"Baseball is a game of inches." It's a cliché, for sure. But after watching Game 7 of the '06 NLCS, you can see why that phrase has stuck around. It's appropriate. Endy Chavez made one of the most spectacular catches I've ever seen, snowconing a ball that was over the fence after making a dead-run for the track and a mighty leap into the wall. Even if I forget the stage Chavez was standing on when he made that catch -- even if it was Game 101 of the season on a Wednesday afternoon -- it was still one of the best catches I've ever seen. So much skill -- and luck -- was involved in making that catch. It should have broken the Cardinals' back. It sure broke mine. Rolen and his bum shoulder couldn't buy a big hit in this series. And when he finally got a hold of one in a tight game, he was robbed. Poor guy. You had to feel sorry for him.
I thought the game was surely going to the Mets after that turn of events, and I'm sure every Mets fan felt the same way. Big Mo had shifted to them. In their next at bat in the bottom of the 6th, the Mets loaded the bases on a walk, a Rolen error (one of the worst errors I've ever seen, too), and another walk. Suppan was backed into a corner. Not one Cardinal fan would have blamed him if a run scored in that situation. He'd pitched a hell of a game, a hell of a series, up until that point. He could have folded. The Mets had Big Mo at their side, and two chances to score the go-ahead run. But Soup has ice in his veins. The cerebral Maddox wannabe knows how to keep his composure on the mound. He never looks too bothered out there. Even with the pennant on the line.
Everyone in Shea knew that the other Jose was going to see some curve balls from Suppan. Didn't matter. Soup threw him fastballs up in the zone to keep him off his Uncle Charlie. And sure enough, it worked. Strikeout. Two outs. It would be up to the man who made The Catch. But luckily for Cardinals fans, Chavez had already used every ounce of positive karma he had coming to him in the top of the 6th. He flied out to center to end the inning. Suppan swung Big Mo back in the Cardinals corner.
With Perez out of the game, I released a sigh of relief, because oddly enough it was the Mets relief -- touted by pundits before the series began as the Mets edge over the Cards (boy did they pick wrong) -- that we had our best shot against. We had touched up the Mets best reliever, Wagner, in this series. But we couldn't string much of anything together against the Mets starters. In the top of the ninth, Randolph stuck with Heilman, probably because Cards hitters had already proven their worth against Wagner. Rolen redeemed himself for a horrendous error with a one-out single. With that, our best playoff hitter -- who just happened to be our worst regular season hitter -- stepped to the plate: Yadi. Whack! Ballgame.
There was but one tiny hurdle left to clear: the bottom of the ninth. I told M heading into the top of the ninth, "If we're going to pick a time to score, now would be a good time." Not because it was, after all, the ninth inning. But rather because if we scored, the Mets had the bottom of their order coming up next. Their chances of scoring would be greatly diminished. Or would they?
Wainwright has been anything but Isringhausen-esque this postseason. He's been dominant, never clogging the basepaths with runners or flirting with disaster. But on this night, the NL's best offense would give this kid a true gut check.
Single. Single. Two on, nobody out. Wainwright can't locate his best pitch, the Hammer. Does Randolph bunt in this situation, moving both runners into scoring position? Nope. Does he send his best available hitter to the plate to pinch-hit for the pitcher? Nope. He bypasses Franco for Floyd. Bad call. The ump's strike zone is generous tonight, and Floyd goes down looking. The real Jose -- the guy it's hard to hate because of the smile, the chant, the youth, the passion, the talent -- digs into the batter's box and smokes a flat curve ball into center field. Edmonds is there. Like always.
All Wainwright needs to do is retire Lo Duca. Just get him out and Cardinals nation doesn't have to face its worst fears -- the man standing on deck, Beltran. Lo Duca works the walk. I let out a hundred half-intellible "fuck"s. The Cardinal Killer, at the plate, the Cardinals up by two runs, bases juiced, two outs, bottom of the ninth. This is baseball, folks. This is why we watch the game. This is why it's still the best game on Earth.
Strike one on a hittable fastball that Beltran doesn't offer at. Strike two on a curve that Beltran barely nicks. No way Wainwright is throwing another fastball to Beltran. Would he dare? He's been throwing a slider this inning, too. But that's his third-best pitch. He's gotta go with the Hook, right? Pull the string? It's one of the best curves in the business. With a sharp, downward break, it makes All-Stars look like scrubs. Even Cardinal Killers. Strike three, looking. Ballgame.
Will New Yorkers remember The Catch for years to come? I know I sure will -- because of how my team responded to it.