How “good” of a game historically speaking was Game 5 of the Nats-Cards NLDS? How will this game be remembered historically?
I realize of course how difficult it is to objectively view the Nats meltdown in Game 5 from a baseball stand-point for Washington fans. It was too much of a gut-punch game, too sudden, too unbelievable of a collapse by our closer Drew Storen. And we’re all immediately on the defensive because the inevitable back-seat driver columns from hither and yon about how Stephen Strasburg would have won the series for us in the face of more than enough evidence to the contrary (as in, how exactly would Strasburg have factored into a 2-run lead given up by our closer in Game 5?) But I wonder if this game goes down into the pantheon of great games, or if it will remain known as just an amazing collapse by Nats bullpen.
I touched on the topic of “Greatest Games” last fall, when I wrote in this space that I thought game 6 of the 2011 World Series was instantly among the best games of our lifetime. The trap that we all fall into as sports fans is to immediately assume that the player or game we are watching today is immediately “better” than historical figures in each sport. I see far too many articles in the sportswriting world that immediately declare that Such-and-Such a sports news item is the “worst trade” or “best game” ever played. Strasburg is “the best pitching prospect the game has ever seen,” that is until the next “best there ever was” guy shows up. We’re prone to hyperbole to get hits and sell papers, unfortunately. But Game 6 last year was different; as I was watching it I was saying to myself that it was the best game I’d ever witnessed.
In that same post I also reviewed MLB Networks’ fantastic “Best 20 games of the last 50 years” series for context. Going back to that list, the breakdown of games is as follows:
- Regular Season: one game
- Regular Season One-Game playoffs: Two games; from 1978 and 2009, both classic games.
- Divisional Series: One game: the 1995 Seattle-New York series with a walk-off win.
- League Championship Series: Seven Games
- World Series: Nine of the twenty games.
So, only one game of the 20 best from the last half century occurred in a Divisional Series, and it featured an upset over the historical Yankees and an amazing walk-off win at home with the crowd going wild. I think baseball historians don’t give as much credence to divisional series games, no matter what the context of the game. The Cardinals in Game 5 of this year’s NLDS may have just overcome the largest deficit in any elimination game in the history of the sport … but there was no walk-off win, no home crowd going berserk at the end. In the Seattle/New York ALDS game on the top 20 list, two moments of individual brilliance by Hall of Fame quality players led to the win. In the Nats-Cards game, two no-name middle infielders from St. Louis poked run-scoring singles to spoil a 2 run ninth inning lead against a young team with no post season experience and no baseball history.
So, perhaps thankfully, Drew Storen isn’t going to be unfairly remembered in the same vein as Bill Buckner and Steve Bartman; singular people unfairly blamed by an entire fan-base for failures by their team unfairly (If you think Buckner was solely responsible for the Red Sox collapse in that game, you need to watch the ninth inning again and pay attention to how badly Calvin Schiraldi pitched in the 10th. And if you think Bartman is responsible for the Cubs pitchers giving up EIGHT runs in an inning, or blowing a 2-run lead in the 6th inning of game 7, then I’d suggest you check the game footage to prove that Bartman was in the stands and not on the field). This game will stick in Nats fans memories for quite a while of course, but at least we won’t be seeing our failures on highlight shows for decades to come.