Sun Oct 30 10:32am EDT
Of all the countless posts we do each season, my favorite one to write and compile comes at the end of each season. This is when I get to distill an October's worth of great games into 10 highlight-worthy memories that will stick in the minds of baseball fans everywhere. We started the tradition in 2008, continued it in 2009 and 2010 and now here we are for a fourth go-round. Agree or disagree with something or where it's placed on the list? Let me know in the comments below. Hopefully you have as much fun reliving these memories as I did rounding them all together.
10. Nyjer Morgan sends Brewers to NLCS, swears on live TV — NLDS Game 5
Ryan Braun(notes) and Prince Fielder(notes) may have driven the Milwaukee Brewers to one of their best seasons in team history, but it was Nyjer Morgan(notes) who clinched their first postseason series win since 1982. Milwaukee's clown prince drove a seeing-eye single up the middle off Arizona's J.J. Putz(notes) in the bottom of the 10th inning, securing a 3-2 win in the deciding game and sending Miller Park into a full-on frenzy. Morgan was so fired up that he dropped a couple of f-bombs on live television, before moving onto the NLCS so he could annoy Cardinals fans. (So much so that they'd continue battling him in the World Series.)
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9. Cameraman falls during one of Beltre's three homers — ALDS Game 4
"Wanna get away?" asked the Big League Stew headline and it certainly fit the bill as TBS cameraman Tim Burke biffed it while trying to keep up with Adrian Beltre(notes) on one of his three home runs in Texas' 4-3 clinching victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 4 of the ALDS. Beltre needed only three swings to record the three solo shots in his first three at-bats. At the time, Beltre became just the sixth player to hit three homers in a postseason game, though that number would change in the World Series a few weeks later.
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8. The rally squirrel returns to Busch Stadium — NLDS Game 4
He was a mere curiosity the day before and a full-fledged phenomenon in the weeks after. But there is little doubt that the crowning moment for St. Louis' famous rally squirrel came just as Philly starter Roy Oswalt(notes) delivered a pitch to Skip Schumaker(notes) in the bottom of the fifth inning at Busch Stadium. The l'il creature dashed right across home plate, up an aisle near home plate and into a heavily-merchandised future that included endorsements from Tony La Russa, custom squirrel taxidermy and baked goods that looked like poo. Considering St. Louis won the World Series, here's guessing this goes past just a mere fall fad and turns into something with permanent staying power around St. Louis.
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7. Carpenter completes game as Howard crumples to ground — NLDS Game 5
The elimination game pitching duel between St. Louis' Chris Carpenter and Philadelphia's Roy Halladay(notes) — good friends from their days with the Toronto Blue Jays — was everything a baseball fan could have asked for. Carpenter came out on top by hurling a three-hit complete game shutout in a 1-0 win that also featured eight innings of one-run ball thrown by Halladay. Unfortunately disappointed Philadelphia Phillies fans received a heaping serving of insult with their injury when Ryan Howard(notes) crumpled to the ground while running out of the batter's box on the game's final play. The diagnosis was an torn Achilles tendon that will sideline him for a good part of the 2012 season and a terrible ending to a 102-win season.
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6. Derek Holland evens Series with great start — World Series Game 4
A good World Series took a turn toward great when "good" Derek Holland(notes) showed up and threw 8 1 /3 scoreless innings to knot the Fall Classic at two games apiece. Holland's game score of 84 equaled Carpenter's NLDS Game 5 score as the best of the 2011 postseason and earned him a lot of attention, whether it was for his messy housekeeping and Ron Washington impression or for the repertoire of impersonations he unleashed on a national television audience during Game 5.
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5. Nelson Cruz hits walkoff grand slam in 11th inning — ALCS Game 2
When we look back on the 2011 postseason, the lasting image we have of Nelson Cruz(notes) might be him leaping in vain as David Freese's(notes) game-tying triple sails over his head in the ninth inning of Game 6. But while some might want to unfairly label him "the goat" of the World Series, it's unfair to completely write off Cruz's contributions the rest of the postseason. Cruz bashed a record-tying eight homers during the Rangers' run, the biggest of which was a walkoff grandslam in extra innings that put Texas in the drivers seat of the ALCS with a 2-0 lead. It was the first walkoff grand slam in postseason history — sorry, Robin Ventura — and earned Cruz a wet and welcome at home plate.
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4. La Russa's PhoneGate sinks the Cards in late innings — World Series Game 5
How long ago does this seem, Cardinals fans? In one of the weirdest scenes in recent World Series memory, Tony La Russa and his bullpen engaged in the mother of all communication breakdowns during the tight final innings of Game 5. The bullpen's inability to warm up the pitcher that La Russa wanted — "when I called back I said 'Motte,' they heard 'Lynn,'" he explained — resulted in lefthander Marc Rzepcyznski being forced to face Mike Napoli(notes). The Rangers catcher had feasted on left-handed pitching all season long and, sure enough, he launched a two-run, tiebreaking double that sent the Rangers back to St. Louis with a 3-2 series lead. La Russa, meanwhile, engaged in an Abbott and Costello routine with the media after the game and it appeared that the fiasco had dealt severe damage to the Cardinals' World Series hopes. As we know now, though, that would not turn out to be the case.
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3. Pujols hits three homers to join Babe and Reggie — World Series Game 3
Babe. Reggie. Albert. Pujols was certainly part of the one-name crowd before his aerial assaults in Game 3 of the Fall Classic, but his reason for being there was certainly strengthened after it. With the series tied at one game apiece, baseball's leading superstar put on an offensive display for the ages, going 5-for-6 with three homers and six RBIs. Both the amount of homers and runs driven in tied World Series records while his total base count of 14 put him in a class of his own. Though Pujols numbers the rest of the way were not spectacular, this game will be among the first mentioned when looking back at his career.
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2. Allen Craig robs Nelson Cruz at the wall — World Series Game 7
The Cardinals' win in Game 7 might end up being a mere footnote in history, given their unbelievable comeback a night before. But that doesn't mean there was a shortage of great plays. The best and most highlight-worthy came at Busch Stadium's left field wall in the sixth inning as St. Louis' Allen Craig(notes) robbed Nelson Cruz of what would have been his record ninth postseason homer. The would-be solo shot would have also whittled into the Cardinals' 5-2 lead, but Craig made sure that wasn't the case.
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1. David Freese's walkoff homer sends us to a Game 7 — World Series Game 6
Lance Berkman(notes) had it right. When speaking after the Cardinals' unbelievable comeback win in Game 6, he said that David Freese's game-tying triple in the ninth and game-winning homer in the 11th would just be nice memories if the Cardinals lost Game 7 the next night. But if the Cardinals won? "Then this is the stuff of legends," Berkman said.
Indeed, not only is Freese a forever hero in his hometown, but his name has already taken its place among the most famous big home run hitters in World Series history. Mazeroski. Carter. Fisk. Gibson. Freese. His signature moment only happened three nights ago, but his name looks like it already fits in the grouping, doesn't it?
Honorable mentions: Ryan Roberts' grand slam (NLDS G4), Curtis Granderson's unreal catches (ALDS G4), Jose Valverde strikes out A-Rod as Tigers advance (ALDS G5), Delmon Young's two big homers (ALCS G5), Ian Kinsler steals second to spark series-tying rally (WS G2), The rainless rainout (ALCS G2) Albert and Co.'s clubhouse controversy (WS G2)
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