Classic requires drama, not biggest, best teams
In the end, the compelling World Series exit memories were thousands upon thousands of red shirts -- what fall baseball is supposed to be. Like the millions of flaming October trees along the Blue Ridge Parkway or the Tetons or, as Chris Carpenter knows so well, the Kancamangus Highway on the drive from St. Johnsbury, Vt., to Bethel, Maine. They are what fall is all about.
In the end, Carpenter and David Freese became national faces, and local schlock jocks on sports radio in Boston, New York and Philadelphia who sneered that no one cared about this Series learned that whatever TV ratings actually mean bore out what we all knew -- that the 2011 World Series mattered, and therefore baseball mattered.
In an illogical month in which the final day of the season saw the Cardinals and Rays get in as the Braves and Red Sox were eliminated, 38 of a possible 41 postseason games were played, including loser-go-home finales in four of the seven series. What mattered wasn't having the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers or Phillies in prime time. It was the game.
To again quote the poet Vin Scully, in the year of the improbable, the impossible seemingly kept repeating itself, from Evan Longoria's final day walk-off to Nelson Cruz's home runs against Detroit to the incredible Carpenter 1-0 elimination victory over Roy Halladay to the Texas Rangers twice being one pitch away from their first championship ... to the improbable heroics of a David Freese character who was cast off by the San Diego Padres.
Jason Motte finished a month of sudden deaths, which is what baseball theatre is all about. We all appreciate the science and reliability of ZiPS projections and the predictability of teams winning when they have a two-run lead in the ninth inning, but the compelling memories of the World Series are about Don Larsen, 81-91 in his career, and Ron Swoboda, Brian Doyle and Dane Iorg.
Major League Baseball isn't the National Football League. It isn't scheduled for set times. This year, those who run MLB did some very smart things, ending the season in mid-week and beginning and ending the World Series during the week, instead of going head-to-head with the set weekend sports comforts of NCAA Saturdays and NFL Sundays. That was an experiment that worked, right from the Cardinals slipping in on Carpenter's shutout of the Astros while the Braves exhausted bullpen's season ended outs from the playoffs.
Baseball also was reminded that it needs the October drama of elimination games. Of course, that isn't always fair, but there is theatre in improbable unfairness, be it Kirk Gibson's home run or Don Denkinger's call or the Marlins beating the Yankees. As the playoffs expand, the play-in, play-out games must be seriously considered.
And, once again, baseball was reminded of the drama of the seven-game World Series. This was the first since 2002 -- the last great Fall Classic. Remember that, when in Game 6 in Anaheim, the Giants seemingly had it won when Barry Bonds homered off Francisco Rodriguez in the top of the seventh for a 5-0 lead, only to have the Angels rally for six runs in the seventh and eighth for the 6-5 win that took them to a seventh game and John Lackey win?
Think back to 1991, when the Twins came home trailing 3-2 to the Braves, Kirby Puckett had his three-hit, game-robbing-catch, walk-off-homer Saturday night that brought the world to the classic Jack Morris/John Smoltz game won in the 10th inning on Gene Larkin's fly ball.
But, understand, 1991, 2001 and 2002 became aberrations. In 1985, 1986 and 1987, the World Series had seventh games, and all the drama that went with them. But in the 22 years following -- which does not include 1994, when the Fall Classic was cancelled -- there were only four Series that went to a loser-go-home seventh game. In the 1950, 1960s and 1970s, over half the World Series (16 of 30) were decided by seventh games, making heroes of Billy Martin, Sandy Amoros, Johnny Podres, Lew Burdette, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Mickey Lolich, Steve Blass, Dick Green ...
In the end, much was compelling about the World Series champion Cardinals. Carpenter finished the Series just as he threw the shutout against Houston to make the playoffs and beat Halladay to make the NLCS, did the expected because, as Tony LaRussa said, "he is the ultimate warrior."
Freese's amazing power display against the Brewers and Rangers underscored another wonderful storyline -- the teaching of Mark McGwire and the joy he has found in teaching and being back in the game he so loves. The historic figures of LaRussa, the third-winningest manager after Connie Mack and John McGraw, and Albert Pujols, one of the greatest players of any generation.
The World Series has never been about the best team in baseball winning; it wasn't in 1960 or 1988, 1985 or 1987. The Rangers were probably the best team in the regular season of 2011, yet when they got to the World Series, Neftali Feliz and Alexi Ogando were fried and could only get them to within one pitch of what they will always believed they earned.
Baseball once again proved that it is far more than the Red Sox and the Yankees, that what David Freese is mattered more than what Alex Rodriguez was. Hey, Allen Craig now has more World Series homers, RBIs, run-preventing catches and rings than Ted Williams.
Which is what makes an October classic.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and an analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.