Craig Calcaterra

Blogger at NBC Sport.com's HardballTalk. Recovering litigator. Rake. Scoundrel. Notorious Man-About-Town.

Game 7 was probably the best World Series game of your lifetime

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I make the caveat in the headline because you may be of a certain age and you may have, say, been at the Bill Mazeroski game in 1960, at Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956 or at Game 6 of the 1975 World Series when Carlton Fisk hit his famous homer. If that’s the case, hey, you may have a different idea of what the best World Series game you ever saw happened to be.

For those of us with no real living memory of baseball before the 1980s, however — the 40ish and under crowd — Game 7 2016 may very well be the best we’ve ever seen. I’ll give it a day or so to sink in before I etch this list in stone — and I’ll explain why I think it was the best when I get down to the number one slot — but in the meantime, here’s my take on the ten best World Series games I’ve ever seen:

10. Game 6, 1995

All of these are subjective to some extent, but I’m gonna sneak a super fan-centric objective won in here at number 10. Sorry, it was my team doin’ it here, so it was elevated for me. Tom Glavine’s eight innings of one-hit, shutout ball and David Justice’s homer, mere days after idiot Braves fans questioned his worth and nerve. A year prior we endured (hopefully) the only October of our lifetime without a World Series. This October I was treated to my team winning the only title it has so far won in my lifetime. You’d put your own team’s win in at number 10 if you were making this list, right?

9. Game 7, 1997

Given that you know last night’s game is coming later, you know that the Indians get three losses on this list. Sorry, guys. Not your fault. Jose Mesa’s blown save and Tony Fernandez’s key error sent it to extra innings and Edgar Renteria’s single with the bases loaded gave the Marlins an improbable World Series win.

8. Game 6, 2011

This might have been higher for a lot of people, but personal circumstances that I may or may not write about one day made it a surreal experience of sorts that made it something of an out-of-body experience that is best left for another time. And no, it did not feature alcohol or chemicals of any kind. It was just weird. Anyway, the game itself was not a crisp one — five errors, a boat load of walks, lots of lead changes and that infamous Nelson Cruz misplay of the David Freese ball — but it was definitely an exercise in high drama.

7. Game 7, 2014

This was the Madison Bumgarner game. It was the best one I saw in person, as I was covering it in Kansas City. It may not have had moment-by-moment competitive drama like some of these other entries, but it was the best individual performance I’ve ever seen in a World Series Game, with Bumgarner coming in for a five-inning save only a couple of days after dominating the Royals with a compete game shutout.

6. Game 1, 1988

The Kirk Gibson home run. It’s been 28 years and I still cannot believe what I just saw. It was so improbable a year for the Dodgers and then, against the heavily-favored A’s, the impossible happened. Feel free to use those phrases if you want. No need to credit me.

5. Game 6, 1993

Everyone remembers “Touch ’em all, Joe!” but what is forgotten is that the Phillies had every reason to pack it in, down 5-1 entering the seventh inning, when they rallied for five runs and the lead. That, and not just the fact of the homer, helped make Joe Carter’s game-winning blast all the more memorable. What is also forgotten is that these two teams played a whale of a Game 4 too, with the Jays beating the Phillies 15-14. A game in which the Phillies led 14-9 entering the top of the eighth. Mitch Williams blew that one too. May have been worse, frankly.

4. Game 6, 1986

The Buckner game. Or the Schiraldi game if you want to think about it more deeply. Either way, Mookie Wilson’s grounder, Bill Buckner’s blunder and Ray Knight scoring to tie the series at 3 made everyone who was watching it stand up and wonder what in the hell just happened. If this was a series-deciding game it may be a couple of slots higher, but as it was, it was probably the best non-definitive World Series game I’ve seen.

3. Game 7, 2001

Down go the three-time defending champion Yankees to an expansion team in its fourth season. And it was no cheapie, as Luis Gonzalez and the Diamondbacks had to get through Mariano Rivera at the height of his powers to do it. A great series overall, of course, with Derek Jeter’s “Mr. November” moment in Game 4 and the backdrop of September 11th looming over it all. Baseball, however, does not give a team extra points for allegedly momentum-shifting homers, even from its biggest stars, and it does not hew to dramatic scripts with a basis in the real world. It just does its own crazy thing.

2. Game 7, 1991

Jack Morris vs. John Smoltz, of course. For as hard as it was for me as a Braves fan to endure the defeat, there was no mistaking the greatness of this game. Even then, in a pre-Internet age when immediately hyping everything to the nth degree was not yet the order of the day, everyone watching this one knew it was instant history. For weird reasons I’ve explained before, I actually had to listen to this game on the radio rather than watch it, and in some way that made it even more timeless and significant than if I had watched it unfold. I watched a taped version of it later. Knowing what was coming only diminished is slightly.

1. Game 7, Last night

I never thought something would knock the Jack Morris game off the top spot for me, but this one did. Not because anyone did anything comparable to what Morris did in that game. Far from it. But it included a dozen different dramas and great moments, not just one great performance, and because it was simply the most entertaining World Series game I can remember.

It was a see-saw battle. Six runs scored off the two best pitchers of the postseason, yet that still not deciding the game somehow. Extra innings. An old man in his last game hitting a homer off of the man who had been the most dominant reliever going. A slightly younger man no one expected to provide heroics hitting a dramatic homer off of the hardest thrower in baseball. That hardest thrower not throwing as hard as he normally does because he was on fumes and then, when he was done, breaking down in tears. A young star making two bad errors and botching a squeeze play yet also hitting a big home run. A rain delay that allowed everyone to breathe followed by a lightning rally that took everyone’s breath away again. An attempted comeback by the home team that fell just short. A title to a team that hasn’t seen one in 108 years.

Was it the best-played game of all time? Oh, gosh no. It was imperfect in a hundred ways with many people making mistakes — managers included — but almost everyone given a chance to atone for those mistakes. Some did, some didn’t, but they had their chances and it made for a most human of World Series drama. It was a game not decided by super heroes, like a 1991 Jack Morris or a 2014 Madison Bumgarner, as much as it was decided by men, all of whom were no doubt exhausted by the time it was over, having given everything they had in the process. It was everything we want sports to be in terms of drama. Human drama. There were no goats, just some men who were outplayed or simply out of gas. There were many heroes.

People want different things from baseball. Game 7 of the 2016 World Series gave me everything I want and far, far more than I could’ve ever hoped for. It was the greatest World Series game I’ve ever seen.

Great Moments in Bad Tattoos

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“Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

Nice words, but sometimes hope is really dumb. Like when, rather than have a pure hope or faith in a noble concept like freedom or justice like Andy did in “Shawshank,” you give yourself a permanent reminder of your misguided hope in a sports team winning a tournament that, with some mild weighting aside, is inherently random.

Then, if you’re that guy, you get to go through life with this thing. A tattoo that is not only racist and disgusting, but one which is factually inaccurate and which reminds you of failures which you no doubt consider personal due to your over-identification with a baseball team.

Enjoy it, though!

 

The Indians didn’t blow it: The Cubs were the stronger team all along

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We talked about momentum yesterday, but momentum had nothing to do with anything in this one. Crazy managerial decisions, crazy heorics and dumb blind chance turned Game 7 into a crazy, instant classic. This was anti-momentum. When one team zigged, the other zagged. It was an exercise in random chaos and it was absolutely wonderful. Let us stipulate now that, however history decides this series should be characterized, it was anyone’s Game 7 at about five different times.

But eventunally the buzz from this crazy Game 7 will fade and we’ll have to contend with everything that happened in these past seven games. When we do, I think we’ll be obligated to say that, whatever path we took to get there, the best team won.

It’s been a much joked about meme in the past four and a half months: how the Cleveland Cavaliers won the 2016 Finals because (all together now) “The Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals.” Given that it was the Cavs who won it, I’m guessing Cleveland fans had more fun with that than a lot of people, actually. Welp, that’s all over now! It’s probably not too fun for Cleveland fans to think about today.

They shouldn’t beat themselves up over it too much, though. Yes, the Indians did, technically speaking, blow a 3-1 lead in the World Series, but it never felt like they had a handle on it the way the Warriors should’ve had a handle on the Cavs. They weren’t the favorites coming into the Fall Classic and, I’d argue, their 3-1 lead never felt quite as secure as most 3-1 leads happen to be. The Indians didn’t blow it. The Cubs won it.

The central issue: the Indians had three starters. Maybe things would’ve been different if Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar were healthy and available, but they weren’t. That meant that Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin had to handle it all. Kluber did his part in two starts and the other two did what they could, but it all fell to Kluber once again on this night and it was a bridge too far. He looked gassed from the get-go in Game 7, even if he lasted four innings. He probably should’ve been lifted earlier than he was. But Andrew Miller — the proxy for that fourth starter the Indians never had — wasn’t sharp either. If you go with Corey Kluber and Andrew Miller and the opposition still puts half a dozen on you, it just wasn’t meant to be.

Yes, they almost salavaged it. They pulled off an improbable comeback. The scored two runs off of Jon Lester, one earned, and two off of Aroldis Chapman, but those were gifts from Joe Maddon, really. Kyle Hendricks should’ve still been in the game when Lester was called. Chapman should’ve been better rested in this game — he was overused in Game 6 — or else he should’ve been yanked once it became obvious that he was out of gas. That Maddon didn’t trust his starter and put too much weight on his closer was a self-inflicted wound. Wounds which the Indians should never have been able to take advantage of. This game should not have been as close as it was.

Yet the Cubs still overcame that. They overcame that on this night because of some hard-fought at bats and some smart and aggressive base running in this Game 7. But in the grand scheme — in the aggregate seven games over the past nine days — they won this Series because they had four starters while the Indians had three. That was the biggest difference here. Kyle Hendricks was stronger than a tired Kluber here. Jake Arrieta was stronger than Josh Tomlin the night before. Jon Lester had more than Bauer did in Game 5. A great bullpen will do wonders for you, but it can only cover for so many ills. The Indians had too many ills to cover and, ultimately, not enough horses to win the race.

Some may consider this series to be more of an Indians loss than a Cubs win, but if they do, they got it all wrong. The Indians were pretty fortunate to be up 3-1 on this Cubs team. They were up because of some temporarily cold Cubs bats and some excellent work from a couple of Tribe pitchers. But as this stretched out to 6 and 7 games, the disadvantages of the Indians lack of depth and the advantages of the Cubs superior roster became clear. In seven games, the Cubs were better in four. In nine games, they’d probably take five. In 20 they’d take 12 and so on and so on.

We talk so much about how, in the postseason, small sample sizes skew the results and allow the possibility of the inferior team to steal a short series from the superior team. That didn’t happen here. In seven games, the realities of the situation became clear. The better team showed itself, just in time. The better, deeper and more talented team prevailed.

The Cubs are your 2016 World Series champions. Not because the Indians blew it. Because the Chicago Cubs were the better team. Full stop.