There is nothing like a World Series Game 7

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A World Series Game 7 is the absolute best thing there can be in sports. I don’t say this because I’m a baseball guy, I say it because it’s simple fact.

A Game 7 gives us the best sports experience imaginable. It has the winner-takes-all tension and finality of any Super Bowl, National Championship game or boxing match but it’s also the product of a slow, increasingly tense series between two evenly-matched rivals. Everything has built to this moment but, in some ways, it all can be forgotten as it all boils down to a single game.

We’ve been pretty lucky over the past several years. Tonight, for the third time in four years, we’re getting a World Series Game 7. When you add in the wildly entertaining six-game series in 2013 and stretch back to the epic seven-gamer in 2011, it’s fair to say that we’ve been on a great run of engaging and competitive Fall Classics.

Such a thing is not something one can always count on. Between 2004 and 2010 we went on a run of five straight World Series — and six of seven — which were either sweeps or five-game affairs. They were exciting and memorable for fans of the teams which won, obviously, but they didn’t offer much to the non-partisan.  Now, though, the whole nation and a big chunk of the world will be watching as the Astros and Dodgers, both exhausted, suck it up for one last round. I’m not sure how fans of either team can function at this point, but those of us who are unaligned are enjoying the hell out of this.

We have less than 12 hours until Yu Darvish throws the first pitch to George Springer. In the meantime, let us look back at Game 7s of the recent past* to see what Houston and Los Angeles have to measure up to. As you’ll see, quite often, Game 7s are a bit anti-climactic, with the greatest moments coming in Game 6s or earlier.

That wasn’t the case in the most recent two Games 7s, however:

2016: The Greatest Game 7 in History?

Possibly. It certainly felt that way as we were watching the Cubs battle the Indians in Cleveland, and a year’s worth of perspective hasn’t caused many to push back too hard. A 5-1 Cubs lead. A questionable Joe Maddon decision, pulling Kyle Hendricks, who seemed to be cruising. A modest Indians comeback followed by a David Ross homer. A gassed Aroldis Chapman giving up that game-tying homer to Rajai Davis. Extra innings. A rain delay Jason Heyward gathering his teammates together to tell them “We’re the best team in baseball. . . for a reason. . . Stick together and we’re going to win this game!” Pinch-runner Albert Almora tagging up, Ben Zobrist doubling him in and Miguel Montero singling in Anthony Rizzo. Carl Edwards Jr. not quite nailing it down but Mike Montgomery finishing the job and with it, ending 108 years of futility for the Cubs.

2014: The Madison Bumgarner Game

Maybe it was the Madison Bumgarner Series? In this Game 7 Giants manager Bruce Bochy brought Bumgarner in on two days’ rest to protect their one-run lead in the fifth. And then he stayed in for the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth, holding the Royals scoreless and earning the longest save in World Series history. He also won his two starts that series. I covered this series in person and I have never borne witness to a greater performance on a baseball field.

2011: The Cardinals defeated the Rangers, 6-2, in St. Louis

Man, what a disaster that ended up being for the Rangers. Game 6 was the real disaster, but Game 7 was, obviously, where it ended. Chris Carpenter started his third game in a seven game series. Allen Craig of all people robbed someone of a homer in the field. David Freese‘s postseason legend was cemented with more RBIs and a World Series MVP. Overall not a competitive game, though. The highest drama had already gone down in this series. This is pretty common pattern, as we’ll see.

2002: The Angels defeated the Giants, 4-1, in Anaheim

This was a fantastic series, but Game 7 was a bit of a comedown here as well. The Angels’ big comeback in Game 6 when the Giants were eight outs away from winning it all traumatized Giants fans for a good bit. Obviously, three World Series titles since then have helped those wounds heal.

2001: The Diamondbacks defeated the Yankees, 3-2, in Phoenix 
1997: The Marlins defeated the Indians, 3-2, in Miami
1991: Twins defeated Braves, 1-0, in Minneapolis

If we’re lucky, tonight we get one of these. All three ended in a walkoff with Luis Gonzalez, Edgar Renteria and Gene Larkin doing the honors, respectively. Of course, the men who hit the walkoffs weren’t necessarily the men most remembered for their exploits in the series or even the game. A Game 7 can certainly create heroes, but in 1997’s case, Jose Mesa and Tony Fernandez instantly became goats. In 2001, Gonzalez was a hero, but Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson became legends. In 1991, Jack Morris nearly became immortal, with his performance almost catapulting him into the Hall of Fame.

1987: The Twins defeated the Cardinals, 4-2, in Minneapolis

Fun footnote: This was on a Monday and was broadcast by ABC, which also broadcast Monday Night Football at the time. The Broncos-Vikings were scheduled to play the Monday Night game that week but it was moved to Tuesday due to the stipulations in the teams’ respective Metrodome leases. UPDATE: Either my memory or my research, when I first wrote this bit a couple of years back, was faulty. The game was on a Sunday and the football game was moved to Monday, making two Monday night games. Either way, a football game was moved, which doesn’t happen too often.

1986: Mets defeated Red Sox. 8-5, in New York
1985: Royals defeated Cardinals, 11-0, in Kansas City

Two more instances in which all the drama — be it Bill Buckner or Don Denkinger-induced — happened in Game 6. In this year’s series we had a crazy Game 2 and a crazy Game 5, so we’re due for another nutso one tonight, right? One in which there are five or six game-tying homers and in which three relievers lose their arms to fatigue?

We won’t know until it happens. We never know. It’s what makes a Game 7 so damn special.

*This is an updated version of a post I originally wrote on the eve of Game 7, 2014 and updated again last year. No one remembers anything on the Internet, so it’s OK to post it in a mostly-similar fashion two years later, right? Of course. Cool.

Royals fire manager Mike Matheny after 65-97 end to season

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Manager Mike Matheny and pitching coach Cal Eldred were fired by the Kansas Cty Royals on Wednesday night, shortly after the struggling franchise finished the season 65-97 with a listless 9-2 loss to the Cleveland Guardians.

The Royals had exercised their option on Matheny’s contract for 2023 during spring training, when the club hoped it was turning the corner from also-ran to contender again. But plagued by poor pitching, struggles from young position players and failed experiments with veterans, the Royals were largely out of playoff contention by the middle of summer.

The disappointing product led owner John Sherman last month to fire longtime front office executive Dayton Moore, the architect of back-to-back American League champions and the 2015 World Series title team. Moore was replaced by one of his longtime understudies, J.J. Picollo, who made the decision to fire Matheny hours after the season ended.

Matheny became the fifth big league manager to be fired this year.

Philadelphia’s Joe Girardi was replaced on June 3 by Rob Thomson, who engineered a miraculous turnaround to get the Phillies into the playoffs as a wild-card team. The Angels replaced Joe Maddon with Phil Nevin four days later, Toronto’s Charlie Montoyo was succeeded by John Schneider on July 13 and the Rangers’ Chris Woodward by Tony Beasley on Aug. 15.

In addition, Miami’s Don Mattingly said late last month that he will not return next season.