The World Series.
Inarguably one of America’s greatest traditions, it captures the hopes and the dreams of millions while also creating new memories and adding to the storied history of our country’s favorite pastime.
Okay, that’s sappy, but it’s not inaccurate.
Every sports fan has a favorite baseball memory. As a Cubs fan, Game 7 is mine. I’m here to try and tell you why it should be yours, too. My Cubbies bias plays a role in my decision making, there is no doubt, and it will rear its head throughout the article. But it is hard to quantify feelings without injecting some of your own.
Maybe I’ll change your mind, or simply entrench you deeper in your own opinion. Either way, I hope I can put you in the shoes of a kid who just wanted to fly the “W” on the last day of the season.
Let’s look at the main competition to Game 7’s throne. These games have some legitimate arguments as to why they are the best, but let me unceremoniously rip through them until you’re on my side.
For brevity’s sake, we are going to stay in the 21st century. Don’t get me wrong, I could argue against Mazeroski’s walk-off homer in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, or go toe-to-toe with the all-time greatest pitcher’s duel in Game 7 in 1991. Digging a little deeper, we could talk about 1975’s Game 6 and/or Game 7.
The point is, this article has to end at some point, so pre-21st century games are a subject for another time.
(DISCLAIMER: I’m not here to say that these games are meaningless, or don’t rightfully earn their place in history. If these games mean something to you, that’s great, but allow me to present you with some reasons why they do not stand up to 2016’s final contest.)
2011 World Series – Game 6 (Cardinals 10, Rangers 9 – 12 innings)
Ah, yes. The game all Cardinals fans cling to like Linus does to his security blanket.
This is not the best World Series game by a long shot. Starting with the obvious, it was a Game 6, and not even a series-deciding one at that. People tend to forget that the Cardinals had to win a yawn-inducing Game 7 to take home the Commissioner’s Trophy in 2011.
Sure, Game 7 was tied after one inning. And Allen Craig robbed Nelson Cruz of a home run in the sixth. But other than that, it was just boring. It culminated in the Cardinals securing their 11th (heavy eye roll) World Series title, subjecting the world to the cringe-inducing cries of, “11 in ’11.”
Getting back to the task at hand, Game 6 never felt like it was a game the Cardinals should win. It was a game the Texas Rangers fantastically choked away. St. Louis was down to its last strike not once, but twice. Yet the National League’s version of the Evil Empire put together a rally, making the MLB’s second-most ring-rich franchise even more unbearable.
What may be most egregious is the fact that St. Louis fans have the nerve to consider that squad an underdog just because they were a Wild Card team. No. Stop.
They had Lance Berkman (a walking RBI machine), Yadier Molina (the best catcher in the game in 2011), plus Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols (who had a combined 174 RBI and 59 home runs). Their pitching was also good (not great), with four of five regular starters boasting an ERA under 4.00, with double-digit wins. Throw in an excellent closer in Fernando Salas, and that makes a more impressive rotation than Cardinal Nation would have you believe.
Lest we forget, with this solid lineup they still needed to win Game 162 to even earn their playoff berth, because the NL was so tough. So maybe table the “underdog” talk next time this game comes up.
So, yes, it was a walk-off in extras. It did feature the Cards clawing (pecking?) back from their last strike two times. But what’s more impressive? The offense, or Neftali Feliz’s historic choke job?
The Cardinals should never have been in that position. There were no storylines of note other than David Freese being a hometown hero (no, we are not counting Pujols’ last game as a Cardinal– players chase money all the time). And they took away the Rangers’ chance at their first World Series win ever, in favor of winning their 11th. Rude.
Game 7 – 2001 World Series (Diamondbacks 3, Yankees 2)
Now this game has some layers to it.
Starting with the obvious, this game took place mere months after one of the most horrific events in American history. A New York team was featured in this World Series, causing the public to actually root for the Yankees. Without being flippant about the tragedy, there aren’t many things that would cause America to get behind a team searching for a “four-peat,” and looking to win five of the last six Fall Classics. Especially when that team already has 26 titles under their belt.
On the other side, you have the Diamondbacks, looking to win a ring in only their fourth season. With arguably one of the best one-two punches in MLB history in Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, a bona fide slugger in Luis Gonzales and some bizarre jerseys, they were exciting and scrappy.
Although it did feature a walk-off, and a pitching duel between Schilling (on only three days rest) and Roger Clemens (the oldest Game 7 starter ever, at 39), it still lands in “also-ran” status in the annals of history.
You may love pitching duels, but most MLB fans do not. The first run was not plated until the sixth inning. There was only one home run. The World Series-winning hit was a soft liner that could have easily been an out, if it weren’t for Jeter playing in. It was the end of a dynasty, but not the start of a new one.
It was a fun game, and a fun series rife with things for which to cheer. The 2001 World Series featured the healing powers of professional sports, and for that alone, this Game 7 deserves a spot in the top five. But take away those rose-colored glasses, and there have been some superior contests.
Game 5 – 2017 World Series (Astros 13, Dodgers 12 – 10 innings)
What is the opposite of a pitchers’ duel? This game. This game was.
If you didn’t at least crack a smile watching this game, please check your pulse. It was a wild, back-and-forth affair that saw a combined 25 runs, 28 hits and seven home runs. It went into extra innings and featured the Astros coming back from a deficit three separate times. Both teams chased the other’s ace (co-ace in the Astros’ case) off of the mound.
There are a bunch of different ways you could approach this game if you’re attempting to argue that it is the best of all time. But there are more ways to poke holes in it, regardless of the fun it produced.
For starters, it was a five hour and 17-minute game. Objectively, that is too long. Especially when the MLB has been making conscious moves to try and shorten the contests. Second, this is the game that hammered home the notion that the MLB just might be “juicing” the balls to produce more hits and home runs. The evidence was fairly damning, as Kershaw and Keuchel are not normally the kind of pitchers who get roughed up early and often. Seven total home runs did not help their case, either.
It is also hurt by the fact that it was a Game 5 that did not decide anything. It put Houston up 3-2 in the series, but with the benefit of hindsight, it was just a stepping stone on the way to the winner-take-all Game 7. And much like the Cardinals-Rangers Game 7, it was a snooze-fest, especially in comparison.
On top of all of that, it was storyline-poor. Especially because we all knew we would have to watch another game regardless of its outcome. Springer making a boneheaded play that plated a Dodger run, only to hit a home run on the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the same inning is worth mentioning. As is the Dodgers tying the game when down to their last strike, but as we discussed before, I blame the pitcher more than I praise the offense.
No one said I’m not a cynic.
Game 7 Storylines
Now, on to the main course.
Storylines are what make sports great. They provide a human element to the feats of unbelievable athleticism we have grown accustomed to as sports fans. Take them away, and it’s just a bunch of handsome millionaires playing a child’s game.
Game 7 of the 2016 World Series was the most storyline-rich game ever played. Take away the drama of the on-field play, and it still may be the most interesting due to the sheer amount of talking points.
For starters, it was a winner-take-all between the two franchises with the longest championship droughts in American sports. Let that sink in. Somehow, the MLB hit the jackpot and landed a World Series featuring two teams with a combined 176 years without a championship.
If you aren’t impressed by that (how? and why?), here is a list of the other notable narratives:
- Jon Lester met Anthony Rizzo as a minor leaguer in the Red Sox clubhouse in 2008, where they bonded over beating cancer. Oh yeah, Theo Epstein introduced them.
- Dexter Fowler, the first African-American to play for the Cubs in a World Series, hit the first lead-off home run in Game 7 history.
- David Ross was the oldest player to hit a home run in Game 7, at 39. It was also his final game (and final at-bat) before retirement.
- Jason Kipnis, Cleveland’s second baseman, grew up a Cubs fan, earning him the rare “hometown villain” title. He scored a run in the game.
- After a throwing error by Ross (before the homer) that put runners on second and third, a particularly nasty wild pitch allowed two runs to score. Something that rarely happens.
- Rajai Davis hit the latest game-tying home run in Game 7 history in the bottom of the eighth inning. Davis, not a home run hitter by any stretch, knocked it out off of Aroldis Chapman, a historically great fireball pitcher acquired by the Cubs midseason.
- Chapman, the only bullpen pitcher Cubs skipper Joe Maddon trusted, shook off the home run and returned to pitch a scoreless ninth. After the inning, he was seen crying in the dugout, clearly gassed.
- Just as the tenth inning was about to begin, the grounds crew brought out the tarp. The 17-minute rain delay was the first mid-game delay in Game 7 history.
- Kyle Schwarber, who was shut down for the season after a collision in the fourth game of the season and returned just for the World Series, started the game-winning rally.
- After taking an 8-6 lead into the bottom of the tenth, Davis struck again, cutting the lead to 8-7.
- And, finally, as he fielded the final ground ball of the series, Kris Bryant’s foot slipped, almost leading him to throw it away.
That is one hell of a list. And it does not even paint the entire picture of the drama surrounding this game and series.
If that is not quite enough to sway you to my side, here are even more talking points for you:
- Theo Epstein officially ended 194 years worth of World Series droughts after the game ended. Jason Heyward gave a speech in the visitors’ weight room during the rain delay to which many Cubs attribute the victory.
- This was the fifth game in Game 7 history to go into extra innings.
- This was the sixth World Series to feature a 3-1 comeback.
- The last two times the Indians were in the World Series, there were two ties during the NFL season; they lost in seven both times.
- Cleveland had ended its 52-year championship drought just under five months earlier and came within one run of having two championships in the same year.
- Adding to that, Cleveland overcame a 3-1 deficit in the 2016 NBA Finals and squandered a 3-1 lead in the World Series.
- The Cubs got to Kluber, who started Games 1 and 4 and had a 0.89 ERA in the postseason going into Game 7. They also managed to score two runs off of Andrew Miller, who was virtually unhittable in the postseason.
- The Cubs were the last championship team to visit the White House during Obama’s presidency. The team rushed the visit because Obama is a Chicago native (even though he’s a White Sox fan).
108 years is a long, long time. Such a long time that generations of Cubs fans came and went without seeing their team win it all. 76 years is also a long time. The same sentence could be said about Indians fans (not as many, obviously, but still too many).
If you had no dog in this fight, put yourself in the shoes of a person that did. Imagine yourself thinking before the first pitch, “What if today is the day?”
Please think about all the 70-something, 80-something Cubs fans who never thought they would see it. Think about the Indians fans who have seen their team get so close so many times watch them fall one inning short twice in the same decade.
The landscape of the MLB was destined to change by the time the last out was recorded. Generations of fans would cry together, whether the tears were filled with elation or disappointment.
It was a game and a moment that you’ll always remember. One of those things where you will be able to say, “I was there when…”
I can’t withhold the use of sentiment when making the point that this is the greatest World Series game ever. Hard facts are fine, but the real meat of the argument here is how many people this game captured, and the immeasurable way it affected them on a personal level. Generations of people.
Sure, every World Series win has some iota of that, because sports are something with share with our families and socialize over. But the sheer scale of this one contest makes others pale in comparison.
Maybe I did not change your mind, here. That’s perfectly fine. But I wanted to present an argument that could somehow quantify all of the individual layers that added up to the most meaningful baseball game of all time.
However, I do not know a single MLB fan who would not admit that Game 7 left them breathless. Its imperfections only added to the mythic quality and the seemingly unending string of disappointments surround both teams leading up to it.
Whichever team ended up winning, no fan outside of theirs would or could ever be able to experience what they would end up feeling that night. No two other teams in any other American sports had waited as long as they had. You may feel sentimental about your team and their win, but it’s hard to argue with that.
It was not the best-managed game, it was not the best-pitched game. It was sloppy and long and featured a reset in the form of a rain delay.
But all droughts end with rain, right?
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