ARLINGTON, Texas — If you were a non-partisan baseball fan on Sunday night — and not, say, a St. Louis Cardinals supporter, someone with money on the game or both — then I suspect your reaction to Mike Napoli’s(notes) big home run in the bottom of the sixth inning was similar to the 51,539 fans who were rocking out at Rangers Ballpark.
And if you were among that aforementioned group, I suspect you were also chanting Derek Holland’s(notes) name in your living room, yelling at Ron Washington to leave him in and then cheering as the 25-year-old left-hander made his way to the dugout after one of the best starts in recent World Series history. Nope, no fake Holland ‘stache, claws and antler gear or red-and-blue clothing was necessary to appreciate this 4-0 Rangers’ win over the Cardinals in Sunday’s Game 4 of the World Series.
The reason those of us without a horse (or bird) in the race are so excited is clear. We finally have a real World Series on our hands, the type where a sixth game is guaranteed by Game 4.
Whether you realize it or not, it’s been awhile since we’ve been here. Monday’s Game 5 will be the first featuring a 2-2 series split since the Florida Marlins and New York Yankees knotted themselves together in 2003. We’ve actually only had one Game 6 since then — Phillies and Yanks in 2009 — and we haven’t gone the distance since the Angels and Giants took seven games to sort things out in 2002.
While we still won’t know for another two games if a Game 7 will be necessary, it certainly feels like we’re headed that way. And if the next two or three games are as good as the first four have been, we’re going to be talking about a classic World Series. Or maybe we already are.
“I think it already is [a classic series],” Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler(notes) said in the clubhouse postgame. “No matter what happens from here on out, it’s already been a classic. I’m glad I’ve been a part of it.”
Indeed, I’m glad to have watched it. While the slightly better-than-expected ratings still don’t indicate a country’s undivided attention, it’s not a problem with the product. All four completed games have been so good that even Saturday’s Game 3 blowout was one for the memory books. The Rangers and Cardinals have used a little bit from all areas of the baseball palette to get us here.
Game 1: St. Louis 3, Texas 2. An unsung pinch-hitter named Allen Craig(notes) wins the game with a single in the sixth-inning as both bullpens display the experience and talent that got them here.
Game 2: Texas 2, St. Louis 1. Colby Lewis(notes) and Jaime Garcia(notes) engage in a classic pitcher’s duel before the Rangers stage a memorable ninth-inning comeback sparked by Ian Kinsler’s daring steal of second base.
Game 3: St. Louis 16, Texas 7. A blowout that Albert Pujols(notes) ensured will stand the test of time, hitting a World Series-record three home runs and collecting 14 total bases.
Game 4: Texas 4, St. Louis 0. Holland posts the type of dominating pitching performance that every classic series needs, allowing only two hits over 8 1/3 innings and saving a Rangers bullpen that had been seriously taxed the previous night.
The Cardinals and Rangers are clearly putting on a show so far, a fact that hasn’t escaped the notice of the players. Pitcher Colby Lewis said he was able to sit back and just enjoy watching Holland throw on Sunday night while even the ever-stoic Michael Young(notes) allowed that the Rangers have been playing pretty entertaining baseball all month long.
“We’re players, but we’re also fans of the game,” Kinsler said. “After the game, you’re able to step back and realize what’s going on. It’s been a great series. It’s been an unbelievable series. I hope the fans are having fun.”
We should be. One year after San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner(notes) pitched the game of his still-young life, shutting down the Rangers 4-0 in Game 4 and putting Texas on the brink of elimination, Holland did the exact same and kept this Series on the track to not only continued relevancy, but a chance to stay in our memories for a long, long time.
Let’s hope the fun continues.