As the year winds down, let's remember all the dramatic events and stories of 2011. We'll spend the next couple of days looking at the 16 biggest stories of the year and let the SweetSpot readers vote for the biggest and most memorable. Here are the first four.
Cardinals win World Series, send Tony La Russa out in style
After years of lackluster postseasons, the Cardinals capped off the first seven-game World Series since 2002 with a dramatic extra-inning victory in Game 6 and a 6-2 victory over the Rangers in Game 7. Of a possible 41 postseason games that could be played, 37 were played, including four series that went the distance. On Aug. 27, the Cardinals were 69-64 and 10 games behind the Braves in the wild-card standings. They went 21-8 the rest of the way, the Braves went 10-19, and the Cardinals became one of the most unlikely champions in baseball history. Tony La Russa, knowing it couldn't get any better than this, then called it quits after 33 seasons managing in the major leagues.
Red Sox collapse in historic fashion
While the Braves' late-collapse was fueled by a series of injuries to the starting rotation (Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens didn't start a game in September), the Red Sox' collapse received more national attention and seemed more horrific -- and rightly so. After all, this was the club that had traded for Adrian Gonzalez and signed free agent left fielder Carl Crawford in the offseason, making them the consensus favorite to win the World Series. Despite a comeback season from Josh Beckett and a comeback, MVP-caliber season from Jacoby Ellsbury, the Red Sox were unable to hold a nine-game wild-card lead held on Sept. 3. They went 7-19 the rest of the way, blew a ninth-inning lead on the final day of the season and missed the playoffs for the second straight year.
Buster Posey's injury raises issue of home-plate collisions
When the Giants' super sophomore catcher saw his season end after a brutal collision with the Marlins' Scott Cousins on May 25, the debate over home-plate collisions -- and what can be done to prevent future injuries like Posey' fractured fibula and torn ankle ligaments -- remained in play the rest of the season. After the season, Joe Torre, baseball's vice president for on-field operations, declined to take the issue of home-plate collisions to the rules committee. As for the defending World Series champs, they actually led the NL West by four games when they acquired Carlos Beltran on July 28, but their lack of offense eventually undermined their excellent pitching.
Superb rookie class makes headlines
Time will tell if this class ends up as a historic group of players, but the rookie sensations of 2011 went beyond Rookie of the Year winners Jeremy Hellickson and Craig Kimbrel. First basemen Eric Hosmer of Kansas City and Freddie Freeman of Atlanta looked like future All-Stars; starting pitcher Michael Pineda of the Mariners ranked second in the AL in strikeout per nine innings; Toronto's Brett Lawrie, Seattle's Dustin Ackley and Tampa's Desmond Jennings excelled after midseason call-ups. Other top rookies in a deep class included Ivan Nova, Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos, Dee Gordon, Jordan Walden and Vance Worley.