Thinking of Playoff Baseball

There are two games to play. The Cards have a one game lead over Pittsburgh as I speak so it’s okay to unleash a little story time here at the Buffa’s on a cool and calm Saturday afternoon.

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Every time the playoffs get closer, I think of one thing. Game 6. 2011 World Series. Sure, this shares a place on a thousand different “most memorable” lists for people around St. Louis and the world. The night David Freese became Bruce Springsteen in the Midwest. The night Jake Westbrook wasn’t berated. The night Lance Berkman looked like a bearded samurai who hacked a baseball in half and into right center field for a game tying hit. A night where Albert Pujols started a rally and didn’t finish it. A night St. Louis Cardinals fans will NEVER forget. It’s just not possible.

I remember a lot of moments from the 2004, 2006 and 2011 playoffs. Game 6 isn’t leaving the memory bank. You don’t get to tell your body how to feel when certain things happen. You get that chill in your chest and your veins start to bubble up when certain things occur. When you look at a woman and then inform the next 60-70 years of your life that she will be a part of it. When your first son is born. When you push on the gas of a car you are taking out for the first time by yourself. It’s a spontaneous combustion of emotion, feeling and resolution that you are human and life can be great in small unpredictable doses.

On October 27th, 2011, the Cards 10-9 win over the Texas Rangers in Game 6 of the World Series lifted me and my family up. It was a hard time in my neck of the South City woods. My wife had lost her job two months ago, and our son was born on September 14th. Less than a month into his life, on October 7th, he had a serious heart condition and had to go to the hospital. Vincent had a condition called Wolf Park White, which was triggered by SVT(Super Ventricular Tachycardia). He had an extra pathway to his heart speeding up his heart rate. His heart rate would climb to 280 beats a minute, which is pretty bad. A normal heart rate is 115-130. He had to be rushed to the hospital by ambulance and eventually required electric shock to his heart to keep him alive. For the next week, he went through multiple rounds of heart rate rises, medicines, hospital beds and(to his delight), a number of pretty nurses.

I watched Chris Carpenter’s battle with Roy Halladay in Game 5 of the NLDS on that first night in the hospital, October 7th. I’d never felt more alive, nervy or just exhausted in the head than that night. Whether we like it or not, baseball is a part of our lives. The addicts. We attach it to things in our life. My family used that night as an escape from a reality nobody in the room wanted to think about. So we watched Carpenter outduel his fishing buddy, scream like a primal beast on the mound and vault the Cards through the National League Division Series. I listened to a couple Brewers games while eating dinner in the Children’s Hospital cafeteria. Vincent was out of the hospital for the Rangers series. He was home and back to normal.

Due to Vinny’s recent condition, Rachel and I never let him go 30 minutes without being checked on. I remember during Game 6, I was getting up and down at least 50 times. I may as well been playing. That game was memorable for a few reasons. All the little things that happened. Such as:

*The Cards used 7 pitchers in that game. Jaime Garcia started it and only pitched 3 innings. Lance Lynn gave up two majestic home runs to Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz. Marc Rzepcynzski pitched a scoreless frame.

*Lance Berkman hitting a two run home run to give the Cards a 2-1 first inning lead.

*The two teams went back and forth for multiple innings. The Rangers took a one run lead and the Cards tied it only to have Texas take it back. The Rangers had won game 5 and seemingly had the momentum. If it was a boxing match, The Cards were Rocky and Texas was Drago firing straight right after right to the jaw line and cheek area.

*Matt Holliday dropped a fly ball in left field. David Freese dropped a pop up at third base. The Cards were 3-12 with runners in scoring position. If madness had a location, it was at Busch Stadium that night.

*Allen Craig homered in the 8th inning to cut the Ranger lead to 7-5. Ryan Theriot had an RBI groundout before Berkman’s big 2 out 2 strike single.

Game 6 represented the best of many men and not just Freese. Berkman hit over .400 in the World Series. Craig came into his own that night when he took over for Matt Holliday(hurting since Game 3) and hit that home run. Jon Jay didn’t have a great postseason but he was 2-4 that night after subbing in for Skip Schumaher.  It was a night of huge improbability and sports magic. It lent heavy weight to the phrase, “You Never Know”. It made every Cardinal fan remember that a game is never over until the final strike or out. A team always has a chance. The Cardinals have taught us plenty in their rich history. That night, Tony La Russa’s club epitomized the Hard 9 Mantra.

I still remember David Freese’s game tying 2 strike 2 run triple that eluded a no doubles defense. More so than his walkoff home run. When Berkman tied the game and Ron Washington couldn’t hop on the steps anymore of the Texas dugout, I knew the Cards would win it. Freese’s triple was a thing of beauty. Nelson Cruz played it like a softball rec league slugger. He drifted instead of sprinted to the right field wall. He collided with the wall and the ball bounced back onto the grass. Freese slid into third base and slammed his hands together. He will NEVER feel that alive again in his life. There is no chance. He looked like a man who just jumped out of an airplane and landed on his feet thousands of feet below.

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Vincent would go back into the hospital in November for a stomach condition that required surgery. Weeks later, on December 11th, my beloved grandmother took a fall. She passed away on Christmas Eve. It wasn’t a great few months. Lots of bad things happened. A few good things came as a result. In the coming months, I would lose my job and our family would be sent into a financial tailspin that we are still recovering from. For just a few nights in October, The Cards provided me with a spark. A much needed spark. A life line to lean on.

The Freese magic. The World Series title. The Carp Toughness. Everything played a part. It makes me remember that baseball can make life a wonderful place to be, even in the midst of a storm.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the weekend,

Dan Buffa (@buffa82 on Twitter)

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