Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

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How does Nats-Cards NLDS Game 5 rate historically?


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.

Written by Todd Boss

October 31st, 2012 at 10:54 am

Where would 2011 WS Game 6 rank all time?


David Freese's name will go down in history for his historic Game 6 performance. Photo AP/Jeff Roberson via

(This post was inspired by the very last question in David Shoenfeld‘s 12/20/11 chat, asking where this game ranks among the greatest ever games played).

For those of you with the MLB network (channel 213 on DirecTV), the series they featured this year profiling the “Greatest 20 games of the last half century” was my favorite bit of sports programming since the 30-for-30 series on ESPN debuted.  Bob Costas and Tom Verducci hosted and did 1-2 hour reviews of these 20 games and brought in guest hosts for each game in the form of actual players and managers who participated in the games themselves.  These guest hosts provided fantastic commentary on the state of the dugouts at each critical juncture as well as first hand knowledge of their own thought processes throughout.  If you haven’t seen the series, I highly suggest setting your DVR and watching them.

Now the interesting question: where would Game 6 of our most recent World Series have ranked, if it were a candidate to be included?

For me, game 6 was absolutely the most entertaining game I’ve ever witnessed, in person or on TV.  It wasn’t the best played game (with errors and questionable manager decisions and no less than three blown saves) but it was amazingly entertaining, suspenseful, and with a story-book ending that was almost out of a movie script.  But does it rank with the best game list that MLB network came up with?

First, here’s their list, counted down from 20 to 1 (with captions borrowed from the MLB link above and augmented by me):

  • No. 20: May 17, 1979: Phillies @ Cubs; Phils, Cubs combine for 45 runs.  This is the only regular season game on the list and for good reason; the first inning alone had 13 runs scored.
  • No. 19: Oct. 4, 2003: Giants @ Marlins; Ivan Rodriguez tags out Eric Snow as he tries to bulldoze Pudge at the plate to end the game and send the Marlins to the World Series.
  • No. 18: Oct. 12, 1980: Phillies @ Astros; Phils win battle in 10th to win the NLCS with an epic comeback over Nolan Ryan.
  • No. 17: Oct. 17, 2004: Yankees @ Red Sox; Dave Roberts‘ stolen base and David Ortiz‘s walk-off homer cap the Boston win, an epic part of the Boston comeback from 3-0 down in the 2004 ALCS.
  • No. 16: Oct. 6, 2009: Tigers @ Twins; Twins win a game 163 sudden death playoff game for the AL Central title.
  • No. 15: Oct. 8, 1995: Yankees @ Mariners; Edgar Martinez hits “The Double” to get a walk-off win in the ALDS, capping a 10th inning comeback as a young Ken Griffey Jr absolutely flies around the bases to score from first.
  • No. 14: Oct. 23, 1993: Phillies @ Blue Jays; Joe Carter‘s walk-off WS homer foils a great Philly comeback.
  • No. 13: Oct. 26, 1997: Indians @ Marlins; Edgar Renteria wins it for Fish in a World Series game 7 classic.
  • No. 12: Oct. 31, 2001: D-backs @ Yankees; Tino Martinez ties it with a 2-out, 2-run homer in the bottom of the 9th and Derek Jeter hits first November homer and earns himself the nickname for which he’s continued to be known.
  • No. 11: Oct. 2, 1978: Yankees @ Red Sox; Bucky Dent‘s improbable 3-run homer caps a massive October collapse for Boston and continues the legendary rivalry between the teams.
  • No. 10: Oct. 15, 1988: Athletics @ Dodgers; Injured slugger Kirk Gibson hits a pinch hit walk-off home run off of the dominant Dennis Eckersley for one of the most magical home runs in baseball history.
  • No. 9: Nov. 4, 2001: Yankees @ D-backs; Luis Gonzalez floats a ball over the drawn-in infield against Mariano Rivera to win a classic Game 7.
  • No. 8: Oct. 12, 1986: Red Sox @ Angels; Dave Henderson hits an improbable 3-run homer in the 9th to help Boston come back from 1-out away from elimination to eventually beat the Angels in the 86 ALCS.
  • No. 7: Oct. 14, 2003: Marlins @ Cubs; The infamous Steve Bartman game, which overshadowed an utter collapse by Mark Prior, Alex Gonzalez, the Cubs bullpen AND Kerry Wood the following day to continue the Cubs curse that lasts til today.
  • No. 6: Oct. 16, 2003: Red Sox @ Yankees; Aaron Boone suddenly homers off Tim Wakefield in extra innings to end a classic ALCS game 7 between the bitter rivals.
  • No. 5: Oct. 15, 1986: Mets @ Astros; Mets win in 16 as Jesse Orosco put in the relief performance of a lifetime.
  • No. 4: Oct. 14, 1992: Pirates @ Braves; the injured Sid Bream barely beats Barry Bonds‘ throw to score the series winner and effectively send the Pittsburgh franchise into a 20 year tailspin.
  • No. 3: Oct. 25, 1986: Red Sox @ Mets; Probably the most “infamous” game of all time, especially to Boston fans, as Bill Buckner‘s error follows a series of mishaps by the Red Sox pitching staff to turn a 10th inning 2 run lead into a game 6 loss.
  • No. 2: Oct. 27, 1991: Braves @ Twins; Jack Morris‘  seminal performance; a 1-0 10 inning shutout over the Braves in perhaps the best Game 7 of any World Series ever.
  • No. 1: Oct. 21, 1975: Reds @ Red Sox; the game forever known for Carlton Fisk waving his walk-off homer fair, but which should be known for the unbelievably clutch Bernie Carbo 8th inning homer to tie the game and enable the extra inning fireworks.

(A quick glance at the top 20 list above has one glaring game that I’d honestly replace immediately; the Bartman game was more iconic for the individual play and not for the game itself, which ended up being a blowout when all was said and done.  Nearly every other game on this list featured late game comebacks and walk-off hits).

The earliest game on this list is 1975 and if the moniker “last 50 years” is true then the classic Bill Mazeroski homer game from game 7 of the 1960 World Series must not have been eligible.  Because certainly it should have been in the top 5 otherwise.  A quick note about this game; click on the link for the box score to imagine just how amazing this game must have been.  Recap:

  • Pittsburgh jumps to a 4-0 lead early.
  • Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle help spark a 4-run rally in the 6th to take a 5-4 lead.
  • The  Yankees extend their lead to 7-5 in the top of the 8th.
  • The Pirates rally for FIVE runs in the bottom of the 8th for a 9-7 lead.
  • The Yankees’ two hall of famers Berra and Mantle manage to drive in the tying runs in the top of the 9th to make it 9-9.
  • Mazeroski blasts a walk-off homer on a 1-0 count to lead off the bottom of the 9th and win the world series.

Where to put 2011’s game 6?  I think I’d place it right around the #4 spot.  David Freese‘s heroics will soon settle into place as one of the legendary performances in post season history.  I can’t dislodge the current top 3 games on MLB’s list.  Its a common folly for the immediate labeling of recent events as “the best ever” without standing the test of time, but in this case I feel comfortable in the statement that this game is one for the ages, absolutely.

ESPN Films Catching Hell – a review


If you've never seen this shot before, no worries you'll see it 1000 more times before the end of the documentary. Photo unknown via

After the initial run of ESPN Films’ 30-for-30 series proved to be so successful, the producers of the series got approval to continue the series (albeit not using the original name) in a recurring ESPN Films Presents series of sports documentaries.

The first in the post 30-for-30 series was The Fab Five, a great documentary about the freshman class who took over the University of Michigan’s program in 1991 and ended up playing for two successive national championships.  I thought the documentary was great and showcased how articulate and thoughtful Jalen Rose really is, even if the documentary was really hampered by the lack of involvement from its main protagonist Chris Webber. (The brew-ha-ha about Rose’s comments w/r/t Grant Hill and the Duke players was overblown, and taken out of the context of the flow of the film.)

However, the one documentary that people kept talking about when it came to the post-30 for 30 run was the Steve Bartman documentary.  It was scheduled to run with the first 30 episodes but its Director (Alex Gibney, who is best known for his Enron documentary) asked for more time.  So Catching Hell became a showpiece of ESPN Films on-going documentary presentations and debuted on 9/27/11.

My thoughts: I was a bit disappointed, given the lead-up and all that I had heard about the documentary.  It was too long; they could have fit the content into at least a 90 minute presentation and not stretched it for 2 hours.  By the end of the 2 hour presentation we had probably seen a replay of the play in one form or the other at least 100 times and I remember saying to myself, “ok enough is enough.”

The “scapegoat” theme was a good one, and was one of the salient take-away points of the documentary, but for the film to spend so much time on the Bill Buckner/Red Sox incident was disappointing.  I think its fair to say that the Buckner play is so well known that time was probably “wasted” going over it in such detail, again.  We didn’t learn anything new from the documentary on the play (except perhaps that Buckner himself noted the probable reason why he missed the ball).  I thought the film could have just covered the play and talked about the Buckner-as-scapegoat aftermath and moved on.

The stories from the security guards were fascinating; Bartman was not only taken from his seat under guard but was disguised to leave the stadium and then ended up in someone’s home before getting a cab home. Interviews with some of the fans in the area were well done and offered some insight to the play.  The “never before seen footage” was also pretty cool, even if most of it came from a budding filmmaker of his own making who probably should have been thinking about making this film himself instead of giving up his film after all this time.

However; the film failed to interview Steve Bartman himself.  It also didn’t interview the guy who actually GOT the ball and celebrated as any normal fan would have done, but certainly pointed out that all the outrage in the crowd and the town was pointed at Bartman and not the fan who eventually got the ball (and later sold it for well in excess of $100,000).  Also, the filmmaker failed to interview the two people who accompanied Bartman to the game (apparently they were his guests, as Bartman had purchased 3 seats), but did note that these people visibly distanced themselves from Bartman at the time and then abandoned him once all the melee started.  Nice friends.

The closest it got to Bartman was interviewing an ESPN feature writer who was assigned to track Bartman down and finally get his story … the writer described his pursuit of Bartman (who by this point, and to this day, clearly wants nothing to do with the situation) and his approach, having stalked the poor guy and staked out his office for 8 hours.  At least the writer showed remorse for his unethical behavior, and the story never came to fruition.

In the end; I guess I wanted more “meat.”  Perhaps the over-hyping of the film via promos and commercials led to my disappointment.  I would have least expected Bartman to actually appear on film.  Maybe in the end, there’s just so much you can make of one baseball play.

Written by Todd Boss

October 11th, 2011 at 3:53 pm