The Classical launches in November, but the cruel folks behind it love baseball way too much to let the World Series pass without comment. Throughout the series, its writers will do a daily diary for Deadspin. Keep tabs on us @Classical.
"I try to pretend I'm a clock."—Albert Pujols, 2009
Albert Pujols has been known to hit the sort of home run that makes you worry about the pitcher's self-esteem going forward. Pujols' power swing is always a lovely, measured whiplash, but the special mind-fucking swing unfolds in one seamless motion. The Brad Lidge NLCS Game Five home run in 2005, for all its irrelevance a game later, will never fall from No. 1 on the list of emotionally destructive Pujols home runs. Google Autofill can tell you that the Lidge HR has reached cult status as a kind of snuff film for someone's professional confidence.
One unfortunate Alexi Ogando fastball in the sixth inning of last night's Game Three got the psychic-corrosion treatment from Pujols. The swing, the finish, the ball's trajectory, Pujols' manscaped facial hair: everything about the moment was calm, composed brutality, as befits the main dude of neo-Victorian Tony La Russa's team.
But the antiseptic vibe of that sixth-inning blast didn't seem to comfort the Rangers. From the seats at the Mallpark in Arlington, the home run looked less like graceful power and more like a backhoe dropping its rusty claw into your living room. Ogando, a human trafficking victim in his free time, looks glum and ill-used under the most photogenic of circumstances. But after he drowned a budding Texas rally like Mrs. Angstrom, I could barely bring myself too look at him—I was afraid he might be crying or chewing on his fingers. The home crowd was appropriately disgusted by the first home run, respectfully awed by the second the next inning. By the time Pujols added a third homer to air-dry a 16-7 win, the fans still in the building had turned sullen, like a fat kid trying to sneak past the school bully. It's hard to intimidate 50,000 people at a time without hostage-taking, but Pujols finds a way.
Games One and Two of this World Series ran on narrative tension and little else. None of the stars, especially Pujols, had a chance to flex up or deliver a trademark move. The strategic mummery of La Russa was little more than hunch-playing in reality. In Game One it amounted to a well-played pinch hitting assignment, and in Game Two a less savant, more idiot yanking of Jason Motte* in favor of Arthur Rhodes. But both games were entertaining as hell. Game Three was sloppier, crueler, and much more like what we expected from these teams.
These Cardinals have been variously spat at and savored as a gang of scrappy white utility players carrying out the bidding of the Krang-like brain of Tony La Russa (don't tell me Dave Duncan doesn't look like this guy). The "banality of grit" is a nice story, but it's not really the 2011 Cardinals. When free-agent take-a-penny (or $8,000,000) Lance Berkman posted 5.2 wins above replacement, the Cards had hit on an inside straight draw. Pujols, Matt Holliday, and Berkman are a Central Time Zone strip-mall murderer's row, and La Russa employed his slightly creepy knack for getting enough out of retreads and jobbers to make do elsewhere.
Even with three legit middle-of-the-order bats, the Cards didn't emotionally abuse anyone, or even win the perma-crappy NL Central. But they got hot to take advantage of an atomic bed-shitting by Atlanta. These Cardinals might still offend the casual fan's sense of dramatic justice—some of that is a hangover from the 83-win St Louis team that (as far as anyone can prove) won the 2006 World Series. Dramaturgy aside, a playoff slot is a bearer bond, and the Cardinals have redeemed the fuck out of theirs. They didn't get past the Phils or the Brewers by mistake. David Freese inexplicably, but inarguably, was the MVP of the NLCS, hitting three home runs in six games. It only took Albert Pujols the last four innings of Game Three to match Freese's accomplishment.
No one predicted, and no one particularly wanted to see, the Rangers and the Cardinals fight for the championship, though neither team has anything to apologize for. The Rangers are back-to-back AL champs, the first in a decade. They have a talented bunch of young stars with amusingly shitty facial hair, a born-again recovering addict MVP who plays like the pre-shooting Roy Hobbs. Plus, there's Nolan Ryan's Metamucil glower spurring them on from the first row. Don't forget the incomparable baggage that is the born-again recovering addict former POTUS who may have ruined America permanently sitting next to Ryan. For their part, the Cardinals have a huge, devout fanbase that outstrips St. Louis's media market (a family heirloom produced by KMOX's 50,000 watts) and the second most World Series titles in history.
The Cardinals also have the best player in baseball. St. Louis would have won last night without Pujols' R-rated 5-for-6, 3 HR, 6 RBI night. But because of that beautiful excess, Texas is shook. Cards fans are just as much hostage to Pujols' impending free agency as Rangers fans will be to his bat for the next week. I have a feeling the Rangers fans would happily trade places.
* who can barely see, which explains his deeply irregular beard morphology.