Year's over, folks. It was a good year to be a Cardinal fan, but that's all over now.
Did you have a nice Christmas? Mine was okay. I got lots of presents that made the seven year old still stuck somewhere in my head sad; depressingly practical things like a new toolbox and a slow cooker to replace the one that got dropped and cracked in September. I received neither fun gifts to placate my inner child nor alcohol to drown him. Such is life in your fourth decade, though. Hmm. Fourth decade is even more depressing than saying in your 30s.
On this final Wednesday of a championship season, I'm picking my favourite games from 2011. For the first time since I started doing Favourite Things posts way back in the heady days of 2007 -- when I joked about my RFT impression long before I actually worked there -- I do believe there will probably be a pretty fair consensus about number one at the very least. Beyond that personal taste probably kicks in, but hey, that's most of the fun, right?
I'm going seven games deep in honour of a brilliant World Series. Couldn't decide whether to simply list them or go countdown style. Finally decided to go the Casey Kasem route and end with what we all know is coming.
One of those early season tough-luck games for Chris Carpenter, he pitched well enough to win but received little in the way of run support. The Cards came back against Craig Kimbrel, at the time an unstoppable force of nature, on a sac fly in the ninthby Dirty Dan Descalso and then won it on an RBI triple by Nick Punto in the 11th. Eduardo Sanchez threw two innings for the win, completely overmatching the middle of the Atlanta lineup in the 10th.
This game was the very first I remember really marveling at how tough this team played late in the game. We obviously saw comebacks writ much larger as summer turned to fall, but tying the game off Kimbrel was the first moment I recall taking serious note of the trend.
Lance Berkman's coming-out party for the Cards. He came into this three-game set in the desert with an OPS under .800 and left with, well, a bunch of new fans. El Puma Grande hit two homers in this game, one the next night in a 13-8 started by Chris Carpenter, and then finished it all up with a grand slam in game three of the series, a 15-5 shellacking of Ian Kennedy.
I was tempted to both bump this game up higher, due to the history witnessed, and take it off entirely due to the bitterness which ensued, but in the end this is where Albert Pujols' demolition of the Texas Rangers ended up. It was quite possibly the single greatest one game performance in postseason history, and as curtain calls go for a legend on his way to the coast you could do a whole lot worse.
I was at this game, sitting two rows back of the home dugout, when Jaime Garcia flirted with perfection. He lost the perfecto and the no-hitter on consecutive hitters, but this remains the greatest game I think I've ever seen thrown in person. I was in attendance for an Adam Wainwright shutout in mid-2010, and I've seen pitchers from John Tudor to Chris Carpenter befuddle opposing lineups, but I've never seen a pitcher with such perfect command over the loops and whorls of his repertoire as Jaime had that night.
He ended the night with a line of 9 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 8 K, 1 BB. He faced two over the minimum and did it in just 102 pitches. He recorded 14 swinging strikes on the night, as Brewer after Brewer flailed away at pitches nowhere near where they expected them to be. Ryan Braun struck out three times on nine pitches total.
Okay, so this wasn't really a great game. It was a pasting of the worst team in baseball by one of the hottest teams in baseball with their ace on the mound. However, what the actual Cardinal game may have lacked was more than made up for by the night baseball as a whole had. This was the night when both Wild Card races were determined, when Boston fell out and Tampa jumped in and the Braves finished their slow deflation by losing to the Phillies on the last day of the season.
You ever think the Phillies looked back and later and maybe wished they hadn't done such a good job against Atlanta? Nah, me neither.
This may have been the greatest single day in the history of the game, or at the very least the greatest regular-season day. Thankfully, MLB has taken steps to water the playoffs down further and protect us from ever having to see a night like this one again. We should all be grateful.
Speaking of the Phillies wishing they had maybe played someone else...
This game is why Chris Carpenter, despite far too much time in his career lost to injury to have much of a chance at the Hall of Fame, is a legend. Roy Halladay was Roy Halladay, but Carpenter was even better. A shutout to close out the best team in the National League against the defending Cy Young winner. I honestly considered putting this game at number one, if only to be contrary, but in the end I just couldn't. Still, second place isn't too bad when you're talking about the 2011 postseason.
What more can really be said about this game? Volumes could be written, and probably will be, but in the end there's no analysis or comment which can tell us anything new about Game six. David Freese recorded a .969 WPA for the night, and it may be the first time I've ever read a WPA number I was willing to take at face value.
Game seven was a virtual afterthought, tough to believe but true. The story of the 2011 Cardinals is the story of Game six, and that's why I can't imagine putting another game atop this list.
So there it is, folks. The best the 2011 season had to offer, all wrapped up with a nice little bow on top. It was a pretty good season, really.
Happy New Year, everybody. Be careful out there. I'd hate to have to write this same post next year without you.