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October 31, 2011

Playoff Prospectus

Shuffling Through the World Series

by Jason Parks

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Track #1: Iron Maiden: “The Duelist”
“Ready to start the duel begins the best man wins in the end.
A lunge and a feint, a parry too late
A cut to the chest and you're down
Seeing the stain then feeling the pain
Feeling the sweat on your brow.”

Game One was your standard battle between a parenthetical ace verses a previously recognized and acknowledged ace, both arms taking the hill to validate the distinctions placed upon them. The lights were hot and bright, and the eyes of the baseball world focused on the men standing on the bump, set to pull their swords and turn their flesh into steel. The season that started in the chilly February air, as pitchers and catchers reported to camp, was going to find its conclusion in the chilly air of late October, as the players occupying both dugouts were approaching the limits of their physical and emotional capacity. This was it, the final battle of the year. Each team was sending out their best.  The gentleman will now kindly show their eyes and acknowledge the eyes of their opponent.

C.J. Wilson looked right for the part he was playing, with the riches of his pending free agency painted across his unshaven face, giving him the glow of someone that wins regardless if he loses. With the stuff to satisfy yet rarely suffocate, Wilson’s deep arsenal and cerebral approach can play high or low depending on the overall command displayed; establishing the fastball early is a key to success for most arms in the game, Wilson finding a permanent home in that grouping as well. The command didn’t get the memo about its inherent necessity and only made sporadic appearances throughout Wilson’s uneven performance, as the “ace” lefty allowed six free passes and failed to escape the sixth inning. He wasn’t beat around with the stick; rather, Wilson managed to avoid damage most of the evening, until a walk and double came around to score in the 5th and the trouble he left on Ogando’s plate in the 6th found a way to plate what would end up being the game-winning run.

Wilson’s counterpart was solid, but his performance didn’t exactly tickle my spectacular bone, as he completed six, allowed a few runs and was a little loose with his command. He ended up standing over Wilson’s body at the end of the affair, but he wasn’t responsible for his slaying; Carpenter watched as Wilson inflected damage upon himself, setting the table for clever and timely hits from Lance Berkman and pinch-hit legend Allen Craig. The Cardinals bullpen held the torch, and the team walked with the light all the way to a game one victory in front of their home crowd.

Track #2: Fiona Apple: “Extraordinary Machine”
“I noticed that my opponent is always on the go
And won't go slow so as not to focus, and I notice 
He'll hitch a ride with any guide
As long as they go fast from whence he came
But he's no good at being uncomfortable, so
He can't stop staying exactly the same”


Game Two saw Cardinals’ lefty Jaime Garcia pitch a peach, going seven, erasing seven on strikes, limiting the damage to three hits and a walk, and keeping the Rangers off the board. Colby Lewis didn’t cower in the shadow of his opponent, pitching on par until turning the game over to Alexi Ogando with runners on in the 7th, when Allen Craig once again played pinch-hit hero, plating a run that put the Birds in position to walk away with a two game advantage.

But the Rangers refused to go quietly into the night, as the ninth inning showcased Rangers’ baseball at its finest, slapping local fans in the face with the reality of a game two theft. Leading off the 9th trailing 1-0, Ian Kinsler singled off Jason Motte’s dense beard, putting the go-ahead run at the plate in the form of Elvis Andrus. Despite being overwhelmed in the presence of such follicle density, Kinsler timed Motte’s move and stole the most important base in Texas Rangers’ history. In the box, Elvis was looking at a 2-2 count with the bunt off the table, and because of the incomplete beard he (himself) was sporting, staring back at Motte and his lush tapestry of facial prowess seemed to suggest the outcome would not be promising for the young Venezuelan shortstop. As it turned out, beard-envy fell victim to a small sample size, and Elvis ripped a single to centerfield, astutely taking second base when Pujols was busy dreaming of his own legacy and had the ball trickle off his glove on the 30-grade throw to the plate.

Given Arthur Rhodes’s career numbers against the sweet swing of the great Mickey Mantle, Tony LaRussa attempted to capitalize on that experience by bringing the 75-year-old LOOGY in to face the sweet swing of the great Josh Hamilton with two runners in scoring position and nobody out. Hamilton hit the game tying sacrifice fly to deep right, sending Kinsler to the plate while Elvis and his baserunning intelligence and incomplete facial hair system took third base on the play. With a clean shave on the face of Michael Young, Tony LaRussa quickly called Lance Lynn and his wilderness-approved beard to the mound to keep the game locked in a draw. Young and his baby-smooth face were able to extend at the plate, taking a hairy offering to the deeper part of right/center, easily allowing Andrus to score the go-ahead run.

The power of the RBI suggests Hamilton and Young are heroes, but the aggressive legs of Kinsler and Andrus set the scene and forced the Cardinals to react to their creation.  Rangers’ closer Neftali Feliz and his own incomplete facial hair system put the tying man on base to start the bottom of the ninth, but the intensity of his arsenal proved to be too intense for the less-than-intense part of the Cardinals’ lineup, sending Texas back to Texas with a split and setting up a pivotal game three back in Arlington.

Track #3: Paul McCartney: “Uncle Albert/Admiral Hasley”
“We're so sorry, uncle Albert,
We're so sorry if we caused you any pain.
We're so sorry, uncle Albert,
But there's no one left at home
And I believe I'm gonna rain.”

Before game three, the Rangers had a meeting and decided to stick pins into a Pujols voodoo doll in order to inflict weakness; hoping for the same results found by that weird child Prince in Temple of Doom. With each subsequent prick, the Rangers thought they were weakening their greatest opponent, knowing that a diminished Pujols could lead the Rangers to a victory parade through the streets of North Texas. After feeling the cosmic pricks tickle the delicate Dominican skin on his powerful Dominican arms and torso, Pujols grew wise to the plan and decided to punish the Rangers accordingly. All of this is true*.

*Except for the parts about the voodoo doll, the pricking of the voodoo doll, the harmful intentions of the Rangers, and the awareness and subsequent reaction to the intentions by Pujols.

Newborn intellectual Matt Harrison stood on the bump ready to challenge the Cardinals with his newfound academic prowess and plus arsenal, hoping to improve upon his solid-average performance in the ALDS and his fringe-average performance in the ALCS. Harrison struggled with command, and the defense playing behind him struggled with everything else, as the ferocious autodidact failed to survive the fourth inning with the hits and errors combining forces to plate four runs, putting the Rangers in an early five-run hole.

In the bottom of the fourth, Mikey Baseball Player and Nelson Cruz each hit home runs, chipping three runs away from the deficit and putting the Rangers back in the game, and the crowd was hungry for the succulent fat that an improbable come-from-behind victory would provide. With Harrison reading a book in the shower, Scott Feldman was called upon to restrict the flow of runs and use his sharp arsenal to silence the loquacious bats of the Cardinals; leading up to this appearance, (Feldman) had been enjoying the freedom offered by his Rumspringa, and based on the quality of his recent performance in relief, many were already forecasting the Amish-friendly pitcher as a rotation piece for 2012. Unfortunately, the fan base built that barn on fantasy and hope; reality hit the Rangers in the fifth, as Jebediah Feldman and his butter-churning beard let the game (once again) jump out of reach for the home team, allowing three runs to score in the inning.  The score was now 8-3, and Rangers’ fans started eating despair by the barrel.

With the team’s back against the wall and the crowd drowning in their own trans fat intake, the offense once again sliced the deficit, scoring three more runs on four more hits, with Miguel de la Leadership once again leading the charge, doubling in a run and eventually scoring on a sacrifice fly. 8-6. The crowd’s voice returned to full-throat, and the improbable come from behind victory was looking somewhat probable, as the Rangers started to look like a team that couldn’t be put away. A team that wouldn’t die.

With two runners on and only one out in the top-half of the sixth, Albert Pujols stepped to the plate for a confrontation with fire-balling righty Alexi Ogando. The game was in the balance, and as a fan, you couldn’t ask for a more intense moment, especially at this stage of the contest. I was in Mexico eating a chuleta taco, mouth-watering from the tasty snack (and the tasty scenario of the game), sitting wide-eyed on the edge of my seat, eager to witness such an epic one-on-one. The voodoo doll was a bad idea, as Ogando delivered elite-level velocity, and Pujols brutalized the offering with elite-level ferocity, sending the ball into the ether hanging over Arlington. The game was once again out of reach, and thanks to Albert Pujols, the game would forever stay that way; the Dominican with the immunity to quality major league voodoo would crush two more homers off Rangers’ relievers, sending the Cards to a massive game three smashing of the Rangers. St. Louis 16, Rangers 7.

Track #4: Adam and the Ants: “Prince Charming”
“Prince Charming
Prince Charming
Ridicule is nothing to be scared of
Don't you ever, don't you ever
stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome”

Game Four was the game that introduced the world to Derek Holland the pitcher, not just Derek Holland the baseball player with the adolescent mustache. Holland was as brilliant as his mustache was suspect, falling just two outs short of a complete game shutout, striking out seven while allowing only two hits, both to Lance Berkman. His fastball was crisp most of the night, and so were his secondary offerings, as Holland mixed in two quality breaking balls and even dropped a few changeups, keeping the Cards off balance all night.

Mike Napoli, quickly becoming the most popular player on the roster—at least among those that appreciate a player that looks like a competitive beer drinker—hit a three-run jack, putting the game away for the Rangers. The Mustache of the Mound provided fans with one of the better pitching performances in recent memory, and the importance of the outing can’t be overstated. After getting Pujols’d in Game Three, the Rangers were on the brink of watching the series slip away, just like it had slipped away from them last season against the Giants. But Holland and his junior high lip accessory built a wall to control the swell of momentum crashing against the team and put them back on even footing heading into the final opportunity in Texas. Series 2-2

Track #5 The Pixies: “Tony’s Theme”
“This is a song about a superhero named Tony
It's called 'Tony's Theme'!
He's got the oil on his chain
For a ride in the rain
No baloney
Ride around on my bicycle
Like a pony
I'm waving hi, hi, hi, hi, hi
Gi-gi-gi-gimme a scream
Gimme, gimme the theme
Of Tony

To-ny!
To-ny!
To-ny!
To-ny!
To-ny!”

Game Five wasn’t exactly a Tom Emanski video come to life at the highest level, with fundamental mistakes in the field, on the mound, and in the dugout, where an uncharacteristic managerial mistake by Tony LaRussa proved to be the deciding factor in the game. With parenthetical ace once again doing battle against one formerly recognized as such, Wilson and Carpenter locked horns, but the horns weren’t as sharp as advertised; Carpenter lasted seven innings and was solid whereas Wilson was serviceable, neither pitcher rising to the heights established by Holland’s Mustachioed Machismo in Game Four.

With the score tied 2-2 in the bottom of the eighth, Tony LaRussa inexplicably allowed lefty reliever Mark Rzepczynski to face lefty-sodomizer Mike Napoli with the bases full of Rangers. The move left all those who follow baseball confused and scared, as the narrative for the series had already been firmly established: Tony LaRussa is a genius manager and Ron Washington is a really great guy with lots of energy and passion but is going to get out-managed by the genius managerial skills of Tony LaRussa. Because of the miscommunication that occurred between the powers that be in the dugout and the powers that be in the bullpen area, Mike Napoli stepped to the plate, salivating at the mouth like a wild hog in front of a smaller defenseless animal, then ripped a two-run double as if the script had already been written. In similar fashion, Feliz allowed the first runner to reach in the 9th but quickly erased the damage, and he eventually ended all threats by putting the Big Puma down on strikes. The most important game in Rangers history found them victorious, thanks to a starter that limited the damaged despite not having his best stuff, a bullpen that kept the sheet clean after taking over control, and Mike Napoli, for once again treating opposing pitching like I assume he treats ice-cold canned beer at a backyard cookout. The Rangers were headed to St. Louis, one win away from the grand celebration. One win away from a flag that would fly forever.

Track #6: Electric Light Orchestra: “Strange Magic”
“Oh, I'm never gonna be the same again,
now I've seen the way it's got to end,
sweet dream, sweet dream.

Strange magic,
oh, what a strange magic,
oh, it's a strange magic.
Got a strange magic,
got a strange magic.

It's magic, it's magic, it's magic.”

In Game Six, baseball fundamentals became a four-letter word, and the two teams that stood on the field failed to behave like the last two teams left standing in the field; the defense left a lot to be desired, as common grounders and pop-ups alike failed to find the leather. But despite some rough edges, the game itself was everything you would want in a World Series game: emotional and compelling, with ups and downs and big at-bats against big pitches leading to big outs and even bigger home runs. It wasn’t a memorable game from the standpoint of style but rather memorable to the brim with substance. This was a classic.

The night started with Lewis and Garcia and ended with Lowe, featuring just about everybody else in between. Because of the aforementioned sloppiness in the field, the game suffered in pace but never in passion, as the managers were cute with moves and players pressed under the pressure. The bats were hot and then cold and then hot again, finally reaching a boil in the 7th when the Rangers sent back-to-back ropes into the seats, breaking the seal on the tie game and giving the Rangers the lead. It looked like the Rangers were chilling the champagne and lining the locker room with plastic tarps.

The Cardinals stopped the hearts of many a Rangers fan, battling back in the bottom half of the 9th, putting runners on the pond and anxiety into the atmosphere. The mood was bi-polar, as each subsequent pitch provoked an extreme emotion, ranging from the pleasure of winning to the sorrow of losing. Rally caps and prayer beads dotted the St. Louis fanscape, and tension reached its zenith as David Freese stepped to the plate, representing the winning run. Feliz drew back his bow and fired his brand of smoke over the heart of the plate, and Freese played hero, sending a rope over the head of Nelson Cruz in right field, tying the game with a triple. The Cardinal fans in the stands were celebrating their own re-birth, and the fans with a form of Rangers gear on their chest were sucking air like that scene in Total Recall when they shut the oxygen off on Mars. The Rangers were a strike away from winning the whole enchilada. Gasping. Extra innings.

In the top of the 10th, Roy Hobbs stepped to the plate with a runner on-base, positioned his injured body in the box, brought his elite hands back, and then launched then forward, firing his hips and delivering a ball into the seats for the go-ahead two-run home run. It what was one of the most heroic and timely blasts in post-season history, as Hamilton rounded the bases having fulfilled the prophecy foretold in his fairytale. I’m speechless at this point, as my phone is blowing up and my IM flashing red from overload. That just happened. We all just saw that happen. My friends, we saw magic. But the Rangers don’t hold the patent on magic.

Ageless wonder Darren Oliver took the ball and a supple shot of Geritol, and then he attempted to close out the game in the bottom-half of the 10th. As the script would dictate, the Cards promptly had two lefties execute against the ageless lefty specialist, runners who eventually found their way into scoring position after a beautiful sacrifice bunt penetrated the wheel-play the Rangers had in place. With runners on second and third and only one out, Washington looked to Feldman to churn the butter into a save. After giving up a run on groundout to Beltre, Pujols was walked, setting up a bases loaded, do-or-die battle between the Big Puma and the Big Amish. We’ve captured magic again. My nervous system now exists outside of my body. Two strikes on Berkman. The crowd can’t breathe enough to cheer. My chest is killing me. Ball two. Two and two. Pitch comes into Big Puma, and the Texas native drives a buttermilk and barn pitch into the outfield for a game-tying single. I’m dripping with magic residue. Is this normal? Feldman gets series legend Allen Craig to groundout to end the inning. We continue on this journey. My face hurts from the rigors of emotional response. Who gives a shit about style? This is 80-grade substance.

The top of the 11th begins and my hands are as cramped as a 12 year-old boy after a very personal shower. The Rangers reach base but fail to score; it wasn’t a serious threat. Perhaps the magic has run out. In the bottom of the 11th, Mark Lowe stepped on the bump for the Rangers just as David Freese stepped to the plate for the Cardinals. As the local hero tales fly freely from the lips of the broadcasters, the player with Texas on his birth certificate (not St. Louis) girded up his heroic loins and launched a game-winning home run onto the berm in dead center. The crowd ejects emotion from every orifice, and I’m left sitting in a serene silence, wondering if that was the greatest baseball game I had ever seen. The series was headed to an improbable Game Seven, setting the stage for one of the greatest showdowns in recent baseball history. Rangers vs. Cardinals: going to 7. Holy hell. It doesn’t get any better than this. Strange magic.

Track #7: The Beach Boys: “Feel Flows”
“Unfolding enveloping missiles of soul
Recall senses sadly
Mirage like soft blue like lanterns below
To light the way gladly
Whether whistling heaven's clouds disappear
Where the wind withers memory
Whether whiteness whisks soft shadows away
Feel flows (White hot glistening shadowy flows)
Feel goes (Black hot glistening shadowy flows)”

Game Seven started out gripped by nerves and nail-biting as both pitchers (Carpenter/Harrison) allowed two runs to start the exchange, and fans cried with anxiety and angst. The game seemed even and uneven at the same time, as the Cardinals eventually climbed ahead when postseason master and commander Allen Craig un-tied the game with a solo jack in the 3rd. Rangers’ fans feared the worst, and the worst would soon arrive as Ezequiel Feldman lost his buttery shine and not only loaded the bases but walked in a run, soon relieved by parenthetical ace CJ Wilson, who promptly hit Furcal in the unnecessary bone, allowing yet another run to cross the plate. 5-2 Cardinals. The Rangers and their World Series hopes were starting to fade into a shared emptiness.

Extra Track: Mastodon : “Oblivion”
I tried to bore a hole into the ground
Breaking all the fingers and the nails from my hand
The eyes of the child see no wrong
Ignorant bliss in

Close, low bright eyes fading
Faster than stars falling
How can I tell you I failed?
Tell you I failed”

At the end of it all, the Rangers couldn’t muster the mustard to overcome 2011’s team of destiny. The Cardinals might not have been the superior team, but they ended up as the superior team, scoring more runs and making better pitches in the game that mattered the most. The Rangers left their hearts on the field, pushing their physical and emotional talents to the brink of their capacities. The Cardinals and their bullpen full of beards had larger hands pushing at their backs, and the result of the push was a World Series title. 80-grade props to the Cardinals and their fans for a magical season, with the same extended to the Texas Rangers, a team that stood on the precipice of victory only to watch the precipice extend and eventually become a visible landscape of despair and regret. The team of my youth lost the World Series, but I was privileged to watch one of the most entertaining bouts in World Series history, and I have no regrets. Speaking of regrets, the Rangers should leave theirs at the gate of the arch. The team left it all on the field, playing like the champions their performance suggested they were. The Cardinals were just the better team when the buzzer stopped. Kudos to them and to all their fans. The brand of magic they endorsed was the brand of magic that tickled the senses of the masses. I’m still on the high. What a series. Cardinals win four games to three. We can all breathe again. Baseball: what a game.

Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

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