Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sports Karma's Five Favorite World Series Moments From This Decade

As I'm sure you're completely aware, the Phillies and the Rays square off on Wednesday to decide the 2008 World Series. The networks are already cutting their losses, and assuming that no one will watch this Fall Classic outside of baseball geeks such as myself.

And yeah, I guess they're right. I confess that up until about two weeks ago, I couldn't name more than five Tampa Bay players, and truthfully, I had to really struggle just to name five. It's really a contest between the totally anonymous versus the historically irrelevant. The Phillies have more losses all-time than any other franchise. The Rays were a doormat, one of baseball's worst franchises since their 1998 inception.

So while most pundits truly believe this will be a great match-up, admittedly, it does leave a lot to be desired in terms of star power and name recognition. If this were a Super Bowl, it'd be like watching the Texans play the Cardinals for all the marbles. Sure, it'd be an entertaining game, but I'm not sure anyone outside of Houston and Phoenix would even bother to watch.

But that's not going to stop us at Sports Karma. This is a contest right in our wheelhouse. In fact, the underdog quotient of this World Series is so far off the charts, it makes Eli Manning and the New York Giants sick with envy. Consider for a moment that the Tampa Bay Rays will have to face at some point during the Series none other than Mr. Comeback, Brad Lidge. In order to complete the single greatest turnaround in team sports history, the Rays will have to face Lidge who is looking to complete one of the single greatest turnarounds by a pitcher in baseball history. Something or someone will have to give way in that scenario, especially if it's the bottom of the ninth.

Or even better, Brad Lidge vs. Evan Longoria, bottom of the ninth, Game Freaking Seven. It could happen. The end result could be either the greatest redemption of any pitcher in my lifetime or the final conquest of a team that could revolutionize the game of baseball from a fiscal standpoint. It could just join our list of favorite World Series moments this decade. We've compiled our Top Five.

One thing of note before we begin: The 2005 and 2006 World Series are both curiously absent from this list. The reasoning is pretty simple, actually. We're Astros fans here, and as far as we're concerned, nothing good happened either year. The Astros got swept by the White Sox in 2005. The Cardinals, more specifically the Antichrist, won their ring in 2006. In fact, let's just begin this before I start swearing like a terminally ill Tourette's patient.

5. Roger Clemens throws Mike Piazza's broken bat back at him (2000 World Series).

When this first happened in the 2000 World Series, I had absolutely no opinion of the act, and frankly didn't care to as it was the Subway Series, Yankees-Mets, and I was openly rooting for them, like most Americans, to both lose.

As this decade comes to a close, though, this has become a retroactive favorite of ours if for no other reason than it marks our first legitimate reason to truly hate Roger Clemens. At the time, you may recall the only people who hated Roger Clemens were Red Sox fans (justifiably) and Blue Jays fans (also justifiable but rather questionable as no one has ever actually met a Blue Jays fan).

This marked the first time that pretty much everyone agreed that Clemens had done something truly despicable. Clemens lobbing Mike Piazza's broken bat at his head while he was jogging down the first basepath set the stage for the 2004 All-Star Game where Piazza allegedly tipped Clemens' signs to the American League hitters. It would also retroactively explain why he came back to Houston, pitched one season, hijacked the team for a ridiculous amount of money the year after, refused to travel with the team unless he absolutely had to, took his sweet-ass time decided whether he was going to pitch again for the Astros until they paid his absurd ransom, left the Astros hanging because he had to go pitch for the Yankees who actually would capitulate to his absurd ransom, and then in the end, have his entire career become a sham due to both his monumentally bloated ego and his involvement in steroid use.

So yeah, Clemens was a douchebag. And this was the first time everyone noticed. Good times!

4. George W. Bush's First Pitch (Game 3--2001 World Series)

There was a point in time when George W. Bush wasn't a lameduck president with failed foreign policies, a collapsed economy, a corrupt administration and a general populace that pretty much despised him.

There was a point in time when a shell-shocked nation turned to George W. Bush for guidance and strength. And for perhaps the only time in his administration, he delivered. A deeply-grieving nation returned to New York City for the first memorable sporting event held there since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. People really have forgotten this, but at the time, this was one of the ballsiest acts by a president since Reagan appeared in Berlin and demanded that Gorbachev "tear down this Wall."

Remember back to life shortly after 9/11, and security was a monumental issue. Bush's appearance at the 2001 World Series was a pretty brass move at the time when we were still rather skittish about whether the president should be seen in public not because of his policies and demeanor, but rather because we were literally fearful for his life. And ours for that matter.

Bush assuaged the American public's fear not with an act of foreign policy, but rather with a singular act. A high strike on a change-up. It was the perfect pitch at the right time.

3. Manny Ramirez accepts the 2004 World Series MVP Award

I was a production assistant for ESPN Radio during the Red Sox miracle run through the 2004 playoffs. Because I had spoken to Terry Francona and David Ortiz on a semi-regular basis to secure interviews, I had taken a liking to this particular team, and although I never spoke to him, I loved Manny Ramirez.

He disappointed me to no end with his act this season, subsequently forcing his way out of Boston and into Dodger Blue. That said, there is absolutely no better quote that could not only summarize that 2004 Red Sox team, but Manny Ramirez himself.

"I don't believe in curse. I believe you make your own destination."

Well said, Manny. Well said. I can only hope that after he retires, Manny Ramirez will fade into Bolivian too.

2. Jeff Suppan is annointed "Crappiest Baserunner Alive" by Cardinals' third base coach, Jose Oquendo (2004 World Series)

I'm really disappointed that I couldn't find a better picture of this moment or a YouTube clip of it either. It was seriously funny.

As an Astros fan, Cardinals hater, and at the time due to my aforementioned ties to the team, a Red Sox supporter, I wanted to not only see the Red Sox win, but more importantly, I wanted the Cardinals lose because they were the ones who vanquished the Astros in the 2004 NLCS.

The Red Sox were up two games to none on the Cardinals with the Series heading back to St. Louis. Jeff Suppan was the starting pitcher for the home team, and in the third inning somehow found himself standing on third base. He got caught up in a run-down on what was a routine pop-up. He should have scored on a sacrifice fly, but no. Suppan inexplicably forgot the rules of baseball, got about halfway down the line, and realized he forgot to tag the base first before heading home. This led to a comical scramble back to third base, and as Bill Simmons described it in Now I Can Die In Peace, it was "the first moment in baseball history where a third base coach walked away from a baserunner in disgust during the play."

The third base coach in question was ex-Cardinal shortstop Jose Oquendo. He just threw up his hands and refused to even look at Suppan as he tried to get back to third base. It was pretty much the moment in time when everyone knew the Red Sox were going to win this thing, and more importantly, that the Cardinals were going to lose.

1. Luis Gonzalez's game-winning hit off of Mariano Rivera (Game 7--2001 World Series)

Perhaps the greatest World Series of all-time was ended by a bloop single from Luis Gonzalez. Everyone remembers this. But here's what most people don't remember. At the time, seeing Mariano Rivera fold under the pressure was the equivalent of seeing Ivan Drago cut in Rocky IV. It wasn't just shocking. Up until that point, I don't think anyone had ever done it before.

The Diamondbacks had accomplished what nobody else thought was even possible. They shut down and bullied the baddest man on the planet at the time. Rivera has still been dominant as the Yankees' closer, but after the 2001 World Series he lost his invincibility permanently.

When one considers the circumstances surrounding the 2001 World Series, it seems unfathomable that we could witness anything that epic for this year's contest between the Rays and the Phillies.

But I think we will see something as equally dramatic. Will we see Evan Longoria face Brad Lidge in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 to decide the 2008 World Series?

I say yes. It will be the greatest World Series moment seen by no one else but us.