How to spot a truly special World Series game

On June 6, 1990, newly-named coach Willie McGee hit a double with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 10th inning to score Rex Hudler and Denny Walling, allowing the Cardinals to beat the Phillies in walk-off fashion. Moments earlier, Walling had singled to score Milt Thompson to jump-start the needed rally.

It had already been a wild game, with six different lead changes from beginning to end. With two outs in the bottom of the 9th, Pedro Guerrero singled to score McGee and Ozzie Smith in order to force extras. Meaning the Cardinals entered the bottom of the 9th down two and tied the game. Then, they entered the bottom of the 10th down two runs again and scored three to win the game 12-11. From Baseball Reference, here’s what the win probability chart looked like:

Screen Shot 2017-10-28 at 12.35.48 PM

I still remember this game even though it was more than 27 years ago and happened to occur in the middle of one of the most underwhelming seasons in franchise history. And I was reminded of this game in the aftermath of Game 2 of the ongoing World Series, a crazy, back-and-forth affair that ended with a 7-6 Astros win. (If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend Grant Brisbee’s piece on the game.) That’s because if Game 2 of the 2017 World Series had been some random game in May it would have still been remarkable. The same absolutely applies to Game 6 from 2011 World Series (six years old, yesterday), probably even more so.

The events from those games were already beyond belief. Put those games in the middle of the regular season and they would still be a big deal. Put them on the biggest stage with most of the sports world watching and they are rightfully in another stratosphere. Craig Edwards of FanGraphs (and my old boss at Viva El Birdos) had a great piece outlining the historical craziness of the two games, which is worth reading because sometimes it takes seeing the unlikely course of events in print to really appreciate them. And returning to that meaningless 1990 regular season game from above – had it occurred in October it would probably also be the stuff of legends.

And this is where Game 7 of the 2016 World Series fails to live up to Game 6 in 2011 and Game 2 from a few days ago. It was nuts, to be sure. But it was mostly context-driven: Two championship-starved teams (to put it mildly), a rain delay right in the middle of all the drama, and the fact that it was by definition the last game of the season. Remove all of that and I don’t think you have anything too remarkable. Cleveland never had the lead. And there was never a moment when Cleveland appeared seconds away from miraculously winning the World Series. Put that game in the regular season and the next day it likely reads like a game the Cubs almost blew but didn’t, and that’s about it.

That said, I don’t blame a single Cubs fan for believing it was the greatest game of all time – as many of them do. I probably would too if I’m in their shoes. In fact, the 2006 World Series – an affair with way less drama, intrigue, and pretty much everything else when compared to the 2016 World Series – is something that in many ways is more dear to me than 2011. It was the first time I saw the Cardinals win a World Series (I was three-years old in 1982) after plenty of painful near-misses. That’s tough to beat. Sure, we were all watching an 83-win team take on the other league’s wild card with David Eckstein somehow being the best player on the field. Totally irrelevant. It was special. So I can only imagine the reverence that Cubs fans feel for last year’s Game 7.

Still, it wasn’t better than the game we saw the other night. It wasn’t better than Game 6. And it wasn’t even better than that stupid, meaningless Cardinals-Phillies game from a forgettable season many years ago. And that’s the test. If you plant a World Series game smack dab in the middle of June and can honestly say it would still leave a lasting impression then what you saw was something truly great.

UPDATE: Yes, last night’s Game 5 absolutely counts. Holy smokes.

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