Following the madness of the 2011 postseason, one of the longest and strangest on record, might have been best done from a safe room, which is exactly where you would have found Rangers pitcher Derek Holland on Sunday night when he wasn't throwing 8 1/3 fittingly improbable shutout innings in Game 4 of the World Series. The Chill Room, as fellow starter C.J. Wilson calls it, is a special hideout for Texas pitchers at Rangers Ballpark.
Tucked into a corner of a large storage room behind the Rangers' dugout, the room is little more than a plywood pod of about 60 square feet, with seven feet of headroom, a flat-screen television on the wall and two upholstered stool-height chairs at a counter in front of the TV. To even enter the tiny space, you have to squeeze past a portable air-conditioning unit that grinds in the thick of the brutal Texas summer heat and gives the room its name—though the few fist- and foot-sized holes in the plywood walls suggest the metaphysical gradient in the room is not always so cool.
Eight times Holland on Sunday would throw a shutout inning and then repair to the Chill Room. He imagined himself a boxer, girded for a nine-round fight, returning to his corner between rounds. Says Wilson, "It's like getting unplugged. You come in, reset and go back out like it's the first inning all over again."
Usage of the Chill Room fairly sums up the 107th World Series. For four games the Cardinals and the Rangers alternated wins and losses, hot and cold, red hats and blue hats, managerial genius and doltishness, the sublime and—especially if you got a gander at Holland's famous attempt at a mustache—the ridiculous. "One thing about this Series," Wilson said, "is there's no such thing as breathing room. There's no, like, scrub dudes in the other lineup."
It wasn't until Game 5 on Monday that either team won a second straight game. Texas, with Wilson on the mound to start—he allowed one earned run in 5 1/3 innings—and catcher Mike Napoli delivering a tie-breaking, two-run double in the eighth, broke the oscillation pattern of the series with a 4--2 win to move within one victory of the franchise's first world championship. Among current droughts, the Rangers' 51-season wait for a title is exceeded only by those of the Indians (63) and the Cubs (103), though Texas, which began in Washington as the Senators in 1961 and moved to Arlington in 1972, lacks any ghosts or curses to make for an entertainingly tortured existence. If the Rangers suffer from any curse at all, it has been the curse of irrelevance.
The back-and-forth nature of the Series made for one of unusual length, with baseball getting only its second World Series Game 6 in the past eight years, and the possibility of ending the longest wait for a Game 7 (nine years) since the best-of-seven format was permanently installed in 1922. Game 6, scheduled for Wednesday in St. Louis, would be the 37th postseason game played this year. Only once before (38 games in 2003) were so many games needed to decide a champion. Such has been the chaotic nature of this October.
This year was one of the starkest reminders yet of why postseason baseball bears little resemblance to the regular-season game, perhaps shedding for good the archaic notion that the World Series crowns the best team of the year. The reality is that it rewards the team that happens to be the best during the four-week October tournament. The top teams in each league over 162 games, the Yankees and the Phillies, never made it out of the first round. None of the top nine teams as ranked by Opening Day payroll and none of the top eight as ranked by regular-season ERA won a postseason series.
Even the time-honored belief that great starting pitching wins championships was blown to bits. Entering Game 6 of the World Series, starting pitchers this postseason were 21--29, having been knocked out in four innings or less more times (16) than they lasted seven (14). The cascade of runs and early knockouts put these games more than usual into the hands of managers, with Tony La Russa of St. Louis and Ron Washington of Texas combining to change pitchers 122 times this postseason through Monday.
"I don't like this," La Russa said from the steps of his dugout before Game 4 in Arlington, reflecting on the previous night in which the Cardinals and Rangers combined to score 23 runs, or more than were scored in the entire 1963 and '66 World Series—and La Russa's team won the darn game, 16--7. "It's hard on the players, the coaches and the managers. There is never a point where you feel like the game is in control."
Only one team, the 1936 Yankees, has scored more runs in a World Series game than the Cardinals did in Game 3, which will be remembered as the singular property of Albert Pujols. The greatest hitter of his generation gave the performance of a lifetime, laying claim to the night the way Lincoln did Gettysburg and Hendrix did Woodstock. The St. Louis first baseman joined Babe Ruth (1926 and '28) and Reggie Jackson (1977) as the only players to hit three home runs in a World Series game. But for an entire collection of hitting exploits, Pujols's night stood above all others as the greatest ever.