October 29, 2011
My friend Steve J. told me yesterday that Curt Schilling once said that Destiny is a stripper. I’m not sure of that, but I do believe she is a two-timer, at least in baseball.
If one team’s destiny is to win, the other team’s destiny must be to lose, right? It’s the sporting equivalent of theology’s double predestination, but that’s another story. The story last night was that the team that wouldn’t lose beat the team that couldn’t win.
That can only be the fulfillment of the 2011 Cardinals’ destiny – world championship #11, second only to the Evil Empire’s 27, and the Rangers’ destiny – heartbreak #2 in year 51. How else can you explain a World Series win for a team that was 10.5 games out of the wild-card (!) play-off spot on August 25 and 3 games out with 5 to play?
Let’s be honest. The Cards ultimately made it to October solely due to the Braves’ collapse – triple destiny? Then they needed a nearly perfect game from Chris Carpenter to prove the 2011 Phillies to have the best pitching staff never to win a play-off series. They followed that up with a surprisingly routine smack-down of their brash division champion Milwaukee. That earned them a trip to the World Series where they would have home field advantage thanks to Prince Fielder, a member of the vanquished Brewers, who in classic irony (destiny?) hit an All-Star game-winning homer off of CJ Wilson, the staff ace for the AL defending champion Texas Rangers, soon to be back-to-back AL champs and the Cards’ World Series opponent. (That Wilson is the Rangers’ ace is a telling omen. He would soon become the only pitcher in MLB history to lose the All-Star Game, a division series game, an LCS game and a World Series game in the same year. Epic fail?)
All of this was occurring in the NL while the Rangers were putting away those other darlings of destiny the Rays in the AL division round and overcoming the crusty Jim Leyland and his flame-throwing Cy Young shoo-in Justin Verlander in the ALCS. After finally proving themselves to be a legit organization with a 2d straight AL pennant, this was surely Texas’ year, right? No Yankees. No Red Sox (remember them?) No 2011 Phillies pitching staff. No 2010 Giants’ pitching staff. Just a team that was 10.5 games out of the wild-card…..
And the Rangers showed some destiny-material themselves with a miracle come-back to take Game 2 in St. Louis (thanks to Pujols’ Little League-like error of failing to cut off an outfield throw) and then shook-off a Game 3 humiliation to go up 3 games to 2, spurred on by one the best games ever pitched in the Series by a left-hander. They went back to STL needing to win only one of two games, and they hadn’t lost 2 games in a row in 46 games! “Hello, win column!” at least once, right?
Then Destiny showed her hand, or rather her pitching arm – (and maybe her legs and body, too, Curt Schilling).
The Cardinals needed two miracle at-bats in a heart-stopping game 6 to force a deciding Game 7. Forget the two pitches where there were 2 strikes on Freese and Berkman. There were nine pitches in those at-bats, 4 of which could have become out #27 in the 9th, and 5 of which could have become out #30 in the 10th. That’s NINE times the Rangers were ONE PITCH from being World Champions. Destined to lose? Had to be. (And I didn’t even mention the rain-out called by the meteorologist hours before the game on Wednesday and before any rain was falling. That extra day allowed Carpenter to pitch game 7. Carpenter was 6-0 in home play-off starts and the home team had won the last 7 Game 7’s. Destined to win? Had to be. Does the meteorologist get a ring?)
But the truth is that when it counted the most, in Games 6 and 7 of the World Series, the Rangers’ pitching just wasn’t good enough. And hasn’t that always been the destiny of the Texas Rangers – inadequate pitching? The only truly great pitcher they ever had -Nolan Ryan – could only sit in the front row with a pained look on his sagging face. The bull-pen blew 3 saves in Game 6 and allowed 2 runs to score in the 6th inning of Game 7 without the Cards even putting the bat on the ball – 3 walks and 2 HBP’s! Sure, they could argue about the ball 4 call that forced in the first run, but when your staff has issued a record 41 walks in the Series, how can you expect to get a borderline call?
So was it Destiny or just wildness? Are there deeper questions here or was the old adage simply proven true again – that pitching and defense win championships? This one certainly wasn’t won with defense, so it had to be the pitching. Or lack of it.
The question of Destiny, like pre-destination, will go unanswered until the Great Commissioner in the Sky decides to answer it. But in my book the Cards were destined to win. Yet that doesn’t mean the Rangers aren’t destined to win sometime. They clearly aren’t the old Rangers. Believe me, I know because I experienced over a thousand of the Old Rangers’ games.
Even in the face of crushing defeat these new Rangers should recognize their rightful position as a baseball powerhouse. Is there any team in the AL that should be expected to beat them next year? None that I see.
So, despite fulfilling a destiny of losing a title they should have won, the Rangers can still come back again and again. Heck, they would be trying to come back to the Series even if they had won, so now they have even greater incentive. All they need is a little more pitching….
The 3 other MLB franchises that have lost back-to-back Series (Dodgers, Braves, Giants) each have won multiple championships. Why not become one of them, or the Denver Broncos instead of the Buffalo Bills or Minnesota Vikings? Since I’ve brought football into the discussion, I might as well use a football quote from Duane Thomas: “if it’s the ultimate game, why are they playing it again next year?” Also, “It ain’t over til it’s over” applies to time just as it does to a single game. (Think Yogi actually meant it that way?)
Win? Lose? I have learned that it doesn’t matter to me as long as there is another baseball season to look forward to. I agree with Billy Beane’s wisdom expressed in Moneyball: “It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball.” Romance, like Destiny, can be a painful two-timer, but who would want to live without her?