Before the night of Oct. 27, you could have fueled a spirited debate with the directive, "Pick the best game of the 2011 Major League Baseball season."
Philadelphia and Cincinnati hooked up in a 19-inning marathon in May, capped by Phillies utility man Wilson Valdez tossing a scoreless inning of relief for the win. On a sultry July night at Turner Field, the Braves outlasted the Pirates in 19 innings in the infamous "Jerry Meals game." The final night of the regular season produced memorable finishes in Baltimore, Tampa Bay and Atlanta. And it's hard to beat the drama or artistry of St. Louis' Chris Carpenter outdueling Philadelphia's Roy Halladay 1-0 in the National League Division Series finale.
But any and all discussion ceased with Game 6 of the World Series, when St. Louis and Texas saved the best for last. Or more accurately, next-to-last. Unless you hate Clydesdales or have a deep-rooted love for the Rangers dating back to the Toby Harrah days, there's no room for debate.
By acclamation, St. Louis's 10-9, 11-inning victory ranks among the greatest games in Fall Classic history. The 47,325 fans in attendance won't argue. The dozens of harried media members forced to scramble every 10 minutes to reshape and recast their storylines certainly won't argue. The players in the two clubhouses all sensed the magnitude of the event, regardless of whether they celebrated or lamented what might have been.
"I don't know how to describe this game," said the Cardinals' Skip Schumaker. "I almost want to tell people, 'You have to see the video.'"
Signature moments abound from the game's prolonged and wild finish. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Texas was a strike away from a celebration when Cardinals third baseman David Freese lined a 1-2 pitch from Neftali Feliz beyond the reach of a disoriented Nelson Cruz for a two-run triple to tie it at 7-7.
Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton responded with a two-run shot in the 10th after a brief conversation with God, who told him during his walk from the on-deck circle to home plate that a home run was forthcoming. But the Cardinals had a miracle of their own reserved for the bottom of the inning. They were down to their final strike again when Lance Berkman delivered an RBI single off Scott Feldman to tie the game 9-9. In front of TV sets everywhere, baseball die-hards were turning to each other and asking, "Can this really be happening?"
After four hours, 33 minutes and 383 pitches, the suspense finally ended when Freese, the hometown boy and eventual Series MVP, sent a Mark Lowe pitch over the center-field fence and lapsed into his home run trot. The only thing missing was Jack Buck exhorting Cardinals fans to "Go crazy!"
As the always-insightful Berkman later observed, "Really and truly, this was an ugly game for about six or seven innings. But then it got beautiful, right at the end."
The following night, the Cardinals overcame an early 2-0 deficit to win 6-2 and pocket their second title in six years. But the Series finale would be forever dwarfed by a game so chaotic, so action-packed and fun, so full of unexpected twists and personal tales of redemption that it ranked as an instant postseason classic.
If you don't believe us, just watch the video.
Follow Jerry Crasnick on Twitter @jcrasnick.