The Beauty of Seven

In a postseason that’s been wrought with sweeps and near-sweeps, it seems counter-intuitive that a seven-game World Series would be the least compelling series of the bunch. Nonetheless, that’s where we find ourselves as the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants prepare for the deciding game at Kauffman Stadium tonight.

Discounting the wildcard games, we had seen 23 playoff games prior to the World Series, just three more games than the absolute bare minimum and far short of a possible 34. Both of the NLDS matchups, as well as the NLCS, were extended by just one game each. Every American League series ended in a sweep. Yet in those 23 games we saw thirteen that were ultimately decided by one-run. Twenty of those games were either tied or within one run at some point in the seventh, eighth or ninth innings. Five went to extra innings, including an 18-inning thriller between the Giants and Nationals. And one of the aforementioned wild card games will go down as an all-time classic as well. We didn’t get as much baseball as we could have, but what we did get was awfully dramatic.

Contrast that to a World Series where just one of the six games so far has been decided by a run, a Game Three that saw the Giants scrape two runs across in the sixth inning to close the gap before running into the buzz-saw that is the Royals bullpen. In fact, none of the other games in the series have even been close, all ending in blowouts of five-plus runs.

There have been narratives to fill the intrigue even despite the lackluster games. With another win, the Giants will have won their third championship in five years, continuing a run of postseason dominance not seen since the 1996-2001 Yankees. They would become the first road team since the 1979 Pirates to win a deciding World Series game. Another dominant appearance from Madison Bumgarner would stake his claim to the greatest postseason pitching run of all-time. Outside of San Francisco, though, the series would be simply be remembered as one of the nondescript championships the Giants won during their impressive run of playoff successes (see: 1999 Yankees.) For Kansas City, a win would quell nearly thirty years of heartache and ignite a city that had all but lost hope a magical run like this would ever come again. But outside of Kansas City, the series would be remembered as the nondescript series that the underdog Royals finally won after a long absence (see: 2005 White Sox.) That is, unless Game Seven can rewrite the story.

There is nothing inherent about Game Seven that guarantees something extraordinary or memorable. As many writers contended in anticipation of Game Six, many deciding games throughout history are simply footnotes for heroics that happened earlier in a series. The last two such World Series to have gone the distance exemplify that very point. I know the Cardinals won the seventh game in 2011 and I know the Angels did the same in 2002. I could not recite any particular moment from either game except perhaps for a vague recollection of the final outs. Those games are and forever will be afterthoughts to tremendous Game Six moments that defined those series’. The Royals themselves stampeded to an anti-climactic 11-0 win in Game Seven of 1985, a series better remembered for umpire Don Denkinger’s blown call in the bottom of the ninth of Game Six that helped spark a Kansas City comeback. No, Game Sevens don’t make false promises to be more special than any other game, a fitting tribute to a sport that as the great Joe Posnanski says, revolves around anti-climax.

Sometimes, though, we do get something special. Sometimes we get Bill Mazeroski. Sometimes Bobby Richardson snags a Willie McCovey line drive. Sometimes Edgar Renteria pokes a single, or Luis Gonzalez bloops one. Sometimes Jack Morris comes out for the tenth.

If the anticipation of Game Seven outweighs the reality, no one in Kansas City or San Francisco will care. Tonight will be an emotional roller coaster for both fan bases, one ending in nirvana, the other desolation. An electrifying, for-the-ages Game Seven might make victory all the sweeter, but a blowout would be just as welcome if it results in triumph.  For the rest of us, the non-affiliated, a Game Seven flop would simply join the litany of others. It becomes another stepping stone to the next apex, whenever it may come. Another necessary anti-climax to make the climax worth the wait. 

The only thing we know for sure is that baseball ends tonight. We don’t know how it will happen or who will give it it’s sendoff. If we’re dealt a dud of a game, another blowout that’s decided in the third inning, we’ll understand. But here’s hoping that tonight’s that night we spend years waiting for. Here’s to Bumgarner entering from the bullpen and twirling an implausible gem on two-days rest, cementing the Giants’ place in history. Here’s to Alex Gordon breaking a tie in the bottom of the ninth and Kansas City drowning in champagne, aged 29 years. Here’s to something special.