The St. Louis Cardinals headed into the 2011 season with a bit of uncertainty as their first baseman and perennial All-Star Albert Pujols was due to be a free agent, able to sign anywhere at the end of the year, and he decided to suspend negotiations before the season started. It's not as if the team hadn't experienced success before, winning the 2006 classic over the Detroit Tigers, but Pujols' future in St. Louis combined with the injury of pitcher Adam Wainwright that would sideline him for the season put fans of the Redbirds on edge.
Seeing prominent members of the squad go down due to injury didn't assuage fears either. Third baseman David Freese suffered a broken hand in May and was out of the lineup for two months. Pujols suffered a small fracture in his forearm during a collision at first base (after shaking out of a slump) in June for a month. Even manager Tony LaRussa suffered a case of shingles and missed a week's worth of games. Yet the team still treaded water and even went on a run in September, winning 18 of 26 games. Combined with an equally surprising slump by the Atlanta Braves, and the Cardinals found themselves in the playoffs as a Wild Card. Despite Pujols' absence, he still led the team in home runs (37), runs batted in (99) and was third on the team in battling average, batting just under .300. Lance Berkman, signed in the offseason to play right field, hit .301 with 31 homers and 94 RBI en route to a Comeback Player of the Year award.
The Cards' surge continued into the postseason, where they defeated preseason favorite Philadelphia in five games to move on to the National League Championship Series, where they defeated the NL Central champs Milwaukee Brewers four games to two in a Best of Seven series. In the World Series, they faced the Texas Rangers, returning for their second straight Series appearance after losing to San Francisco the previous year. Little did anyone know the highs, lows and excitement in between that would unfold, but that's why the games are played, right?
The first two games started off well, with the first two games being closely played. St. Louis took the first game 3-2, while Texas evened up the series in Game 2 with a 2-1 win, scoring two in the top of the ninth inning. With the series going back to Texas, Pujols put on a hitting display with three home runs and six RBI to win handily 16-7. Pujols' homers were only the third time such a feat has occurred in Series history. With the other two players being Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson, Al is in good company. Texas game back in Game 4 to shut out the Cards behind a two-hitter from Derek Holland, and in Game 5 the Rangers would win 4-2 in part because of a miscommunication by LaRussa when introducing bullpen pitchers to replace Octavio Dotel, and Texas' 3-2 games lead back to St. Louis would seem to cinch a statue for them.
Game 6 was the most tension-filled and perhaps one of the best in recent Series memory. It started off as a back and forth affair, with the Rangers taking leads, only for the Cardinals to level things up. Back-to-back homers by Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz helped break a 4-4 tie for the Rangers in the seventh as they took a 7-4 lead, and after an Allen Craig homer brought the Cards to within two runs, Freese hit a two-run triple in the bottom of the ninth to force the game to extra innings. Josh Hamilton hit a two-run dinger in the 10th to regain the lead for Texas, which the Cardinals came back again to level with RBIs from Ryan Theriot and Berkman. Freese's heroics in the ninth would return in the 11th with a walk-off homer and a memorable Cards win. Freese was the first in Series history to have a game-tying RBI in the ninth and later would win the game, and Freese and Hamilton were the first players to hit extra inning homers in one extra-inning game. It was one for the ages. It would be easy for the Rangers to collapse in Game 7, and while they started strong and scored the game's first two runs, they would not score any more runs, and the Cards scored the final six runs of 2011 and won the Series for the 11th time to win the game.
Major League Baseball video (combined with A&E) brings the Series to video in a nice, convenient boxed set that includes all of the Series games, with slim line cases for each of the games. There are also facts and trivia about each game on each case on the outside, with box score and play-by-play summations on the inside of each case. When it comes to the Series, this is another in a solid group of recent presentations by MLB Video. Sadly, the set should serve as a memento of sorts for Pujols, who has since left the team to sign in California for the Angels, and for LaRussa, who has retired after more than thirty years as a manager. Who knows what 2012 will bring for the Cardinals, but at least 2011 was magical, and the set helps communicate this.
1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, which hardly surprises me since the costs to make high-definition copies of each game are presumably a little pricey for mass production. The standard definition discs look good, with the color palettes reproduced nicely, and the source material being in pristine condition. In previous years, there has been a MLB watermark in the upper right hand corner that some have voiced their displeasure over, and it has since been replaced by more Fox-specific graphics touting the Series' Games. A bit of a wash if you are anti-Fox in anything, but to do anything else would be altering the image, no?
Two-channel stereo from the original broadcasts, which is to be expected. There is a Spanish track (from ESPN Deportes) to go along with it. But past that, the radio broadcast calls from the Rangers and Cardinals' radio networks are included too. The latter broadcasts tend to come in a little bit later than the original broadcast sound, but if you're more for the homespun whimsy and folksiness of the broadcast teams, either one is a solid accompaniment. It should be noted that some of the action (particularly on the third disc) is a hair ahead of the video when it comes to the original audio, so proceed accordingly.
Along with pre and post-game activities for each game and disc, there is an eighth disc of bonus material with individual and team achievements during the year (1:05:11). This includes such moments as last outs, celebrations and trophy presentations for the NLCS and World Series trophies, along with the victory parade post-Series.
With the Collector's Edition of the 2011 World Series, A&E and MLB Video might have put together the most solid set yet, with four audio tracks, eight discs and one memorable World Series together in one package. The technical qualities are workmanlike, and there is enough bonus material to satiate the Cardinals fan in your life. It's a must-buy for them, with a strong recommendation for viewing for sports fans in general.