It's safe to say that quite a few of us woke up Friday morning and wondered if we had dreamt up Game Six of the World Series.
It wasn't a dream. That game really happened.
A few cups of coffee and a chance to watch all of the highlights again has probably taken care of any lingering thoughts that the whole thing was a fevered baseball dream of the highest order. Now comes the time where we try to put the game in some kind of historical context.
That feels necessary because there's been some "Best World Series Game Ever" chatter flying about in the wake of the Cardinals' stunning 10-9 victory on David Freese's walk-off home run in the 11th inning. Is that a consequence of our national culture of instant satisfaction that forces everything to be the best or the most thing that's ever happened, or is there actual justification for those claims?
There were some things that make it feel like a contender for the crown. The Cardinals came back five different times to tie and, ultimately, win the game, with two of those comebacks coming when the team was facing their final strike and the end of the season.
There were so many moments that felt absolutely critical, from allowing Colby Lewis to bat with the bases loaded to back-to-back homers in the seventh to Josh Hamilton's 10th inning home run, and so many potential goats turned into heroes (Freese, Michael Young) that the narrative engine never stopped churning.
It ended on a walk-off home run, always a good thing for historical cred, and kept a team alive for one more chance at the title. Having circumstances like that certainly boost this game into the realm of the all-time greats, but there are some places where it falls short.
One reason is that it was Game Six, which means that it is naturally going to be fall short of the great World Series Game Sevens in history because only one team was facing the end of their season with a loss. The other is that the game simply wasn't all that well played.
There were five errors and several other defensive blunders, including Nelson Cruz's misplay on Freese's game-tying triple, that hurt both teams over the course of the proceedings. There were also questionable managerial decisions, baserunning mistakes and poor pitching performances to blemish the game in a way that we haven't seen in some of the other great World Series games of all time.
Quantifying the best is a difficult thing. What we should focus on is that Game Six might have been the most exciting baseball game of all time.
Other great World Series games -- 1975 Game Six (Carlton Fisk's home run), 1986 Game Six (Bill Buckner's error), 1988 Game One (Kirk Gibson's homer), 2001 Game Seven (Luis Gonzalez's dying quail) -- have been marked by one great moment that overshadow the rest of the game that came before. Others, like Jack Morris in 1991's Game Seven or Don Larsen's Perfect Game, have been marked by one dominant performance.
There have been games with more historical resonance, like the Brooklyn Dodgers finally breaking through in 1955, but it is hard to think of more than one other game that offered the kind of emotional swings that we saw last night. That one would be 1960's Game Seven, when Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski's homer beat the Yankees in the bottom of the ninth.
Both games ended with a 10-9 score, oddly enough, although the Pirates-Yankees affair played out quite differently. The Pirates jumped out to a big lead, the Yankees came back to build a 7-4 lead, the Pirates went up 9-7 on Hal Smith's three-run homer and then the Yankees tied the game on a truly amazing play when Mickey Mantle dove back into first after a forceout on Yogi Berra to allow Gil McDougald to score the tying run.
Then came Mazeroski's homer, giving you all the drama and entertainment nine innings of baseball can offer. You could say exactly the same thing about the game in St. Louis, except that it took 11 innings.
In the end, isn't that all we can ask for from a game? To be excited and entertained to the point that we're not quite sure that what we saw happen really happened?
That's the most fitting a coda to put on Game Six of the 2011 World Series. Now let's hope we get another qualifier for the discussion on Friday night.