The best World Series develop their themes and isolate unexpected key protagonists as they progress organically. The dramatic tension is created spontaneously, not pre-scripted as a ratings-dream Phils-Red Sox Series might have done. Every night, this Series is completely fresh, unexpected and revelatory. All predictions have been turned to kindling and set ablaze. The most important features of every game have been a complete surprise.
All that’s certain is that you won’t get what you expect. Unless you thought Mike Adams, 41-year-old Darren Oliver and Lance Lynn would all be winning Series pitchers. Or that Cardinal Allen Craig facing Alexi Ogando would be this Series’s recurring electric late-inning showdown.
We may see 4-2, 3-2 or 2-1 with late-inning comeback victories. With such narrow margins, something as subtle as a missed cutoff throw or a mumbled name in a phone call to a noisy bullpen may actually be The Thing that turns a World Series game. Or we may see 16-7 with every meaningful one-game Series hitting record smashed by the best (honest) batter since Ted Williams.
We learn to love Mike Napoli, a bounce-around veteran catcher with a big bat, who has finally found a team that adores him. Now, sweaty, hat backward, wearing distressed fatigues to news conferences, he has nine RBI, five runners thrown out stealing and a nation chanting “MVP” for him.
Rays Manager Joe Maddon said it first when the Texas catcher wrecked his club: “This is the Year of the Napoli.” We’re all Napolitans now.
We thrill for a nervous young southpaw, Derek Holland, patted on the cheek by his manager before he takes the mound, as he masters himself and pitches a two-hit gem when it’s desperately needed.
We see the value of the simple kindly touch, the gift for grasping personality under pressure, when Ranger Manager Ron Washington repeatedly knows how to calm and motivate his players. Most managers with a three-games-to-two lead pretend that no Game 7 could ever happen or that it’s a state secret whom he’d pitch if there were.
Instead, Washington, who dances his runners home on his tippy toes in the dugout, sees an opportunity to instill confidence. Under any and all circumstances, even if Game 6 is rained out Wednesday, Washington says that Matt Harrison, who was stage-struck awful in the 16-7 massacre, would start a winner-take-all game.
“That’s Harry’s game. Matt Harrison earned it,” Washington said. “That’s the way we roll.”
We discover that Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa can preside over colossal blunders, then man up the next day and admit his responsibility for the mess.
“Not to have the right pitcher ready [in the bullpen] when you want him . . . You go and make a pitching change, [and] you’ve got the wrong guy coming out there, that’s not fun. Geez, that was embarrassing,” said La Russa, the most famous bullpen-ringer on earth, who spent the entire, game-turning eighth inning hashing up every phone call. “It’s my fault for not handling it better.”