupied base and then thinks the ball was caught or is decoyed into returning to the base he last touched, he may be put out running back to that base, but if he reaches the previously occupied base safely he cannot be put out while in contact with that base.”  So, this play was played out exactly as the rules say it should be.  But, not exactly how Josh Thole would have preferred.  And, certainly not the way you would ever expect to see again for maybe the rest of your life!

“Opening Day”

Well, the Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners are both 1-1 at the start of the season.  But, does anyone know that?  More importantly – does anyone care?  I guess like most baseball fans, I’m still waiting for the real Opening Day.  Because, when only two teams are playing games that count, and everyone else is still playing Spring Training games . . . that’s not Opening Day.  When two teams play games that “count,” but then play more Spring Training games afterwards . . . that’s not Opening Day.  When the only teams playing are on television at 3 A.M. . . . that’s not Opening Day.  When two teams are playing, and their own fans aren’t able to go to the home team’s stadium to watch the game . . . that’s not Opening Day.

I know Bud Selig has taken a lot of flack over the years for some of his decisions, but you can’t fault the guy for trying to improve the image of the game of baseball.  That’s why the Wild Card teams have been added.  That’s why Interleague play began.  And, both of those (like it or not) have been very popular with the masses.  But, this is one move that makes ZERO sense.  All you’re doing at this point is diluting an otherwise grand tradition.

Don’t get me wrong – scheduling games overseas is not the issue.  If you want to include games in the schedule that are in Japan, Germany, Puerto Rico, or wherever, that’s perfectly fine with me.  I know some fans will complain because it takes away games from the home stadiums, but a 2 or 3-game series taken away from an 81-game home schedule isn’t going to hurt anyone.  I think it’s good for baseball to expand its borders more and more, to become more of a world-wide sport.  But, Opening Day?  That’s inexcusable.

Opening Day is a tradition unlike any other.  Fans fill the ballparks like it’s the playoffs.  There’s excitement in the air.  There’s hope.  There’s enthusiasm even in places like Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Baltimore.  And why not?  No one can declare one team better than any other, because it’s a fresh start.  A clean slate.  Everyone has a shot, because this could be their year.  Maybe it’s because of a new pitcher or slugger their team signed in the offseason.  Maybe it’s because of a hot young prospect that is coming into his own.  But, whatever the reason, it’s reason enough to take the day off of work, go out to the ballpark, buy a hotdog, and root for the home team.  Why would you deprive Mariners and A’s fans of that joy?

Thursday, April 5th.  That’s Opening Day.

For the love of the game . . .

Last night was proof positive why baseball is the greatest game in all of sport.  There is no clock ticking down.  There’s no wondering whether or not your team has enough time left to win.  In baseball, the team with the bat in their hands last always has a chance to win.  That can’t be said about football, basketball, hockey or any other sport (at least, no sport anyone pays attention to – I have no idea about games like cricket or polo or things like that).  Because in the other sports there actually is a point at which you can turn off the TV because there’s absolutely NO chance the losing team could come back and win.  Simply because there’s no way they can score the necessary number of points in the time left in the game.  That’s why in football, a team can just kneel down a few times at the end, or just run the ball six or seven times to insure victory.  That’s why in basketball, a team can just casually pass the ball around for a while to run out the clock.  Nothing like that exists in baseball, and that’s exactly what made last night one of the greatest World Series games in history.

The St. Louis Cardinals came back to tie the game twice with two outs in what would have been the final inning – both times with two strikes on the batter!  And, it wouldn’t just have been the final inning of the game – it would have been the final inning of the season.  Think about it . . . if either Lance Berkman or David Freese had missed the ball, the game, series, and season would have been over and the Rangers would have been celebrating their first championship in team history.  Thinking about this led me to wonder – how many teams have come that close to a world championship without capitalizing on it?

The 2001 Yankees took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the 9th in game 7.  But, Rivera was only able to get one out before the Diamondbacks scored two runs to win the series.  The ’97 Indians also had a 2-1 lead going into the bottom of the 9th in game 7, and the Marlins tied it with one out, and went on to win it in the 11th.  The ’85 Cardinals had a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the 9th in game 6, and with a little help from a bad call at first base, the Royals scored 2 to win the game with one out.  Then the Royals proceeded to win game 7 for their only championship in history.  The 1911 (that’s right – I did my homework) Philadelphia Athletics had a 3-1 lead going into the bottom of the 9th in game 5 (when they had a 3 games to 1 lead), but saw the New York Giants score twice with two outs to tie it, and then scored once in the bottom of the 10th to win it.  The A’s, however, would win decisively in game 6, 13-2.

But, the only thing in World Series history comparable to what happened last night, was game 6 of the 1986 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets.  The Red Sox took a 5-3 lead in the top of the 10th inning, then got two quick outs in the bottom of the 10th.  Well, most everyone knows what happened after that – three singles, a wild pitch, and an error by Bill Buckner, and the Mets made an amazing comeback to win game six (the last two batters both had 2 strikes on them).  They followed that up with an 8-5 win in game 7, and the Red Sox had one of the most gut-wrenching losses in their history.

The question is, can the Rangers recover?  After being within one strike of a championship, only to see it slip away . . . can they regroup to win game 7?  Or has the momentum swung too far in the Cardinals’ direction?  One thing we’ll know for sure – the team with the bat in their hands last will have a chance to win the game.