Behind the Jersey: Rangers-Cardinals' Fall Classic tops the list


This year’s Fall Classic between the Texas Rangers and the St. Louis Cardinals may have been arguably the most unlikely and exciting World Series of all time. In its 107-year history, there could only be a handful that could even come close. What made it so enthralling? Could it be the clutch pinch-hit RBI singles, the one-run heartbreakers, the come-from-behind thrillers, the walk-off homer in Game Six, the three one-run games, the no-name heroes or the unlikely Game Seven? The list could go on forever.
The Texas Rangers flew past the surging Rays and silenced ace Justin Verlander and the Tigers to make it to their second-consecutive World Series. After losing both to the Giants a year ago and their ace in Cliff Lee in the offseason, the Rangers were an unlikely team to predict as AL Champions. On the other hand, the Cardinals were even less likely when they saw themselves 10 and a half games out of the Wildcard spot on Aug. 27. They fought their way back and found themselves lined up to face off against the favored Phillies in the first round.
With both of these teams facing the giants of the game, they found themselves battling with high-energy offenses and impressive bullpens. In fact, Chris Carpenter was the only starter out of the two squads to pitch deep into any ballgame going into the Fall Classic.
With both teams hitting their way past everyone else and silencing all the “nay-sayers” of the world, the World Series lined up to be quite the offensive thrill.
I will dissect the meaning behind each game and why they will be engraved in histories on paper and in highlight reels for the rest of time.

Game 1:
Rangers 2, Cardinals 3
Right off the bat Game One was a tight race to the finish that saw the Cardinals prevail with a game-winning pinch-hit RBI single by Allen Craig in the bottom of the sixth. Chris Carpenter pitched a dominant six innings. Cardinals protected home-field advantage and won Game One to take a 1-0 series lead.

Game 2:
Rangers 2, Cardinals 1
With the game deadlocked at 0-0 in the seventh, Busch Stadium and the Cardinals bench erupted when déjà vu settled in after Allen Craig once again delivered an RBI single off of reliever Alexi Ogando. With the Texas bats quiet and the 1-0 lead in the game and the series, the Cardinals looked to take control of the series in the top ninth with just three outs remaining. Ian Kinsler would single, steal a base and advance to third on Elvis Andrus’ single. Due to a missed catch by Albert Pujols on the relay throw from CF, Andrus advanced to second. With no outs on the inning, big boppers Josh Hamilton and Michael Young would both pick up sacrifice flies to take the lead for good. The Rangers tied the series 1-1 with their late ninth-inning rally.

Game 3:
Cardinals 16, Rangers 7
After solid pitching from all starters and bullpens in the first two games, all the bats came to life in Game Three. With both teams combining for six total homers, “The Machine” Albert Pujols made up for his crucial error from Game Two with three homeruns and six RBIs in the game. He tied Reggie Jackson and Babe Ruth as the only other people to ever accomplish that feat in World Series history. The Cardinals took a 2-1 series lead with two games remaining in Texas.

Game 4:
Cardinals 0, Rangers 4
Hoping for better pitching, the Rangers got just that as they shut out the Cardinals on a gem performance from young lefty Derek Holland. Holland pitched eight and a third innings of two-hit baseball. Josh Hamilton hit an RBI double in the first and Mike Napoli padded the lead with a three-run shot in the sixth. The Rangers tied the series 2-2 at home with one more game in Texas.

Game 5:
Cardinals 2, Rangers 4
The two teams returned to their nail-biting ways when they entered the bottom of the eighth deadlocked at 2-2. With right-hander Mike Napoli at the plate, Tony LaRussa stuck with left-hander Mark Rzepczynski. Napoli would fittingly smoke the eventual game-winner into the gap for a two-run double. With the victory, the Rangers were one win away from their first title in franchise history. They took a 3-2 series lead heading back to St. Louis.

Game 6:
Rangers 9, Cardinals 10 F/11
Game Six of the 2011 World Series will be remembered as possibly the greatest baseball game ever played. The game was tied 2-2 after two, 3-3 after three and 4-4 after six. The Rangers pulled away with three runs in the seventh. They entered the eighth with a 7-4 lead and needing just six outs to win their first title. The Cardinals could just muster one run in the eighth and were three outs from elimination.  The excitement was just now getting started. With two outs and two strikes on the count, third baseman David Freese laced a game-tying triple over the head of right-fielder Nelson Cruz. Deadlocked at 7-7 in the 10th, former MVP Josh Hamilton drilled a two-run shot into the seats all-but-sealing the deal for the Rangers. Trailing 9-8 and once again down to their last out and strike, veteran Lance Berkman hit an RBI single to pull even for the fifth time in the game. Fittingly so, the hometown hero David Freese belted a full count, walk-off solo homerun in the bottom of the 11th to guarantee one more game. The Cardinals trailed by two or more runs in the seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th innings. They scored six runs in the final four innings. They were down to their last strike and out twice. The win set up an all-decisive and rare Game Seven.

Game 7:
Rangers 2, Cardinals 6
Cardinals returned games One and Five starter Chris Carpenter on just three days rest to take the mound. Rangers sent out lefty Matt Harrison. With injuries to Matt Holliday, Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli, both teams limped their offense into Game Seven. Both teams scored right off the bat in the first inning as they were tied 2-2 after two. The Cardinals added one in the third off of Allen Craig’s third homerun of the series, two in the fifth and one in the seventh to take a commanding 6-2 lead. Carpenter pitched another six solid innings and the Cardinals won their 11th title in team history. David Freese had another two RBIs to add to his record 21 in the postseason. He won the World Series Most Valuable Player.

In all the World Series I have seen or have been told of, this one matches them all. I cannot pinpoint another that had the overall excitement and fireworks throughout. Sure there have been other walk-offs such as the Kirby Puckett’s homer (1991), Edgar Renteria’s single to center (1997) and Luis Gonzalez’s blooper (2001), but these two teams just had a different fight and feel to them. Those other moments will never be forgotten and sit near the top of the list as well, but this one is fresh and incredible nonetheless.

It should be noted that just a few days after hoisting up his third World Series trophy, manager Tony LaRussa has decided to retire on his own will. LaRussa is one of only two managers to win a World Series in both leagues. He coached for 33 years.