The best thing about watching last night's game seven was not being a Mets or Cardinals fan, for whom this must have been an ordeal rather than an entertainment. Even before Molina's two-run homer, when the TV coverage showed shots of the Shea crowd, the faces there were more reminiscent of people suffering from serious haemorrhoids rather than fans whose team was on the cusp of the World Series. This was not a game to be appreciated, for supporters of the teams involved; it was one to be endured.
For the rest of us though, it was a total delight. Mets take the lead in the first, but the Cardinals tie it up the next half-inning on a beautiful squeeze play. As an aside, I did notice Gonzo was all but absent from the commentary, or as Kevin Goldstein said over as Baseball Prospectus, "8:19 p.m.: Third man in the booth Luis Gonzalez wakes up and says something for the first time in about 35 minutes. He lets us know that he's had injuries in his shoulder just like Rolen's, and really brings us inside the game and the mind of a player by letting us know, "It's tough." Thanks, Luis." Ouch. Better keep hitting doubles for a few more years...
Anyway, after the Cardinals tie it up, the teams post thirteen straight zeroes, with both teams teetering on the edge of cracking the game, but not able to do it, thanks to a combination of unexpectedly great pitching, poor hitting (the Mets' offensive powerhouse was clearly having one of those New York blackouts) and abso-fricking-lutely incredible fielding. That snatch by Chavez, taking the home-run away from Rolen, high above the wall in left-field, must have been one of the all-time great grabs in playoff history. When that happened, it seemed like destiny was on the Mets' side - surely, after that, they couldn't possibly lose? Luckily for the Cardinals, Yadier Molina thought otherwise...
Even in the bottom of the ninth, it wasn't over, as the Mets had the tying run on second base, and Carlos Beltran at the plate. But their closer, Adam Wainwright (where will Jason Isringhausen be next year? Likely not St. Louis), froze Beltran with a hammer curve for strike three. So the Cardinals reach the World Series with a mere 83 regular season wins, and face a side who didn't even win their division. Is that sound you hear the great World Series teams of the past weeping, as mediocrity reigns supreme in 2006? Just don't tell that to the fans in Detroit and St. Louis. :-) [Or, being honest, to the 2001 D'backs, who had only the sixth-best regular season record...]
However, the Cardinals are not the first team to get to the World Series with so few victories to their name. The 1973 Mets made it with only 82 wins - and in the days back before the wild-card. That season, 82 was enough to take an incredibly tight NL East division, in a year where five teams finished within five games of first place. Much like the Cardinals, nobody gave the Mets a chance in the playoffs, but they first beat the NL West champion Reds, who were 16 1/2 games better in the regular season, then pushed Oakland all the way to a seventh game, which the A's won 5-2.
Between them, Detroit (95 wins) and St. Louis (83) combine for just 178 victories. That's the lowest total for a full season since 1973 - Mets (82) vs. Athletics (94) - and ties 1997, where the Marlins (92) beat the Indians (86). Using that as a measure, probably the strongest World Series ever was the 1912 one between the Red Sox (105) and the Giants (103), since seasons then were only 152 games. In modern times, it'd probably be the 1998 series where the Yankees (114) swept the Padres (98). That year, NYY were the best in the American League by twenty-two games; even this Yankee-hater must admit, they were among the all-time best. Was surprised to find that a pair of 100-game winners have faced off only seven times in more than a century, and not in over 35 years:
- [Winners listed first]
- 1910: Philadelphia Athletics (102) vs. Chicago Cubs (104)
- 1912: Boston Red Sox (105) vs. New York Giants (103)
- 1931: St. Louis Cardinals (101) vs. Philadelphia Athletics (107)
- 1941: New York Yankees (101) vs. Brooklyn Dodgers (100)
- 1942: St. Louis Cardinals (106) vs. New York Yankees (103)
- 1969: New York Mets (100) vs. Baltimore Orioles (109)
- 1970: Baltimore Orioles (108) vs. Cincinnati Reds (102)
Needless to say, New York and St. Louis see the game from radically different perspectives. Amazin' Avenue, Eric says, "It didn't end the way we all had it drawn up, and that hurts. A lot. The Mets finished with the best record in the National League and they outlasted 28 other teams to get to this point, but when Carlos Beltran took that called third strike it didn't feel like the Mets were the best anything." But Viva El Birdos says of his team, "Three weeks ago they were gutless wonders, staggering around in a daze, perfectly helpless as the Astros took game after game off their NL central lead. They were possessed by the spirit of the '64 Phillies, choke artists for the ages... Guess they do have some guts after all. just a little." Thanks to both for an immaculate Game 7 that I'll remember for a long time, and here's to the World Series being equally as good.
No-one really expects the Cardinals to have much chance against a thoroughly-rested Tigers outfit, who have been gently buffing their nails for the past week. But a salutory warning comes to us in the shape of ESPN's so-called experts. Of the not-so-magnificent seventeen, none got either World Series participant right - and, please note, these were not predictions made at the start of the season, but less than three weeks ago, after the matchups were set. Nobody had the Tigers passing the first round, and only one - step forward, Enrique Rojas - said the Cardinals would. Rob Neyer managed to blow all four division series, on his way to the Dodgers beating the Twins in the World Series. Well done, Rob! You must get up very early... That level of expertise is clearly well worth getting ESPN Insider for. :-)
Okay, I admit, I probably wouldn't have done much better, but subscription fees are notable by their absence from the SnakePit - and, c'mon, these guys are (supposed to be) professionals! Such tweaking the nose of punditry is one of the delights of playoff baseball. You can basically throw the form-book out of the window: it's all about who brings it in October. So far, the Cardinals have - and I think the Tigers did as well, but it was so long ago that I last saw them in action, I can't really be sure. While they've won seven in a row, any sense of a "hot streak" must be impossible to maintain given the layoff. Think we'll have to wait until Saturday to get an idea for how this one is going.