On a certain level, I am enjoying watching postseason baseball without the stress of the Cardinals being in the mix, wondering if each game will be the Mathenaging meltdown that ends the season. And with the Cubs still alive, it's not like there isn't a natural rooting interest for Cardinals fans. (Go Dodger Blue.)
But as a spoiled Cardinals fan, there is still an emptiness in my heart where a postseason run is supposed to go. So today, I thought I'd flip through the old picture albums and reminisce about the good times.
Over at The Baseball Gauge by Seamheads.com (based on the novel Push by Sapphire), they've put together something they call Championship Win Probability Added. It's basically the same concept as your garden variety WPA, only weighted not based on the likelihood of winning a particular game, but a World Series.
Here are the Top 10 Cardinals postseason moments, as ranked by cWPA (with video where possible):
10. Frankie Frisch, 1934 World Series, Game 7
As you might expect, many of these high Championship leverage moments come in elimination games, often Game 7's of World Series. And while they also tend to come in the late innings, here was an example where the game was pretty much won in the 3rd.
In the Top of the 3rd inning, Frisch came to the plate with the bases loaded and just one out, the score zero-zero. He drove a double into right field which cleared the bases, and the rout was on. The Gashouse Gang would score seven runs that inning, going through four Tigers pitchers, and eventually win 11-0.
9. David Freese, 2011 World Series, Game 6
We will see you tomorrow night.
8. Yadier Molina, 2006 NLCS, Game 7
With cWPA weighted towards winning a World Series, it takes a pretty big moment from an LCS to crack the top ten. You know, like this one:
7. Terry Pendleton, 1985 World Series, Game 2
The Cardinals came into the 9th inning of Game 2 down 2-0. Hits from Willie McGee, Jack Clark and Tito Landrum pushed across the first Cardinals run, but the team also racked up two outs in the process. The Royals chose to walk Cesar Cedeno to load the bases and face Pendleton.
Pendleton doubled down the left field line, clearing the bases and giving the Cardinals what would hold up as a 4-2 win. They were one out away from going 1-1 in the series, but with Pendleton's double, the Cardinals took a 2-0 lead AND were headed home. Teams in that scenario have won the series 90% of the time.
6. Harry Brecheen, 1946 World Series, Game 7
Brecheen pitched a complete game victory in Game 2 of the 1946 World Series, then with the Cardinals facing elimination, pitched another in Game 6.
Then, in the top of the 8th inning of Game 7, with the Cardinals leading 3-1, "The Cat" was brought in with two outs and runners on 2nd and 3rd, to face Dom DiMaggio. With history on the line, Brecheen... gave up a two-run double and it was a tie game.
The Cardinals retook the lead in the bottom of the 8th, on a play we'll get back to later. But in the top of the 9th, with Brecheen still on the mound, the Red Sox put runners on 1st and 3rd with only one out. But Brecheen got Roy Partee to pop-out to 1st, then pinch hitter Tom McBride grounded out to end the series.
5. David Freese, 2011 World Series, Game 7
How did Freese follow-up the iconic home run that ended Game 6 of the World Series? In his first at-bat of Game 7, in the bottom of the 1st, with the Cardinals already down 2-0, he ripped a line drive double to right field, scoring Pujols and Berkman. The Cardinals would not trail in the game again.
4. Lance Berkman, 2011 World Series, Game 6
You know, that one big moment from the 2011 postseason that didn't involve David Freese.
3. Keith Hernandez, 1982 World Series, Game 7
Down 3-1 in the 6th inning of a Game 7 is not a good spot to be in. Such was the situation when Keith Hernandez stepped to the plate with the bases loaded. His single drove-in two to tie the game, but likewise important was pinch-runner Mike Ramsey's hustle to get to 3rd base, even if his slide was one of the ugliest in MLB history.
2. David Freese, 2011 World Series, Game 6
One of the knocks you sometimes hear on those of us who dabble with statistics like Championship Win Probability Added is that our numbers-focused appreciation of the game is somehow at-odds with a more visceral, emotional experience of watching the game. And maybe, around the margins, there are times when that is true.
But what I often find is that the numbers reflect and quantify the emotional experience. This is a great example.
David Freese's down-to-his-last-strike triple certainly felt like biggest Cardinals postseason moment I had ever experienced. I had already resigned myself to a defeat. Sure, there was that tiny flicker of hope for maybe a game-winning home run in that spot, but with Pujols at 2nd and Berkman at 1st, it seemed like you realistically were going to need two hits. Almost impossible.
If you haven't, read Anna McDonald's excellent recent piece at ESPN looking back at the series. One great nugget: Ron Washington says while the outfielders were of-course in an extreme "no doubles" defense for Freese's at-bat, when Freese started slicing balls down the right field line, Nelson Cruz moved in closer to try to take that away. Washington and his staff didn't notice, and then this happened:
1. Harry Walker, 1946 World Series, Game 7
"Harry Walker's Double" may not ring a bell for many Cardinals fans, but I'd wager most have heard of "Slaughter's Mad Dash." While WPA awards the credit to Walker, it was Enos Slaughter who truly made the play that has gone down in history.
With the game tied in the bottom of the 8th, Slaughter was on 1st with two outs. He was running on the pitch as Walker lined a ball into left-center. Leon Culberson was in center, having come into the game for Dom DiMaggio after he pulled a hamstring on his game-tying hit in the top of the inning. Culberson cut the ball off in the gap and got the relay into shortstop Johnny Pesky. Having broke on the pitch, Slaughter had third easily. Only he didn't stop there.
Slaughter rounded third and kept running, even though the ball reached shortstop almost exactly the same time he touched third. But whereas Slaughter kept charging ahead, Pesky hesitated, perhaps not expecting Slaughter to try for home. Pesky's throw came late, and drifted up the line, allowing Slaughter to slide home safe.
The Cardinals Hall of Fame staff just posted a video on the Mad Dash a few days ago, which includes Slaughter himself talking about the play.