Yeah, it was unbelievable. A team down to its last strike — twice! — will play one game to become the World Series champ. For sheer thrills, this Game 6 was a match for the Game 6 of 1975. (It wasn’t as well played, but hey, you can’t have everything.) But enough gushing. There’s a lesson to be had.
The Cardinals trailed the Braves by 8 1/2 games in September and were tied with the local nine after Game No. 161. (And, had the Braves not blown Game No. 162 in the ninth, they’d have been bound for a play-in game in Busch Stadium.) But we saw in Game 6 the chief difference between the 2011 Braves and these Redbirds.
The Braves had better starting pitching and a better bullpen, but the Braves’ lineup didn’t put pressure on an opponent the way the Cardinals’ does. Sometimes pressure isn’t always rewarded. Last night it was. St. Louis rallied to tie or take the lead five different times, most notably when facing two-run deficits in the ninth and the 10th.
The Braves could hit home runs. Indeed, they hit 11 more than the Cardinals over 162 games. But the Braves’ swing-hard-in-case-you-hit-it approach didn’t apply pressure in the way the Redbirds’ more clinical method does. For me, the biggest at-bats of Game 6 wasn’t David Freese’s tying triple or winning homer. They belonged to Lance Berkman, who was patient enough to take a walk with one out in the ninth and skilled enough to serve a Scott Feldman pitch into center field to tie it with two out in the 10th.
Those were examples of what we like to call professional hitting. The Braves had a lot of guys who could hit bad pitches hard, not so many who’d accept a single or a walk. The Cardinals’ on-base percentage was the third-best in the majors; the Braves’ was the fifth-worst.
After 162 games, there wasn’t much that separated these teams, but that was the part that did. It’s the reason one of the two will be playing a Game 7 tonight, and also the reason the other just hired a new hitting coach.
By Mark Bradley