Here’s what I wish Dick Stockton had said in the ninth inning of that absurd St. Louis-Washington game last night: For those of you just joining us here in Washington, you’ve missed a lot. The St. Louis Cardinals were almost run over by a boulder. Then, after being chased by an angry tribe of natives and ambushed by Nazis, they found themselves in a pit of snakes …
There really isn’t any conventional way to describe the Cardinals’ 9-7 victory Friday night or the absurdity of their now two-year fate train or the agony in Washington after losing a six-run lead … it’s all so outsized and cartoonish and staggering. For the last 20 years or so, baseball has tried hard to move away from the leisurely and pastoral game where championships were determined slowly over six months, like slow developing photographs. They wanted to make the baseball more of a 3-D thrill ride. And so baseball added more playoff teams, and they added interleague play, and they added even more playoff teams, and gave us the one-game, no limit wildcard game, gave us best-of-five free-for-alls where the lower-ranking team gets the first two games at home, all in an attempt to make baseball more riveting.
It has been riveting. You had last year’s final day, the most rip-roaring, spine-tingling, mind-blowing day perhaps in the history of baseball. And you’ve had this year’s playoffs. San Francisco comes from two losses at home to beat Cincinnati! The Yankees and Orioles lock up in the Octagon for five tense and exhausting and sublime days! Detroit finally puts away the amazing A’s! And in the headliner, the Cardinals are down 6-0 to the team with the best record in baseball, chip away at the lead, chip away at the lead, chip away at the lead, and then finally, in the ninth inning, go crazy and win their fifth straight playoff series … all five against teams with better regular season records.
Though even saying that misses the point. Regular season records don’t mean much now. Regular season records these days remind me of the ninja in black in Raiders of the Lost Ark, you know, the one who comes out of the crowd with a sword. He has obviously trained his whole life to become this great swordsman, and he throws the sword from hand to hand, flips it around with great skill as he waits for Indiana Jones. You can imagine that countless hours he spent developing his sword-fighting virtuosity. The St. Louis Cardinals, like Indiana Jones, had a gun.