"In the air to left, well hit. Back is Craig. WHAT a team. WHAT a ride. The Cardinals are world champs in 2011.''
That's the way Joe Buck described the final out Friday of the first Game 7 of the World Series in nine years to the national television audience, as the Cardinals won their 11th title and Fox culminated a solid effort all Series long. It was a fitting description by Buck, as Allen Craig caught the ball hit by David Murphy. But it certainly wasn't as personal to Buck as was the way he called the final play of epic Game 6.
On Thursday he finished what he said was the most memorable game he ever has broadcast with a succinct and personal tribute to his late dad, who had a similar call two decades ago in an eerily similar setting. As David Freese cracked his home run in the 11th inning late Thursday to give the Cards their miraculous 10-9 victory over Texas to force Game 7 — after they trailed by two runs in the ninth and 10th innings and twice were down to their last strike — Buck described the winning hit thusly on Fox: "Freese hits it into center. WE WILL SEE YOU TOMORROW NIGHT!"
Twenty years and one day earlier, his father was on CBS when Kirby Puckett homered, also in the 11th and also in Game 6, to give Minnesota a 4-3 victory over Atlanta. Jack Buck, working his last Series on national TV, described it this way:
"Into deep left center ... AND WE'LL SEE YOU TOMORROW NIGHT!"
Joe Buck, who is in his 16th season as Fox's lead baseball play-by-play broadcaster, said Thursday that it was a key moment for him when he followed through.
"I started my career through nepotism, connections, and early on I tried everything to sound different from my dad,'' he said. "But in the best game I ever witnessed, ever called, my first thing was to go back to my dad.'' Buck said earlier in his career "I never would have done that'' because he was trying to distance himself from the family tie. "But now I look for opportunities to celebrate him.''
He said the call wasn't something he had considered for a long time.
"I think I started thinking about it ... in the ninth inning,'' he said. "I have become smart enough in all these years of doing it that you can't in any way shape or form force anything. It has to be right, it has to fit. Those calls are always in the back of my mind. With it being here in St. Louis (where his dad worked from so many years as the voice of the Cards), with it being a St. Louis kid who hit it, and with the crowd doing what the crowd did, I guess it fit OK. But in the end I'm just happy to get through the broadcast and feel good about the whole 41/2 hours, not just the last five seconds.''
Those five seconds were special for him, yet he doesn't want to dwell on them.
"I don't really consider it some crowning achievement,'' he said. "I'm not going to become like a Jack Buck cover band, and start doing his calls whenever I can cram one in. I felt like this one fit, it was clean in this situation. ... It was a simple straightaway home run that I though he hit as soon as the ball left his bat. It gave me a second to gather myself.''
And he said the call won't resurface.
"I can 1,000 percent guarantee that will never come out of my mouth again,'' he said. "That was the perfect time, and the last time.''
Mike Shannon had a scintillating description of the final out on KMOX (1120 AM):
"Back goes Craig, he's at the track. HE HAS IT! The Cardinals are world champions for 2011. They came from NOWHERE to ASTOUND the baseball world ... What a season! What a comeback for this Cardinal team."
ESPN Radio's Dan Shulman tidily summed it up:
"No team's ever come as from as far back as late in the season as the Cardinals did. No team's ever come back twice from being a strike away from elimination in the World Series. ... Craig is going back. Craig's got room! And the CARDINALS are World Series champions!"
The rollicking Game 6 led to the best World Series rating in two years, and the top number for a contest not involving the Yankees since 2005. The Nielsen Co. says the game was seen in 12.7 percent of U.S. homes with a TV, boosting the average for the Series to 9.3. With the rating for the first Game 7 in nine years still to be tabulated, the Series as a whole is all but guaranteed to be well above last year's record-tying low number.
The Game 6 rating in St. Louis was 49.4, peaking at a 57 from 10:30-11 p.m. Some viewers evidently went to bed after Hamilton' homer in the 10th gave Texas the lead —the final 15 minutes drew a 53.1 figure.