All respect to the Cardinals and instant lifelong WS hero David Freese, but none of that comeback would have been possible if not for the alligator-armed effort in right field from one Nelson Cruz on the sorta-deep flyball that would have won the Rangers the Series if caught.
For reasons that are 10% valid and 90% unfair, Bill Buckner continues to hold the torch as the biggest choker in Series history, but it seems to me that Cruz’s was the more egregious collapse. Three reasons:
EFFECT ON THE OUTCOME
It’s not easy to argue that Nelson’s blunder had a larger effect on the game’s outcome, mostly because Buckner’s error directly resulted in the end of the game, whereas after Cruz’s miscue, the Rangers still had a shot (a few of them actually) to win.
But consider the math. With Freese at the plate, history (via Fangraphs) tells us that the Cards had an 8% chance of winning the game. After Cruz’s misplay? The odds had swung in favor of the Cards to 62%.
On to Buckner. I don’t have the exact details, but it seems that, as noted above, with the score tied and the home team having a runner in scoring position with two outs, that team has a ~60% chance of winning. Buckner’s error caused a 40% swing, but Cruz’s was 54%. Sorry, Buckner as Choke Artist King arguers, you’ve been mathed.
Again, at first blush it seems Buckner is the winner. I don’t think so. I’ve come about as close to being launched in space as I have the major leagues, but I played enough post-high school ball in both RF and 1B to have had to make plays on the exact same hits that Buckner and Cruz flubbed. In my opinion, there’s no obvious choice on the easier play. Cruz had to move back on the ball, but he had plenty of space and, for god’s sake it was a flyball.
Buckner’s was an in-between hop that required lots of lateral movement that couldn’t have been easy considering he had the knees of a 94-year-old at the time. Plus, as has been noted in documentaries and proven by replays, Buckner was using an extremely loose and floppy mitt (so loose in fact he reportedly nicknamed it “Whoopi”)(not true) that folded up on him, which, yes, it was Buckner’s choice to use that leather and ultimately his fault, but still.
In my not-quite-expert opinion, I’m considering Cruz’s just *slightly* more difficult than Buckner’s. However, the overall Choke Artist Champ pendulum swings heavily and eternally in Cruz’s direction when considering…
This one is a no-brainer and is the reason Cruz is by far the bigger choker. Buckner’s error was tragic in its timing and inexcusable in terms of the supposed ease of the play, but Cruz’s was a sin of the effort variety. Much, much less forgivable.
Cruz didn’t miss the ball because it was too difficult a play. He missed it because he didn’t try hard enough.
If he’d gone after the ball as hard as he could – as hard as the moment deserved – with the necessary mindset that he couldn’t give a damn if he hit the wall afterward, he could’ve had the ball in his back pocket. Instead, he pulled up out of either fear of injury or not paying enough attention to his surroundings, and all of a sudden, instead of making a medium-difficult catch that wouldn’t have made the highlight reel in any game beyond high school, the odds swung heavily in the Cardinals’ favor and made a hero out of Freese. Unreal.
Look, I couldn’t care less whether Cruz choked or not, and I hope the media/fan hatred that was heaped on Buckner never happens to anyone again. I hope Cruz isn’t branded as something less of a man the rest of his life just because of one dumb play. My point is just that I’ve watched something like a million baseball games in my life and that was maybe the biggest choke job I’ve ever seen, and we should at least acknowledge that he played a huge part in the outcome of the game (and possibly Series). The end.