Four years ago today, I was going on about four hours of fitful sleep. The night before, I and the rest of the baseball world witnessed one of the greatest games in the history of the World Series. After that game, I was so wired, so geeked I couldn’t fall asleep at all. Finally, after pounding out a delirious blog post, I managed to nod off…only to sit bolt upright the instant my alarm went off a few hours later, feeling as awake and alive as I ever have in my life. I ran into the other room to look at the two most exciting pieces of paper I think I’ve ever held.
I’m sure I managed to be productive at work that Friday, but I couldn’t tell you how. All I wanted to do was go to Busch Stadium, even hours before the game was supposed to start. I wanted to sit in my bleacher seat with a beer and 45,000 or so of my closest friends to watch Game 7 of the World Series. Even just saying the phrase “Game 7 of the World Series” gives me chills as a baseball fan; as a Cardinals fan about to walk into Busch Stadium to watch it live I was almost unable to process the sights…the sounds…the feeling.
None of us knew it at the time, of course, but a fan favorite (certainly one of mine) from the Whiteyball Era made his final appearance before Cardinal Nation and passed less than a week later.
After the previous night’s heroics, Game 7 lacked much drama beyond the first inning. The Rangers took the lead in top half, and David Freese once again swatted them back. Allen Craig—robbed of a World Series MVP by the All-Universe campaign Freese had—hit a home run and took one away with his glove. Chris Carpenter gutted out another start that would essentially prove to be his professional swan song. Jason Motte blocked out his previous struggles in the series to mow through the ninth. And when Craig secured the fly ball near the track for the final out…
It all happened four years ago today—my greatest baseball day.
Last night, baseball lore received a twist so ironic it borders on unbelievable—and only fans of teams other than the ones involved would think so.
The Seattle Mariners beat the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (still the dumbest name in baseball, by the way) 5-0 in a fairly pedestrian mid-July contest, except for the fact that the loss kept the Angels from leapfrogging the AL West-leading (!) Houston Astros in the standings. But two important plays in the game—one a rally-squashing catch; the other a strikeout to ice the victory for Seattle—seem otherworldly in the memories they stir up for fans of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers.
The Angels threatened in the top of the first, loading the bases with none out and the middle of the order looming. But two unproductive outs later, the bases were still loaded when David Freese stepped to the plate. Freese ripped a line drive to right-center that was hauled in with a spectacular diving catch by none other than Nelson Cruz.
Yep…that guy. Only, last night he actually made the game-saving catch on a well-hit David Freese liner.
If that wasn’t enough to make Cards and Rangers fans cringe—albeit for vastly different reasons—the end of the game certainly would.
The Angels couldn’t get much going after that deflating first inning, only putting together four hits on the night. But one of those was a two-out single by Erick Aybar.
Coming to the plate? David Freese.
Standing on the mound? Mark Lowe.
Yep…that guy. Only, this time Lowe struck Freese out to preserve the victory.
That these three players would cross paths again isn’t all that surprising, since it’s been less than four years since that fateful Game 6 night. But all three in the same game, where Cruz DOES make the crucial catch against Freese and Lowe DOES get the crucial out against Freese to end the game? That borders on absurd–not for Angels or Mariners fans, necessarily; for Rangers fans, who can only wonder what might have been…and for Cardinals fans, relieved at what actually was.
It begins today.
While it’s perfectly acceptable to still be in hockey mode, tonight is Opening Night for Major League Baseball. Oddly enough, an Austin radio station made that fact really hit home for me this morning.
I slept in a bit today, trying to shake off the effects of both the rainy, dreary morning weather and the not-as-good-as-I-thought-it-was bottle of wine from last night. I was in desperate need of coffee, breakfast, and Chillville—a local radio show that plays mellow indie and electronic music until 11 a.m. on Sundays. As the show wrapped up, I was clearing my dishes and pouring my second cup so I just left the radio on. And that’s when the most perfectly-timed song started to flow out of my little countertop radio: the first post-Chillville song to come on was “Some Nights” by fun. I perked up instantly, because whenever I hear that song now, I think about the online video made after the 2011 World Series. And that’s when it hit me…
TODAY IS OPENING DAY.
It’s one game out of 162. And there is plenty of hockey to watch still–Go Blues. But if that video doesn’t get you psyched up for Cardinals baseball, nothing will. The Redbirds renew their rivalry with the new-look Chicago Cubs in just a couple hours.
The only question is for how long…but it legitimately may be forever.
On Tuesday, the St. Louis Cardinals called a press conference to announce co-ace of the rotation Chris Carpenter will likely miss the 2013 season after a return of the shoulder and neck symptoms that kept him out of the vast majority of the 2012 season. With Carp due to be a free agent this fall and seriously questioning his ability to ever throw a ball again, the hurler maybe calling it a career once the Cards’ season is over.
Carpenter’s entire career was marred by injuries, but the years he spent with the Toronto Blue Jays were also markedly mediocre. The Cardinals took a chance on him while he was injured, signing him in 2002—but he would not pitch for the Redbirds until 2004. Then, under Dave Duncan, he flourished. Carp became the leader of the rotation, both in statistics and competitive fire. The playoff run in 2004 came to an abrupt halt partly because Carpenter got injured and didn’t throw a pitch in the postseason that year. In 2005 he rebounded to a 21-5 record with seven complete games (four of them shutouts), 241 innings pitched over 33 starts, 213 strikeouts, and a Cy Young award. In 2006 he again topped 200 innings, led the league with three shutouts, and propelled the Cardinals to their first World Series Championship since 1982. The injury bug bit Carpenter again in 2007-2008 when he only pitched in five games—combined. But his resilience would shine again for the next three years. In each season his strikeout totals increased, but so did his innings pitched. It all culminated with the 2011 championship run. For three of the four clinching games that year—Wild Card berth in Game 162, Division Series Game 5, World Series Game 7—Carpenter was the starting pitcher. And you’d better believe he was ready to go for Game 7 of the NLCS if it went that far. But the others were just works of art: a complete game shutout of the Houston Astros to put the Cards into the postseason; a 1-0 masterpiece in Game 5 of the NLDS to knock out Roy Halladay and the Philadelphia Phillies; and starting Game 7 of the World Series on short rest, keeping his team grounded after the heroics of the previous night, and pitching six solid innings to give the Cardinals the chance to win their 11th World Championship. David Freese may have been the MVP of the NLCS and World Series, but if they gave that award for the best overall postseason performance Carpenter would have a serious claim to the trophy.
That October 2011 performance could more or less prove to be his swan song. Carpenter did pitch at the end of last year and helped the Cardinals get within a victory of a return trip to the World Series. But now he faces uncertainty like never before, and so does the team.
Carp is a leader like no other on the St. Louis Cardinals. His numbers speak volumes, and may be replaceable. His presence, however, is not. And it’s another key loss from the so-called “old guard” of the Tony La Russa era in St. Louis. In less than 18 months, the Cardinals have said goodbye to Duncan, La Russa, Albert Pujols, and now Carpenter. Certainly nothing lasts forever, especially in professional sports. But that’s quite a hit in a short span of time.
There’s always the glimmer of hope that Carpenter can make it back and take the mound once again for the Cardinals. After all, it’s not like it would be the first time. But for some reason, this time it feels different…more final…more finished. Maybe it’s a combination of his contract situation and age. Maybe it’s that I was always afraid this would be the way he finally hung it up—leaving the game because his body forced him to, not because he wanted to. Hopefully Carpenter remains that invaluable presence in the clubhouse, in the dugout, and around practice. We’ll always wonder what might have been if he’d pitched in the 2004 World Series, or if the Cardinals had him in ‘07 and ‘08, or if he had been healthy all last year. But even if he has in fact thrown his final pitch as a Cardinal, Chris Carpenter can close the book knowing he was one of the best starting pitchers the franchise ever had.
Less than a month ago, the St. Louis Cardinals capped off one of the greatest comebacks in baseball history by defeating the Texas Rangers in an epic World Series. In this day and age, finding video and audio replays of any baseball game is as easy as pulling up an internet browser on the nearest online device. But for an expertly assembled package of storytelling, highlights, interviews and emotion, the only true option is Major League Baseball Productions’ presentation of The 2011 World Series Film, which is now available in a two-DVD set (the Blu-Ray version is available December 6).
Disc one features the official film, narrated by actor and St. Louisan John Hamm. The film starts on the St. Louis Riverfront, with the iconic Gateway Arch making an immediate appearance as the stage is set for the telling of the ups and downs of the Cardinals’ 2011 season. Obviously, early in the year, there were more downs than ups as Hamm guides the viewer through the Adam Wainwright injury and Albert Pujols contract drama that overshadowed the team from the beginning of Spring Training. Next is footage of Ryan Franklin giving up a late-game home run and Colby Rasmus bobbling a fly ball that turns out to be the game-winning hit for the opposition. Seems like eons ago, doesn’t it?
But these nasty memories are merely part of the set up. The film briefly covers the big trade with Toronto, the Rafael Furcal acquisition, and the sweep by the Dodgers—the last low point of the season. From there, the chasing down of the Atlanta Braves over the regular season’s final five weeks culminates in the Cards celebrating their NL Wild Card clincher after Chris Carpenter’s gem in Houston and the Braves’ loss in Philadelphia while the Cardinal players watched in the Minute Maid Park visitor’s clubhouse.
From there, the film summarizes the Cards’ NLDS win over the Philadelphia Phillies and NLCS win over the Milwaukee Brewers. Throughout the show, broadcasts from TV and radio are seamlessly merged with Hamm’s narration so the story feels like it’s told from multiple angles. When significant records were tied or broken throughout the year and the postseason, a graphic appears illustrating the feat. The editing and production on this film is nothing short of superb, and it adds an element of dramatic flair not found in straight highlights and replays from the games themselves.
But the real story here is the World Series, and not surprisingly, that’s where the detail in the story explodes. Each of the series’ seven games gets a long segment, and each game’s story is built up with a relevant introduction. For instance, after the segment featuring the Cards’ Game 1 win, the footage shifts to Jason Motte enjoying some pre-Game 2 BBQ at Pappy’s in St. Louis with his family and, obviously, a room full of restaurant customers who happen to be Cardinals fans. Before Game 3 and Game 6, the footage shows the perspective of rolling into the home team’s city as the series shifted to a new ballpark.
This series had so many side stories and subtexts, and each was covered brilliantly in this film. The on-paper match-ups and how similar the Cardinals and Rangers were…the Allen Craig-Alexei Ogando battles…the offensive powerhouses and their pitchers duels in the first two games…The Albert Pujols Game…The Derek Holland Game…Game 5 shenanigans, including the Pujols-Craig hit and run fiascos and “Phonegate”…it’s all here. And it’s all great.
Then there’s Game 6, perhaps one of the greatest in World Series history. From the start, with the Rangers putting up early runs, to the errors and misplays on both sides, the game unfolds as one of the sloppiest anyone has ever seen. And then the Cardinals mount their comeback. David Freese’s game-tying triple in the 9th, Lance Berkman’s game-tying single in the 10th, and the game-winning homer by Freese in the 11th are all highlighted in their amazing baseball glory. “We will see you tomorrow night.” Smiles, chills, and tears are included free of charge.
And the Game 7 segment puts an exclamation point on a tale that wouldn’t be believed if it wasn’t captured on film. After the teams exchanged two run frames in the 1st inning, the Cards took charge of the game. But one of the most poignant moments of the film was when Motte came out of the bullpen in the 9th–in his interview, he said he took a couple of slow steps down the ramp to look around and take in the scene at Busch Stadium. It was yet another moment of profound reality, like David Freese becoming the hero for the team he grew up rooting for or Chris Carpenter re-assuming the role of Ace after Wainwright went down. The only thing missing from the film—curiously—is Joe Buck’s “What a team…what a ride” call as Craig caught the final out. The omission is probably only noticeable by those with the St. Louis bias, and it doesn’t ruin the film. But it is somewhat conspicuous.
The film also captures some of the parade through Downtown St. Louis as well as the announcement the next day of Tony La Russa’s retirement. This comprehensive look at the 2011 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals covers all the bases and does so beautifully. It should be enough to get even the most die-hard fan through the cold winter until the next Spring Training.
2011 World Series Film DVD Bonus Features
This Week in Baseball: Lance Berkman
Prime 9: Tony La Russa
Cardinals Clinch Wild Card (team watching PHI beat ATL from visitor’s clubhouse in HOU)
NLDS Game 5: Last Out and Celebration
NLCS Game 6: Last Out and Celebration
World Series Game 3: Albert Pujols 3 Home Runs
World Series Game 6: David Freese Triple to Tie
World Series Game 6: Lance Berkman Single to Tie
World Series Game 6: David Freese Walk-Off Home Run
World Series Game 6: Lance Berkman/David Freese Presser (funny exchange between the two as Freese recalls Jim Edmonds’ 2004 NLCS walk-off)
World Series Game 7: David Freese Double to Tie
World Series Game 7: Last Out and Celebration
WS Parade (brief ride-along with Freese)
Want More? (Nick Punto mic’ed for final play of World Series; MLB Productions Social Media links)
Disc Two contains the complete Game 5 of the NLDS between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies, with a menu to start the game from any half-inning or the pre-game show on TBS. Overall, both discs comprise about four hours of video. Order your copy here or check your local retailer.
If you’re like me, you find yourself constantly revisiting the Cardinals’ website for video highlights from this past season, or maybe you check the channel guide every day hoping MLB Network will air something from those magical days in October.
Well, soon you’ll have to go no further than your own DVD collection to get your 2011 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals fix. And Tuesday, you can get a sneak peak in downtown St. Louis.
Major League Baseball Productions’ presentation of the 2011 World Series Film is showing at the Peabody Opera House tonight. Details and instructions for ordering tickets or your very own copy of the DVD can be found here.
Additionally, I have secured a copy of the DVD to review on this site. As soon as it arrives–literally within minutes–I will crack that baby open and post a review of what I find inside. And even if you don’t necessarily want to know my particular thoughts about the film, you’ll still want to check back because I will also have a few copies to give away FREE!
More to come!